I bought this book almost by accident. I was in the Titirangi Public Library and stopped to peruse their table of old books that they were flogging off for a dollar. This book was in the pile. Only, it doesn't have any stamps or barcodes, it looks almost new and it clearly was never a library book. I'm guessing someone dropped it through the returns slot by mistake as one of a dozen or so library books they had finished with. Anyway, their loss was my gain but if that was you and you'd like the book back let me know.
At first I couldn't decide whether I was reading a novel or non-fiction. The writer is a journalist and he writes in a typical tabloid over the top style. He also writes about ultra marathon runners, a particularly wierd tribe of individuals that I had not previously encountered. It appears that he is writing non-fiction - all the reviewers I found online seemed to think so and several of the wierd things I googled seemed to pan out - but you can read it as a novel if that works better for you. He takes a long time to make his points and takes every excuse to wander off on some tangent and digress further from that before eventually meandering back to where he started. I'm not sure I particularly like it as a writing style but it never seemed annoying enough to want to give up.
By the way, if you will forgive my a digression of my own, I googled "Mensen Ernst", an ultra runner from the 19th century who sounded so bizarre that he must have been made up and discovered that he did in fact have his own Wikipedia page that confirmed everything McDougall said about him. But if you follow up all the references you find they refer back to this book. So that is no help. But dig a little deeper and you finally get a link to the New York Times in 1879 that confirms roughly what McDougall claims. This guy is my new hero, I mean running from Paris to Moscow in 13 days?
As the book progresses it is clear that McDougall has a message to preach. However, it isn't always clear what the message is. Sure, he is promoting running and most of time he is promoting running as it used to be before the sports shoe companies were invented but it isn't clear if he is in favour of running barefoot all the time, most of the time, some of time or never. Does he want you to become a vegan, vegetarian, exclusive meat eater, high protein or high carbohydrates? Should you do fartleks, long slow runs, hill work, speed work, on their own, together, sometimes, always, what? All of these seem to be advocated at some point in the book and then conveniently forgotten about when the next craze comes along.
I guess the overarching message is we can and should enjoy running and that some people enjoy running very long distances indeed. That is true but I'm not sure that I would recommend this book as the one to convince you of that. What I would recommend is that you enjoy the book for the story and the race because, in the end, it is a rip roaring one.
UPDATE 02 April 2012:
I don't mention him in my review above but probably my favourite character in the book was Micah True. Sadly, Micah passed away last weekend while running in Gila National Forest in New Mexico. You can read about it in a local newspaper here.