Book Review: “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins

My first test of an audiobook from Audible, and it’s an excellent experience.  I usually buy books second-hand on amazon. After buying hundreds of books on kindle, it no longer made sense to me to pay $12 for a digital copy on most books when I can grab a second hand physical copy delivered the next day for $4 to $6. Obviously you’re not getting many new releases that way, but with digital copies also missing out on some hidden gems. When a copy of Mark Twight’s Kiss or Kill arrived, I opened the first page to find it was a signed copy – not bad for $5.48! I also love when books are marked up by previous readers, or there are original receipts or bookmarks in there, it’s a form of literary archaeology. Second-hand books also allow you successfully miss the hype cycle of expert marketers. If a book is still popular a few months later, pick it up.

On to the book – on audiobook David Goggins’s (with co-author Adam Skolnick) book Can’t Hurt me is even better than the written word. After each chapter there’s a mini-podcast where Goggins digs into the “inside baseball” of what was going on at that time in his life. There are a couple of wonderful digressions that are worth it alone. As an enhanced experience of the work, it’s a really detailed way to dig into the nuances of each stage of his life, and breaks up the flow nicely. Skolnick plays the advocate for the audience, guiding his questions nicely.

The book itself talks through his formative years at the hands of an abusive father, and the scars that experience left on him well into his later years. A constant anxiety and insecurity plagued him until he found himself in his late twenties weighing three hundred pounds working a dead-end job as a bug exterminator. One night, he turns on the television and sees a documentary about Navy SEALs, and he’s struck by an epiphany that changes the course of his life. To even get to the stage where he could try to become a  SEAL required losing some 160lbs in about three months, learning to swim and passing a competency test at a stage where he could barely read. Through pure grit and focus, he made his way through and was given the chance to prove himself.

If you’ve never listened to his episode on the Joe Rogan Podcast, it gives a great sense on the vibe of intensity that’s given off by this man. He prides himself in developing a “calloused mind”, and using that skill to perform amazing physical feats like 100-mile runs, a world record for pull-ups, and racing a double-ironman.

My criticism of the book is similar to that of Bruce Dickinson’s book “What does this button do?”. There’s little given to us about the man besides his interest in physical events. There’s a lot of focus on his early family life, which to be fair, is miserable. Then there is a lot of focus on the physical training and pain he had to endure to become a SEAL or complete various events. Aside from this, he briefly mentions several wives and step-children but these all fall by the wayside as the book goes on. He’s married, then he’s divorced. He doesn’t like to hang around with his SEAL team-mates. He’s engaged, he’s divorced. Undoubtedly, to live life as a Special Operator and run ultra-marathons requires extreme focus and dedication to training (and presumably the calloused mind of which he’s so proud). Towards the end though, he’s not really selling me on the calloused mind as a concept for anyone who wants to live around other people.

My other criticism is that his enthusiasm for physical pain seems to far exceed his ability to plan for anything. There are several gruelling descriptions throughout the book, for example when  he almost died during his first 100 mile race, or how he placed second in a double ironman after a bike crash. Through most of these incidents, there was almost no planning involved beforehand and every time he paid dearly for it – he knew he’d be riding a bike for hundreds of miles but just borrowed someone else’s bike and didn’t learn how to fix a tyre or change a chain (and crashed, and couldn’t fix it). He ran for hundreds of miles without any sort of foot-care plan (and his feet turned to soup). He did a heavy leg workout the day before an ultra-marathon because he didn’t want to seem weak in front of a team-mate, leaving him pointlessly fatigued. His calloused mind takes him through all of these events, and it is truly amazing what lengths he can go to to achieve his goals. Then when you stop for a moment and question why he’s in such a predicament,  it just comes across as deliberately masochistic – a little planning would have saved a lot of blood.

 

These criticisms aside, it’s well worth a listen (or read).