Skip to main content

Distributed for Reaktion Books


A Global History

Translated by Peter Graves

Distributed for Reaktion Books


A Global History

Translated by Peter Graves

In the past decade, the number of Americans who consider themselves runners more than doubled—in 2008, more than 16 million Americans claimed to have run or jogged at least 100 days in the year. Though now running thrives as a convenient and accessible form of exercise, it is no surprise to learn that the modern craze is not truly new; humans have been running as long as they could walk. What may be surprising however are the myriad reasons why we have performed this exhausting yet exhilarating activity through the ages. In this humorous and unique world history, Thor Gotaas collects numerous unusual and curious stories of running from ancient times to modern marathons and Olympic competitions.

Amongst the numerous examples that illustrate Gotaas’s history are King Shulgi of Mesopotamia, who four millennia ago boasted of running from Nippur to Ur, a distance of not less than 100 miles. Gotaas’s account also includes ancient Egyptian pharaohs who ran to prove their vitality and maintain their power, Norwegian Vikings who exercised by running races against animals, as well as little-known naked runs, bar endurance tests, backward runs, monk runs, snowshoe runs, and the Incas’ ingenious infrastructure of professional runners.

The perfect gift for the sprinter, the marathoner, or the daily jogger, this intriguing world history will appeal to all who wish to know more about why the ancients shared our love—and hatred—of this demanding but rewarding pastime. 


320 pages | 15 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2009

Sport and Recreation

Reaktion Books image

View all books from Reaktion Books


"From starting-gun to finishing tape may be a clean ten seconds, but behind that moment swirl a few thousand years of human joy and despair and endeavour—this seems to be the argument of Gotaas’s rich and engrossing book."


"An admirable attempt to cover the running phenomenon, not merely in its cultural and historical sweep but also in its philosophy. Gotaas starts by giving us some of the fascinating history of running, showing that it has been part and parcel of human life since our earliest days and has featured prominently in cultures ranging from that of the Incas . . . to Sumeria. . . . It is the attempts by Gotaas to get beneath the surface of running that provide the book’s most revelatory moments."—Matthew Syed, Times (UK)

Matthew Syed | Times (UK)

"Recreational running, Gotaas points out, has been around since the dawn of recreation time. It’s not some modern punishment we invented to burn off excess pints and pizza; it’s our most ancient and universal form of play, and has been rhapsodised and dramatised for thousands of years. Gotaas combs the world for true running tales, and comes up with some beauties. . . . An amazingly wide-ranging study."

Christopher McDougall | Guardian

“As well as being vital to our early survival, running is a universal form of play, as this fascinating study shows . . . Gotaas’s research ranges as freely across the globe as it does through time. He pays as much attention to modern African champions as he does to European greats, carefully and colorfully describing the lives of overlooked luminaries such as Abebe Bikila, the barefoot Ethiopian who won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome, and Henry Rono (Kenya’s ‘Mr Comeback’).”


“Fulfils its brief brilliantly.”


“Gotaas has amassed a huge range of material here . . . rich in detail and anecdote.”

History Today

"Gotaas takes a broad, shallow approach in this history of running worldwide. . . The book includes many interesting pearls and debunks myths associated with running. . . . Recommended."

T. K. Ambrose | Choice

Table of Contents


1    Messengers and Forerunners

2    A Primordial Human Trait

3    In Honour of the Gods

4    Roman Games

5    Elephant Races and Chinese Tales

6    The Running Monks

7    Racing against Horses

8   Wagers, Clocks and Brooms

9   French Enlightenment and German Health Education

10  Mensen Ernst and Captain Barclay

11  Buffalo Heart for Breakfast

12  Bluffing and Handicapping

13  The Revival of the Olympic Games

14  Running Round a Track

15  Finnish Sisu

16  Ultrarunning as Nation-building

17  Race across America

18  Dubious Race Theories

19  War and Peace

20  In the Service of the State

21  The Dream Mile

22  Africa Arrives

23  Loving the Landscape of Pain

24  The Jogging Revolution

25  Big City Marathons

26  Marathon Women

27  Mr Comeback

28  Stars, Business and Doping

29  Running with Zen

30  Running like Ostriches

31  Striding Out of Poverty

32  How Fast Can a Human Being Run?




Photo Acknowledgements


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press