Review of “Fitness for Geeks” by Bruce W. Perry, O'Reilly Publishing

Friday, June 15, 2012

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

As a college freshman some eight years ago, I took a health and fitness class. Ever since then, getting in shape has always been one of those ‘priorities’ that never seemed to get the attention it deserved. Although I would go through the textbook from that class once every few years to map out a variety of exercises that appeared useful, I felt like I was creating a fitness plan based more on intuition than science. This lack of direction, combined with a youthful sense of procrastination, usually kept me from sticking to my fitness schedule for any meaningful length of time.

So, given that I’ve been pining for a better fitness regime for most of the past decade, Bruce Perry’s new Fitness for Geeks book was a welcome read. From the outset, Perry uses a diverse array of studies to emphasize what many of us have known in back of our mind but have chosen to ignore: An active lifestyle combined with a proper diet is a prerequisite for optimal health. Since working in front of a computer all day is a reality many geeks face, the book reminds us early and often that evolution did not select our species for this kind of continuously-sedentary activity. However, because fitness is such a nebulous concept, it’s hard to know where to start or what information to trust. Fitness for Geeks addresses this inertia by collecting and putting a lot of that information in a single place, making it easier to construct a meaningful fitness plan and, more importantly, to act upon it.

Overall, the tone and style of the book is in line with what I was looking for: A dispassionate description of how our bodies work with regards to fitness and health. Much like other forms of technical documentation, which have to be comprehensive yet concise, Perry’s book covers all angles of the fitness equation, including everything from food chemistry and Tabata sprints to protein synthesis and the latest tracking apps for measuring our progress. When it comes to recommendations for diet and exercise, Perry seems to keep the advice grounded in what the relevant scientific articles tell us. While those who are already hooked into the low-carb/paleo mindset may find the food chapters more review than revelation, the book’s other chapters on micronutrients and exercise are quite useful on their own. Of particular interest to me was the chapter on intermittent fasting: Originally I had dismissed the concept as unhealthy (based in part on my reading of the Steve Jobs biography), but it turns out that our hunter-gatherer ancestry lends itself to the practice.

The few criticisms I have with the book are mostly nitpicks. The nutrition chapters seem a little heavy on details (but like any documentation, the information is there if I ever need it). Perry also uses a few too many generic tech analogies in the book that border on the cliche (talking about “RESTful programmers” when discussing sleep patterns will only make the book seem prematurely outdated in the future). Finally, Chapter 1’s motivational ‘day in the life of a fit geek’, where Perry describes the benefits of a fitness-focused lifestyle (complete with increased attractiveness to potential partners!) felt a little patronizing, even though that wasn’t the intention. In my mind, the reader has picked up the book because they’re looking to correct a fitness deficit in their life—no need to accentuate the matter by providing a play-by-play of how great it is on the other side.

Nitpicks aside, I foresee referring to Fitness for Geeks quite often when crafting and revising my fitness routines. While it’s enjoyable enough to read from cover to cover, the book stands out when used as a first-stop quick reference for any fitness-related questions one may have. Having properly-researched information at hand can be a motivational force in its own right, so I recommend the book for anyone looking to get started with or improve their fitness regimen.

(A quick word on ePub formatting: Although a quick glance at the PDF shows that this book was designed for print and looks its best in that format, the ePub was also designed with readability in mind. The sidebars and interviews that appear throughout the book are formatted in a different font size to make them distinct from the main text, while “Note” boxes retain a visual box around them. I read the vast majority of the book in ePub format to take advantage of the iPad’s highlighting capabilities and nighttime white-on-black reading mode, and everything flowed well.)

Note: I received this book for free through the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program