Natural Born Heroes
by Christopher McDougall

Overview - The best-selling author of Born to Run now travels to the Mediterranean, where he discovers that the secrets of ancient Greek heroes are still alive and well on the island of Crete, and ready to be unleashed in the muscles and minds of casual athletes and aspiring heroes everywhere.  Read more...

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More About Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall

The best-selling author of Born to Run now travels to the Mediterranean, where he discovers that the secrets of ancient Greek heroes are still alive and well on the island of Crete, and ready to be unleashed in the muscles and minds of casual athletes and aspiring heroes everywhere.

After running an ultramarathon through the Copper Canyons of Mexico, Christopher McDougall finds his next great adventure on the razor-sharp mountains of Crete, where a band of Resistance fighters in World War II plotted the daring abduction of a German general from the heart of the Nazi occupation. How did a penniless artist, a young shepherd, and a playboy poet believe they could carry out such a remarkable feat of strength and endurance, smuggling the general past thousands of Nazi pursuers, with little more than their own wits and courage to guide them?

McDougall makes his way to the island to find the answer and retrace their steps, experiencing firsthand the extreme physical challenges the Resistance fighters and their local allies faced. On Crete, the birthplace of the classical Greek heroism that spawned the likes of Herakles and Odysseus, McDougall discovers the tools of the hero--natural movement, extraordinary endurance, and efficient nutrition. All of these skills, McDougall learns, are still practiced in far-flung pockets throughout the world today.

More than a mystery of remarkable people and cunning schemes, Natural Born Heroes is a fascinating investigation into the lost art of the hero, taking us from the streets of London at midnight to the beaches of Brazil at dawn, from the mountains of Colorado to McDougall's own backyard in Pennsylvania, all places where modern-day athletes are honing ancient skills so they're ready for anything.

Just as Born to Run inspired readers to get off the treadmill, out of their shoes, and into the natural world, Natural Born Heroes will inspire them to leave the gym and take their fitness routine to nature--to climb, swim, skip, throw, and jump their way to their own heroic feats.

  • ISBN-13: 9780307594969
  • ISBN-10: 0307594963
  • Publisher: American Book Company
  • Publish Date: June 2017

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-02-02
  • Reviewer: Staff

Journalist McDougall (Born to Run) travels to the Greek island of Crete to serve up a mixture of mythic heroics and still-applicable fitness techniques. There, with amateur historian Chris White's help, he explores how, in 1944, Greek partisans and British commandos abducted Nazi Gen. Heinrich Kreipe. Further delving into the Greek resistance, McDougall offers astonishing stories about shepherds turned partisans, George "the Clown" Psychoundakis, known to run over 50 miles nightly with a 60-pound pack on his back and on a diet of nothing but boiled hay, and Costi Paterakis, who ran cross-country to shoot, from a quarter mile away, a German commander about to order a massacre. He also documents contemporary heroes like the Pennsylvania elementary school principal who singlehandedly saved her school from a machete-wielding stranger. Throughout, McDougall pauses to consider what exactly makes a hero a hero, examining history, anatomy, physiology, and fitness. This book reads as a page-turning historical account, with fitness techniques and instruction embedded throughout. Readers, regardless of their fitness levels, should come to the end feeling both inspired and a little bit winded. (Apr.)

BookPage Reviews

The lost art of the superhero

BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, April 2015

It’s reassuring to discover that heroes, both ancient and modern, are not somehow supernaturally endowed after all. Indeed, they may come by their skills quite naturally. In the thoroughly absorbing Natural Born Heroes, which tracks heroism from the times of Zeus and Odysseus to the World War II bravery of a motley crew of fighters, Christopher McDougall makes it clear that incredible acts of strength and endurance are doable. His extensive knowledge of fitness training, nutrition and physiology winds artfully around a tale of superhuman resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Greek island of Crete, Hitler’s designated launching pad for the invasion of Russia.

By the time Crete’s WWII heroes succeed, we know every detail of how they did it, and how, by reviewing the knowledge and skills they possessed, it is possible for their modern counterparts to do the same. Our skills are inborn, McDougall argues, forgotten perhaps, but recoverable. These “natural strengths” can make anyone useful in the most challenging situations. Just ask Norina Bentzel, a Pennsylvania school principal who in 2001 saved her kindergarteners from a machete-armed intruder.

At the heart of McDougall’s story lies a similar David versus Goliath duel. The Goliath in this case was Hitler, who never saw these Davids coming. A band of British special forces—described as the least-likely combatants in all of Europe—managed to kidnap Nazi General Heinrich Kreipe in 1944 under the very nose of his fellow commander. Nazi retaliation against the locals was swift and bloody, yet Cretan resisters risked their lives to aid the kidnappers. How did they—both British commandos and locals—manage to flee the Nazi pursuers and traverse a mountain, with very little food or rest, and challenges at every turn?

McDougall, author of the 2009 bestseller Born to Run and himself a highly trained athlete, solves this mystery with a witty eye for every detail, inspiring his own captive audience along the way.


This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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