My Surprising Reading List: Extinctions, Rituals, and Drugs

Every week I share actionable coaching advice that can help you become a better runner.

But where do I get ideas for the 400+ articles I’ve written?


Click to Tweet: “Read more books! Here are 4 ideas from @JasonFitz1”

Most of them come from the usual suspects:

  • Over 15 years of competitive running experience
  • 10+ coaches that have shaped my views on training
  • My USA Track & Field coaching certification
  • Years of coaching experience helping runners of all abilities improve

These experiences are invaluable. But they’re not everything.

What has helped me learn more about running – and come up with most of my training ideas and articles – is a voracious appetite for books.

And while I love running books (I own almost all of them), often my beliefs are challenged when I read something other than a standard training book.

So today let’s try an experiment: I’ll share what’s on my current reading list and in turn I want your book ideas.

Leave a comment on this post with the books on your reading list. I want some fresh ideas and I think we can all learn something new from what other runners are reading (even if it has nothing to do with running!).

I’ll choose a random commenter and buy them a book of their choice – just because. Onward!

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Confession: I’m fascinated by dinosaurs and their extinction. If you haven’t already unsubscribed, let me continue by saying that Jurassic Park was a favorite book and movie when I was a kid. Even the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact were awesome because of their discussion of extinction events.Sixth Extinction

The Sixth Extinction argues we’re in the middle of another mass extinction – and we’re causing it. With record numbers of critically endangered and extinct species, we’re in the middle of the next big biological extinction that’s predicted to be the most devastating since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

From the book description:

Kolbert shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Spooky. While I haven’t yet started reading it, I’m tempted to stop reading my other books to start!

You can check out The Sixth Extinction on Amazon here.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, edited and with text by Mason Currey

For some reason, I find the everyday habits, rituals and schedules of people captivating. After all, the productivity of influential people like Dickens, Warhol and Darwin is something to be admired. How did these people structure their day to get their important tasks completed?Daily Rituals

Some self-medicated with amphetamine and other drugs. Others consumed unreasonable amounts of coffee and donuts. In Francis Bacon’s case, he actually enjoyed working with a hangover.

When Tim Ferriss wrote about the book on his blog I immediately bought it for how it showcases the routines of interesting, creative people.

As an entrepreneur who sets his own schedule, I have the freedom to have any wacky schedule that I like. But typically, I have a normal 9-5 schedule – though this book might give me some ideas on more fun, productive ways to schedule my day.

Learning from top performers is one of the fastest way to success and this book is one way to do it. Just like listening to top coaches about the marathon or a series of experts for injury prevention, I like to study those who are on top of their game.

You can check out Daily Rituals on Amazon here.

The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

And The Wolf of Wall Street is certainly play; the book is now a blockbuster movie starring Leonardo Dicaprio (who IMHO deserves an Oscar for his performance) and directed by Martin Scorsese that chronicles the rise and fall of a (crazy) stockbroker on Wall Street.Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan Belfort made tens of millions of dollars a year and used it to abuse drugs, prostitutes, and the law. A true story, it’s a ridiculous read of financial and moral excess.

It’s certainly not the most well-written book (Belfort wrote it himself while in prison) but it’s a highly entertaining glimpse into the life of what it was like for some high rollers on Wall Street who abused the system, gamed their clients, and ultimately fell victim to their own greed.

My favorite passage so far:

I craned back my neck and put six drops in each eye, triple the recommended dose.

In that very instant, an odd thought came bubbling up into my brain, namely: What kind of man abuses Visine? And, for that matter, why had I taken six Bayer aspirin? It made no sense. After all, unlike Ludes, coke, and Xanax, where the benefits of increasing the dose are plain as day, there was absolutely no valid reason to exceed the recommended doses of Visine and aspirin.

You can check out The Wolf of Wall Street on Amazon here.

The Science of Running: How to Find Your Limit and Train to Maximize Your Performance by Steve Magness

It’s about time Steve Magness wrote a book!

Magness writes the popular Science of Running blog and now has a book of the same name that dives into the more scientific, technical side of training to reach peak performance. The Amazon description explicitly tells readers, “If you’re looking for how to finish your first 5k, this book is not for you.”Science of Running

Instead, you’ll learn how good you can be if you test your limits and push your body to what it’s truly capable of accomplishing.

To do that, the book goes through the science of effective training for runners (weird… no mention of CrossFit… ). It was published just recently so I haven’t started reading it yet, but a glimpse at the table of contents has me more excited than a college freshman at his first keg party.

Here are a few sections that I’m particularly excited to read:

  • Amplifiers and Dampeners of Adaptation
  • General to Specific: A Classification System
  • Strength Endurance – the Key to Kick Development
  • Workout Examples and Progressions

Magness has coached high school, college, recreational, and elite runners and formerly was an assistant for the Nike Oregon Project. His unique experiences and MS in Exercise Science is sure to give this book an interesting perspective.

You can check out The Science of Running on Amazon here.

What Are You Reading? (And Win a Book!)

I read a lot of books – and this is just a glimpse of my growing reading list. Would you be interested in seeing regular updates of the books I find interesting and worthy of your time (even if they’re not necessarily about running)?

Leave a comment below and let me know.

And don’t forget – share your favorite book in the comments and I’ll choose a random person to win a book of their choice.

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  1. I love this post. I’m totally addicted to reading books about running! Recently I picked up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, and I really liked it. He is a writer and a runner, just like me, so of course I found it very relatable. I also just bought Hansons Marathon Method: A Renegade Path to Your Fastest Marathon by Luke Humphrey and Keith & Kevin Hanson. I love reading training books because even if I never use the plans in them, I almost always learn something and come away with something I can do to improve my running.

    The Science of Running might be next! Thanks for the recommendation and yes, I’d love to see more in the future!

  2. Sudhindra Aithal says:

    Hey Jason,
    I would love to see book recommendations posts from you :-). I spend 2 hours everyday during commute reading, so I am always on the lookout for books.
    I just finished “The Sports Gene: Talent, Practice and the Truth About Success”. It was a great read. I just started “Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease”. I am fascinated by evolution and genetics, so I try to find interesting books in those areas.


    • Trail Running Dad says:

      I’ve got to second Sudhindra’s recommendation of “Story of the Human Body” – I just finished it, and it’s fascinating; I’m sure you’d be enthralled by it. It’s by Daniel Lieberman, professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard, who’s gained some renown in running circles for his work showing reduced peak impact forces for barefoot runners.

      While his book touches on running briefly, it’s a really wide-ranging exploration of the types of conditions that the human body evolved under, and is still largely adapted to. He then discusses how many current maladies (diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, Chrohn’s disease, cavities, flat feet, even acne!) are the result of evolutionary mismatches – that is, these conditions were exceedingly rare, but are now becoming more common as we expose ourselves to environments to which we’re ill-suited (e.g., sitting in a chair for hours at a time, ready availability of highly rewarding calories, using footwear that doesn’t allow for natural use of the foot/leg muscles, to name just a few). He then concludes with some basic recommendations about how we might adapt our lifestyles so we can continue enjoying many modern comforts without falling ill to many of these modern diseases.

      While I first hear about him following his research on footstrike patterns, I’m really glad I picked up his book to see how much more wide-ranging his work is. I think you’ll really enjoy reading this.

  3. Just started The Wind is Not a River, by Brian Payton. I love books about how people survive under extreme circumstances, and this one fits the bill. A little known battle going on in Alaska during WWII. Synopsis below:

    On June 3, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed Dutch Harbor in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Four days later, a force of nearly 2,500 Japanese troops seized and held Attu and Kiska, two of the outermost islands. The people of Attu—U.S. citizens—were taken prisoner and sent to Japan. The remaining Aleut people were evacuated by the U.S. military and interned in southeast Alaska. For the next eleven months, U.S. forces sustained an aerial campaign against the Japanese-held positions. Then, in 1943, one of the toughest battles of the war took place to recapture Attu. In proportion to the number of men engaged, it ranked second only to Iwo Jima as the most costly American battle in the Pacific Theater. It was the only battle fought on North American soil.

  4. Just ordered Magness’ book and have high hopes!

    While I’m not a rower I’ve always thought that I could have really loved it and that the appeal of getting out on the water for an early morning workout is very similar to getting some miles in before the sun rises for a runner and that both sports take a similar mindset. I finished The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown and found it to be possibly the best sports non-fiction book I’ve ever read. I’m now looking forward to The Amateurs by David Halberstam which tackles a similar subject – a group of American’s rowing for glory in the Olympics.

  5. Very interesting Jason. I love to read books mostly centering around health and fitness, art or faith. So the two h&f books I’m currently reading are “Total Immersion, The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier” and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Cooking”. I’d love to see more recommendations from you in the future.

  6. Running Book: The Big Book of Endurance by Phil Maffetone. It’s big. It’s a book. It takes endurance to read. It’s had the biggest positive impact on my running.

    Non-running book: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Do not, ever, under any circumstances, no matter what, ever mess with Ender Wiggin.

  7. I read a wide range of books because I can’t stay on one topic very long. Two that I’m reading right now deal with Depression in men. Running is a therapy for me. Right now its cheaper than a Dr bill.

    Unmasking Male Depression by Archibald Hart was written in 2001, but hit some of my issues directly. You can call it what you want, but so much of the moodiness that guys have is because of depression. I used to call it a funk and I’d exercise my way out of it. I’m now learning that its more than just a funk. I see it in my Dad and I see it affecting my family.

    Wild at Heart by John Elderedge is older as well, but has helped me link depression and passion. Many men, me included, are depressed because they lack passion for something, anything. As John puts it, every man needs a battle to fight and an adventure to live.

    Running for many people is great therapy. Jason, thanks for your continued encouragement to run and run injury free.

  8. Zoel Harrison says:

    Thanks. Daily Rituals and the Science of Running are now on my list to read. Another one I like is “You Only Faster” by Greg McMillan. The reason I like this book is because there is a lot of flexibility in the training and he really makes you stop and think about what kind of runner you are with strengths, weaknesses, how you respond to various workouts, and even attitude toward different workouts. Runs are prescribed in time ranges instead of mileage. This gives the runner a great deal of flexibility on a daily basis in determining what feels right without being guilty of not following the plan. A typical example would be this Hill Workout: 15 to 30 minute Warm-Up + Long Hill Repeats: 8 to 10 times a moderately sloped hill (6-10% grade) lasting 90 to 120 seconds with the jog back down the hill as recovery + 15 to 30 minute Cool-down. Well, that could mean a run that is only 5 miles in total or a 10+ miler plus loads of felxibility in the actual workout, too, all at the runner’s descretion depending on what feels right that day while still staying within range of the required workout.

  9. Thanks for the reading suggestion. I will definitely try 2 of them. And please, post more!!

    Lately, I have read this one that I found very interesting:
    Before happiness : the 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change by Shawn Achor.

  10. I just finished The Sports Gene. It was fascinating.

  11. nice jason! i’m reading “the cool impossible” (eric orton) right now, but my fav running book has to be “running with the kenyans” (adharanand finn). can’t wait for dhar to pen his book about living among the japanese marathon tribe!

  12. I so totally want to read that book about extinction. I was a Jurassic junkie as a kid, too. Solidarity. Definitely going to check that one out.

    I have two recommendations.

    First up is Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. Written by a couple. They live on a diet of foods sourced within 100 miles for a whole year. It’s an absolutely fascinating look at our food systems and where our food comes from, and the writing is beautiful. Be warned: this book will basically ruin your life. I can’t deal with grocery stores anymore.

    Second is The Once And Future World by J.B. MacKinnon, same guy as above. I bought it because i loved his writing so much and because I’m a major-league eco geek. The book talks about the kind of biomass and biodiversity the earth used to support and how much damage humans of have done. He talks about extinction and the destruction of natural spaces and how human attitude and information sharing can expedite both processes. It’s absolutely fascinating and I’m not even halfway done with it yet. Seemed like it’d be up your alley based on your love of dinosaur stuff.

  13. Current read is Concrete Island by JG Ballard.
    Last running book was Running with the Mind of Meditation which proved to be very helpful.

  14. Thanks for the book recommendations Jason. It’s always fun to see what other people are reading. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to read right now, but I’m working on Michael Crichton’s Micro. Keep up the great work on the site. I look forward to your emails.

  15. My non-running read of the moment is “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan. It is AMAZING and I cannot put it down!

    My running read of the moment is actually not directly related to running. It is “The Power of Habit.” I’m applying it to my running!

  16. My favorite books are Terry Pratchett books. The Discworld books are sheer genius. Night Watch is likely my favorite, because I’m a sucker for the character Sam Vimes.

    Currently, I’m reading one of his children’s books, The Carpet People. Also just finished the Hunger Games series not long ago.

    • Don’t say TP, I might get sucked in again!! 😀 I’ve read nothing else for years! Grannie Weatherwax and Sam Vimes are my favourite characters… awww… reading just ONE Discworld book again won’t hurt me, will it? I mean, I’ve been clean for a while now :p

  17. Great reads! I’m reading David & Goliath (Gladwell) and recently really enjoyed Moonwalking with Einstein (on recovering the lost art of memorization).

  18. Ditto on “The Sports Gene” – it’s pretty fascinating! I’ve also been referring to “Anatomy for Runners” lately since developing some hip pain. “Scott Jurek: Eat and Run” was a good read as well although I’m not convinced about the Granola with Hemp Milk.

    Non-running books on my nightstand include “Crafts for Kids”, “C# for Dummies”, “Baking Style”, “Jamaica Inn” and “Subterranean”.

  19. Curious about experiences with training with the Maffetone method (currently reading ‘Big book of…’ By Phil Maffetone). I have increased my training substantially over the past year tho dealing with a lot of work-related stress and lack of sleep. I have however improved my distances and just did a 42k adventure trail footrace. My big question is why hasn’t my speed improved. Is it something that will eventually happen ? Is it links to my lack of recovery time ? Now looking to adopt the Maffetone method as I begin training for the new season (I live in Mumbai, India, and the current season is almost over). Also looking to add some strengthening exercises in the base period. Curious to know what is the general running population’s experience with the Maffetone method and your comments would be interesting. Cheers and keep going

  20. Garry Crossland says:

    True Wealth by Juliet B. Schor Subtitle: How and Why Americans are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scalem, High-Satifaction Economy
    Discusses how we have decimated Earth’s resources by treating nature as free in the supply chain.

    Deep by Porter Fox
    Climate change and the history of skiing. Really great book on the white stuff disappearing world wide.

  21. Kathryn Shaffer says:

    Just finished “Marathon Man” by Bill Rodgers. Totally interesting! Inspiring.
    I’m in the middle of “King of the Road” by Cameron Stratcher- it’s about Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar.

  22. Hey Jason!
    You should definitely read Eat & Run by Scott Jurek! It changed not only my running and diet but my entire life!

  23. The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters is an outstanding book.
    ISBN: 9780091935580

    Written by the resident elite sport psychiatrist with the British Cycling Team (since 2001) and now working with the Sky ProCycling Team, his mind management techniques were used by Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton in the last 2 Olympic Games.

    This is not your usual self help book, the ‘Chimp Model’ that he uses is so simple, yet right on point and can be easily digested by anyone. It is not heavy going and you can relate his techniques to your own behaviour very easily. This is a book that I recommend to my students to help manage their stress whilst undergoing Air Traffic Control training in the UK. Highly recommended.

  24. I saw an interview on the Sixth Extinction on the Daily Show the other night and it did look very interesting. Already added it to my wishlist…

    Generally, I read a lot more fiction than non-fiction – currently I’m reading a book called Moth and Spark, by Anne Leonard, which after a slow start is certainly getting better as I read on – although I am partial to the odd cycling autobiography. As another avid reader, I would (of course) be very keen to see occassional/regular posts about books you’re reading (both running and non-running books; fiction and non-fiction – I notice all your books above are non-fiction).

  25. Neil Gaudet says:

    Great post Jason, good to know I’m not the only big reader that runs. Well I guess I knew that anyway.

    Great books I’ve read in the past year:

    The Power of Starting Something Stupid by Richie Norton

    Elite Minds by Dr Stan Beecham

    Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

    Matt Frazier’s No Meat Athlete book

  26. The nice lady says:

    A fun fiction book about running that I recently read is The Agora Files. I also enjoyed the entire Divergent series. Fitness is a critical part of futuristic dystopias!

  27. Rachel Eagleton says:

    I am currently enjoying Sage Rountree’s “Racing Wisely”, some good bits of advice in there.
    Matt Fitzgerald’s The new rules of marathon and half marathon nutrition was great.

    On the fiction side just finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which was fabulous.

    Happy reading everyone (is it because after a long run all I’ve got the energy to do is read my book? !)

  28. Hi Jason,

    I love this post! I also love reading, although these days your 10K training plan (+ kids + job) takes its toll, I can consider myself lucky if I manage half a page in the evening before being asleep.

    I’m reading two books at the moment:

    1) “Good calories, bad calories” by Gary Taubes – which is my “running book” in a way, since I got interested in the carbs vs. rest-of-the-world issue when I realized my worst runs EVER were those about 3 hours after what I used to think was a great energetic breakfast (pancakes + maple sirup). As a scientist, I’m really grateful for this book; as an italian expat, I hate that I’m losing my appetite for my daily pasta dish. Duh! In any case, a life-changing book.

    2) “The nurture assumption” by Judith Rich Harris, which I highly recommend to you Jason, before you start blaming yourself if some day your daughter prefers curling to running 😉

    Lots of great ideas in the comments as well, my TBR list is going to get huuuuge…

  29. Meredyth Melcher says:

    I have been unable to stay focused long enough to read a whole book so I keep rotating through several over and over and over again in hopes that one will stick and I will be able to finish the rest.

    I have taken a different approach to my reading. Use to only be self-help and running books and I realized I needed more. So I have branched out slightly and started looking at my medical issues as they may all relate to food. So currently in the line up is “No Meat Athlete” by Matt Fraizer and “Eat Right 4 Your Type,” Peter J. D’Adamo and Catherine Whitney.

    Then to build on my mental strength and to deal with some of my demons I have been reading “The Invitation” by Oriah. Was recommended to me and I have found it to be truly refreshing. I has allowed me to find strength I did not know I have and to face my fears (mostly).

    And lastly I have a love for New Orleans and hope to relocate there sooner rather than later. So the best read on the area I have had in a very long time is “1 Dead in Attic” by Chris Rose. The most raw material I may have ever read and if you have ever visited it will mean so much to you to read and live through the authors eyes.

  30. Meb Keflezighi’s Run to Overcome is inspirational, informative, and a pleasure to read.

  31. Runners or not-runners, reading is always a good idea! Great post and awesome book suggestions, I got my eye on the Daily Rituals by Mason Currey and quite a lot of others I picked up from the comment section.
    Although I’ve cleaned up my reading list for the upcoming period, some of the re-reads I’ll be doing are The Flinch by Julien Smith, Do the Work by Steven Pressfield and every essay I can find about Minimalism, including the work (blog and ebooks) by Joshua F. Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.
    Thank you so much for this post, the suggestions in the comments are also great!

  32. I would love updates on book you’re reading! I too enjoy hearing what others are reading and why. It opens up the world to different people and new and potentially better ways of living our lives, learning, growing…it opens up new areas we didn’t know existed! Yes–do do follow up emails on this!
    I am reading Herbal Antibiotics and Herbal Antivirals simultaneously–both by Stephen Harrod Buhner–he empowers us to take control of our health and find better and sustainable remedies for sickness in plants in our world that heavily relies on pharmaceuticals.

  33. Wow! I already have too many books on my reading list but your post and all these comments make me want to add more, and I already average about 3 books a month!
    I read a way over my head book recently about astrophysics and cosmology called How the Universe Got Its Spots by Janna Levin, As a public health nerd I’ve also been slowly working my way through The Emperor of All Maladies, which covers the fascinating history of cancer, what we know about it and how we treat it. Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath is on my list and I’m also interested in reading the a new book written by the founder of the Spartan race series called Spartan Up!, I heard him on Ben Greenfield’s fitness podcast the other day. Glad to come away with so many great book ideas – this just confirms my hunch that all endurance nerds are pretty much just overall nerds too!

  34. Wow, thanks for sharing your list! Judging by your blog and your writing, I think I might want to read all of these. I have never seriously considered reading books about running, but guess there’s a first time for everything.
    I think I’ll start with The Science of Running.