I've been puzzled, several times in the past, when I've read a review of a non-fiction book (typically history) that describes the book as a "page-turner" that pushes the reader forward like a good mystery would. I confess that I've not had that experience except in one or two instances, and such a description frankly sounds ridiculous to me. Maybe that's because I agree with Henry James, who believed that great writing requires a level of engagement from the reader that goes well beyond the "page-turner" level.
Having said that, I now want to announce that Christopher McDougall's Born to Run is a page-turner, without being a book of fluff. It explores some big questions about human willpower and capacity for physical exertion, but the way McDougall writes the story makes it very difficult to put the book down. Apparently I've come to this book, and that conclusion, late in the game, however: according to one website I read, I'm one of the remaining six runners on the planet who had not read the book. The number is now down to five.
Part of what I love about this book is that it makes a compelling case for the idea that anyone can run an ultramarathon--50- or 100-milers, or more--if one chooses to do it. That's not an easy idea for me to wrap my head around, because like most people, the idea of running/jogging/walking for 10-20 hours is a crazy one. And yet, McDougall writes in a way that is seductive, and it made me literally want to leap out of my chair and go for a long run (I didn't, by the way, and instead continued sitting and reading). Before reading the book, I thought of a marathon not as something you enjoyed doing, but something you enjoyed having done. McDougall's book makes me want to work on enjoying the long run itself and for its own sake, not in the service of a bigger goal.
I think this is a terrific book about a topic that likely seems exotic to most people, even those who run long distances.