“What’s the difference between a doctor and God?” a cabdriver asks author A.J. Jacobs, while driving to see Jacobs’ grandfather in the hospital. When Jacobs doesn’t know, the cabdriver supplies the punchline: “God doesn’t think he’s a doctor.”
Jacobs’ new memoir Drop Dead Healthy is about his quest to perfect his body–or, at least, to lose some of his middle-aged excess gut. The book starts as a wild revue through different get-healthy-quick methods, including fad workouts (the Caveman Workout, in which he tramps through Central Park shoeless and shirtless, is of particular note) and fad diets. One doctor tells Jacobs to only eat raw foods; another persuades him that all diets are rubbish, and to eat whatever he wants. Eventually, Jacobs finds that his favorite method is to take a moment before eating to be mindful of the food and where it came from–a method, he notes, not unlike saying a prayer.
Ultimately, though, Jacobs realizes that he’s not merely trying to be healthier–his quest to be a more physically fit human being is actually a way of repressing his fear of dying. Between experiments, Jacobs keeps returning (usually via a jog across Central Park) to his grandfather’s apartment. His grandfather, a lawyer in his 90s, was once an avid exerciser. As Jacobs gets healthier and healthier, he witnesses his grandfather’s decline
–and, heartbreakingly, his death. Jacobs breaks from his tongue-in-cheek narrative to deliver a tender, honest scene whose gravity is inescapable: No matter how fit we get, sooner or later, death comes for us all.