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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
The First Four Minutes chronicles Roger Bannister's international track running career including the titular first sub four-minute mile ever run. Although written as a sporting autobiography the book contains much insight into Bannister's personal development throughout his career and the important role sport played in it. Bannister acknowledges in a new introduction that “... [his] hope was that the whole experience might help others to fill the gap between school and work”, and his thoughts on the psychology of competition deserve that effect. The text is elegant and clear, and the narrative remarkably gripping given that the outcome of his races is part of athletics' folklore. 50 years after it was written this book is a pleasure to read.
I stumbled onto The First Four Minutes completely by chance, I have no particular interest in track athletics nor in 50-year-old world records; it was a happy accident that this book caught my attention. A brief glance at the text, and the photographs depicting important events from the book, convinced me that an impulse buy was in order.
The book tells of Roger Bannister's athletics career in, mostly, chronological order; starting with his childhood love of running and finishing with his retirement from international competition after the Empire Games in 1954. Along the way Bannister describes how his running prowess earns peer respect at school, and later helps him to find his feet as a young freshman at university in Oxford in the 1940s.
The book's charm lies in Bannister's ability to infuse the text with the pleasure he takes in running. It is clear that Bannister loved to run not only for the satisfaction inherent in the sport but also for the opportunities running offered him and the balance it gave to his academic and professional life. For Bannister, the challenge of combining international athletics with his academic work as a medical student increased his enjoyment of sport rather than limiting the time he could dedicate to training; indeed he laments the increasingly mechanistic and life-consuming approach to running favoured by some of his competitors. Bannister takes his cue from the ancient Greeks in the philosophy that well-being demands both a healthy mind and a healthy body. Bannister was also known for the fact that he was self-coached and through the book he promotes mental self-sufficiency as an important part of the value of sport.
In some ways Bannister seems keen to promote himself as the kind of 'gentleman athlete' depicted in Chariots of Fire preferring not to train too much or to employ a coach. He seems to overplay an air of laissez-faire in his attitude running which is perhaps a weakness of the book.
The First Four Minutes is a pleasure to read. Bannister's prose is conversational and informative, combining elegant descriptive language and an exciting narrative. The races are particularly enthralling; it was difficult to read some of the passages fast enough, and was always a surprise to look back and realise how many pages had passed by in a flash. The updated sections in the new edition include a new introduction, an epilogue about Bannister's life after international running and discussing issues in modern sport and several letters written by Bannister in the few years following his world-record. These are well worth reading but the main attraction of the book must be the original text.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2012
A detailed, step by step, account of Roger Bannister's running career, culminating in his four minute mile at Oxford. Although focussed very much on the training regime for his middle-distance running career, his story is interesting and inspirational to anyone who puts on a pair of running shoes whether in competition or just as a personal challenge. His story and views of the world are grounded in the post war era, but still have much to say to the many more thousands of ordinary people who now leave the comforts of home to run the streets of our cities and suburbs.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 2011
I don't read much so it takes a particularly good book to keep me interested! As a regular long-distance runner I am inspired by the greats, and Roger Bannister was most definitely one! The book was written when he was young, just a year after he retired from competitive running, but despite its age, the storyline is still passionate and enthralling. Bannister's matter-of-fact description of competition, success and failure is stunning!
Well worth a read if you enjoy sporting autobiographies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2013
I have to confess that I bought the book not really knowing anything about Bannister or a great deal about the history of British athletics. As a runner, I'd simply hoped to learn about the history and significance of the four-minute mile. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

The book covers Bannister's life up until his retirement from competitive in 1955, and provides an interesting insight into the athletics culture of post-war Britain.
Having read many quite poorly ghost-written sports memoirs, the eloquence of Bannister's writing was a pleasant surprise. I highly recommend it.

The book contains many quotable passages, but I particularly liked his description of the freedom offered by running as 'echoing passions and needs that have primitive evolutionary significance and that, to our peril, we have too often dismissed as uncivilised and immature'. So true.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2010
Several weeks ago I read a book about a Hungarian sportsman who did the third four minutes. The reason why I bought this book to read about the First. It was a good choice. As an amateur runner I get lot of inspiration from the author for running. And a good portrait of the last century.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2013
This book is very informative and extremely well written. He was a true amateur whose training had to take second place to his academic work. He describes how, because of this, his major efforts had to be made sparingly, which, in my opinion, made his achievements all the more remarkable.
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