On its surface, Running on Empty is about Marshall Ulrich's run across the United States. But in a more important sense, the book is hardly about running at all. It is about the struggles and emotional growth of a man whose first wife died of cancer at about 30 years old, shortly after the birth of their first child. Ulrich originally takes up running to literally and figuratively "run away" from his very substantial troubles. Ultimately, however, Ulrich learns to deal with -- "accept" is probably too strong a word -- what happened to him early in life, and his relationship to running, his friends, and family all change for the better. Despite the tragedy, the book is ultimately positive and life-affirming.
The book really works for two reasons. First, Ulrich's unique personality and determination are fascinating. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Ulrich generously shares his feelings with the reader in what felt to me like a very honest and open fashion.
Finally, despite the heavy topic, Running on Empty is an easy read. Ulrich is not going to win any Nobel Prizes for literature, but he communicates effectively and clearly, in his own unique voice.