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Michael Phelps may not have limits, but this reader does

Michael Phelps is an American hero. He's the greatest Olympian of all time, the fastest swimmer who's ever lived and he didn't let a little thing like ADHD stop his dreams.

Of course, the world knows how, with his mother, two sisters and lifelong coach by his side, Phelps smashed nearly every swimming record there is in the world.

Unfortunately, none of this saves his latest book, written with sports journalist Alan Abrahamson.

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Part of the problem may be that with 24-hour news coverage for an intense two weeks this summer, it was nearly impossible to escape the Phelps fever. If you were anywhere near a television, you saw detailed accounts of every meal Phelps ate, every lap he took, every heartfelt glance he shared with his mother.

The other part of the problem is that the book is written horribly.

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For die-hard Phelps fans, swimming fiends or Olympic historians, I'm sure this book is essential. For anyone else in the world, it's a waste of time, albeit a short one.

The book is organized in chapters that loosely correspond with each gold medal race Phelps swam in Beijing, flitting through time and space so that many times I had no idea what relation a certain event had within the timeline.

The book is written from Phelps' point of view, which implies access to his thoughts and dreams. As far as I could tell, there aren't many thoughts beyond "Wait, what did that hater say about me? Well, I'll show him!" While it's nice to see the human side of the swimming machine, I'm not very comfortable that the lesson to be learned is "If you win, everybody else has to shut up."

The best parts of the book are the ones in which he reveals the doubts that his DUI and injuries brought to his career, and how he overcame the obstacles -- although he is extremely vague as to how he broke his hand and wrist in the first place. With a lifetime of grooming for the Olympics, the injuries crystallized his resolve, and showed how personal the chase really was for Phelps. I'm sure it was difficult to include these episodes for him, and I hope he shares more about them in the future. Everybody loves a comeback story, and these were the most personal and profound sections of the book.

Unless you live for statistics, I suggest you skip the innumerable paragraphs that are more numbers than words; many sentences include just lap times and names of people. Without an index, it was impossible for me to remember which names went with which swimmer, anyway.

In short, this book looks more like a way to cash in on this summer's success than to teach us more about Michael Phelps as a man and Olympian. A cursory Google search will tell you just as much about his journey to the Olympics. But rest assured, any Phelps fan will love Santa forever if they find this under the tree -- if only for the many pictures of the swimmer in nothing but his Speedos.

So tell me how Phelps has inspired that special person in your life (or yourself), and you'll have a chance to win the book. 


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