The Underdog by Joshua Davis, hardcover, 224 pages, Villard (2005), ISBN: 0345476581
Are we competition-obsessed? In a country that places extreme value on wealth, power, and physical ability, we all strive to be the best at something. But in reality, only a few are destined to be professional athletes, billionaires or rocket scientists, a reality that can leave the average Joe feeling inadequate. One such average Joe is Joshua Davis. Though young, Joshua has accumulated a lifetime of failures. In grade school, he electrocuted himself while trying to construct a fully operational replica of the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk in his bathtub. In high school, he started a rock band and at the first and only performance forgot the lyrics of the band's one song; the group disbanded. After college, Davis directed a feature-length film about a group of friends living in northern California; the movie was bought by a shady distribution company in Nicaragua to show it on local buses (the distributor however declared bankruptcy, never paid for film, and Joshua went to work at the phone company). But Joshua dreams like most guys. He wants a fun career, exciting adventures, a happy wife who's proud of him, and really big muscles that strangers can't help but admire. Too bad he is a 128-pound (58 kilograms) data entry clerk whose wife, Tara, has only three simple requests for their life together: direct sunlight, a dining room, and a bathtub. Since none of these exist in their small San Francisco apartment, Josh sets off on a quest to become the provider his wife wants him to be. The problem is that he does it in a way that most people in their right minds would never consider: He enters the most grueling and unusual contests in the world. In "The Underdog: How I Survived the World's Most Outlandish Competitions", what begins as a means to get Tara her bathtub evolves into a charming story of courage, adventure, and just a little bit of insanity. On the heels of a fourth-place finish (out of four contestants) in the lightweight division of the U.S. National Armwrestling Championships, Josh gets a spot on Team U.S.A. and travels to Poland to face "The Russian Ripper" in the World Championships – and Tara finds herself wishing her husband would go back to data entry. Unfortunately for her, he's just getting started. Over the next two years, Josh ventures to Spain to try his hand at bullfighting, sumo-wrestles 500-pound men, and bonds with his family at the Sauna World Championships because sometimes it takes a blistering 220-degree sauna to bring loved ones together. Joshua also perfects his backward running in India and at the Golden Shrimp "retrorunning" race in Italy, and a full chapter (more than 50 pages, that is one-fifth of the book) is dedicated to his uncommon running achievement. By turns hilarious, harrowing, and inspiring, "The Underdog" documents one man's ballsy attempt to live the American dream to the extreme.