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Book review: 'Natural Born Heroes' is a fast-paced, enlightening tale of everyday heroes
"Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance" is by Christopher McDougall. - photo by Scott Livingston
"NATURAL BORN HEROES: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance," by Christopher McDougall, Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95, 352 pages (nf)

Blame Percy Jackson.

When Christopher McDougall, author of the best-selling book Born to Run, was trying to decide between writing a book about a remarkable, real-life World War II tale of daring on the Greek island of Crete or a book about the benefits of the natural movement approach to physical fitness, a conversation with his daughter about Rick Riordans fictional demigod united the two concepts into a single idea, according to McDougall's author's note in the back of the book.

Natural Born Heroes is the result. McDougall wrote that he realized the two concepts were the same thing: the art of the hero is the art of natural movement.

Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance is a high-energy and fast-paced read that leaves readers catching their breath on almost every page.

McDougall weaves back and forth between past and present, using the fantastic-but-true story of an unlikely band of war rejects on Crete and the native Cretans attempt to kidnap a German general, among others, as he tries to understand how they were physically able to do superhuman stunts without the modern ways of achieving personal fitness.

Natural Born Heroes is every bit as engaging as Born to Run, which was published in 2009, still shows up on the New York Times best-seller lists and is being made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey, according to press materials.

McDougall sets out to prove that his story's heroes which include the Cretans during World War II, a Pennsylvania school principal who fought off an intruder with a machete in 2001 and a London high school dropout who started making the city her gym in 2005 achieved their remarkable physical capacity because true fitness is the result of developing abilities that are inherent and available to everyone.

The narrative draws on both ancient and modern examples to support this central idea, including stories about the origins of parkour running, jumping and climbing through urban areas the remarkable capacities of the human fascia or connective tissue, and many more subjects. Because the book has a broad range of characters, readers may have to scramble at times to keep abreast of whos who, but the writing is strong and the story is compelling.

Some mild profanities and general descriptions of fighting are scattered throughout the book, but there is no sexual content.

Natural Born Heroes is a victory lap for McDougall.