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J. C. Herz

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In industrial parks, converted warehouses, and pole barns across the country, a fitness revolution is taking place. It’s a revolution, according to J.C. Herz, that’s leading us not so much forward as back, into what she calls “the primal future of fitness.” This future is one in which fitness connects us with the deep memories of our species, when we roamed and hunted in packs, when we made ritual sacrifices to the gods, when our ability to run or lift or jump was less a matter of being in shape and more a matter of survival. For Herz, the future of fitness is rooted in our cultural and biological DNA.

And the engine driving us into this future is CrossFit, a strength and conditioning program that began with one irascible genius tinkering around with a few athletes in a small gym in Southern California just after the turn of the century. Since then, CrossFit has grown into an international phenomenon, with over 7,000 gyms worldwide and hundreds of thousands of athletes, from suburban moms to Marines, senior citizens to CEOs to sprightly teens. CrossFit attracts a huge variety of devotees, a variety that’s all the more surprising given that each workout these athletes are asked to push themselves to their physical, neurological, and even spiritual limits.

What accounts for this attraction, especially in our age of easy fixes and fitness fads? Herz takes up this question in her book, Learning to Breath Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness (Crown Archetype, 2014) and, in her search for an answer, follows her subject from Santa Cruz to Fallujah, from the chemical reactions that cause muscle contractions to the decisions that determine the fate of companies such as Rogue and Reebok, hitting, ultimately, not on what it means to be fit, but what it means to live fully.


Roger Kittleson, “The Country of Football: Soccer and the Making of Modern Brazil” (University of California Press, 2014) and Joshua Nadel, “Fútbol! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America” (University Press of Florida, 2014)

June 24, 2014

Passion. Flair. Instinct. Improvisation. As the World Cup advances to the knockout stage, you’ll hear these terms associated with the football styles of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico rather than those of Belgium and Germany.  As historians Roger Kittleson and Joshua Nadel explain, the soccer cultures of Brazil and other countries of Latin America have long [...]

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Travis VoganKeepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media

May 16, 2014

Last weekend was the NFL Draft, the annual event when teams select college players who have shown the talent to advance to the professional ranks.  Staged at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, broadcast live on two cable networks, and surrounded by ceaseless media attention and analysis, the Draft is the spring anchor-point of the [...]

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Lucia TrimburCome Out Swinging: The Changing World of Boxing in Gleason’s Gym

April 25, 2014

Imagine a boxing gym. What probably comes to mind is a large, run-down room on the upper floor of an old brick building, somewhere in a trash-strewn, depressed neighborhood. The room echoes with the thud of the heavy bag, the rat-tat-tat of the speed bag, the quick whisks of the jump rope. The men training [...]

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Lincoln HarveyA Brief Theology of Sport

April 4, 2014

Does God care who wins the game? According to a recent survey, plenty of American fans think so.  The Public Religion Research Institute found that a quarter of fans said that they had prayed to God for a favorable outcome to a game.  Add in those who practice some personal ritual in the hope that [...]

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Brett Hutchins & David RoweSport Beyond Television: The Internet, Digital Media and the Rise of Networked Media Sport

March 20, 2014

Twenty years ago, when I was studying abroad in Europe, the only way to keep track of my teams back in the US was to sneak looks in The International Herald Tribune at the newspaper kiosk (the price of the paper was beyond my meager budget).  Twelve years after that, when I returned to Europe [...]

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N. Jeremi DuruAdvancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL

March 6, 2014

Each year, following the end of the NFL season, there is a blizzard of activity as teams with disappointing records fire their head coaches and look for the new leader who will turn things around.  This year, seven teams fired their coaches and spent the next weeks searching for a replacement among the pool of [...]

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Jules BoykoffCelebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games

February 7, 2014

The 22nd Winter Olympics are underway.  It’s safe to say that the lead-up has not gone smoothly.  Of course, there have been the obligatory cost overruns, crony contracts, displacement of locals, and environmental despoliation–all the problems we’ve seen with past Olympics.  But this year’s games have come with new wrinkles.  It’s possible, though, that the various [...]

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John Matthew SmithThe Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty That Changed College Basketball

January 29, 2014

One of the great dynasties of American sports are the UCLA men’s basketball teams of the 1960s-70s.  In a twelve-year span, the Bruins won ten national collegiate championships.  They had four undefeated seasons, and in one stretch, from 1971-1974, the teams won 88 straight games.  UCLA’s teams featured some of basketball’s all-time greats: guards Walt [...]

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Susan WareGame, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports

January 18, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in History] If you’re younger than 45 or so, you probably don’t remember the “Battle of the Sexes.”  This tennis match, between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, is one of the iconic moments in American history of the 1970s. It represented a breakthrough moment for women in sports, a symbol of [...]

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