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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

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Book Commentary

Muscletown USA:
Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell
by John D. Fair

"The vices of great men are usually on the same scale as their virtues."
Sam Keen,
Fire In The Belly

For anyone interested in the inside story of the iron game in this century, the publication of Muscletown USA is the event of the year, perhaps the decade. It probably won't make a big splash in the muscle magazines, but it undoubtedly should. They say truth is stranger than fiction. This biography and history proves it. If John Fair's prodigious work were not so meticulously researched and footnoted, people would say it's too far-fetched to be true.

From the 1930s to the 1980s, the capitol of weight lifting in America was York, Pennsylvania, the home of the York Barbell Company. Bob Hoffman, the founder of York Barbell and the self proclaimed "Father of World Weightlifting," was a pioneer in the marketing of barbells and health foods. More than anyone else, Hoffman was responsible for popularizing weight training in athletics. At a time when the muscle-bound myth was prevailing wisdom among doctors, coaches and physical educators, Hoffman preached that a stronger athlete is a better athlete. Practically everyone now acknowledges that he was right.

As John Fair documents so well, Bob Hoffman was also an egomaniac prone to exaggeration and falsification. Calling himself "The World's Healthiest Man," he repeatedly stressed the need for "proper food, correct exercise, and sufficient sleep," but he never ate properly, exercised regularly or slept sufficiently. Nevertheless, he was a promotional genius and did far more good than harm.

As Terry Todd, the co-editor of Iron Game History and a former managing editor of York's flagship magazine Strength & Health, remarked to Fair, "It's hard for people around now to imagine what a potent place York was [at the height of its world wide influence in the 1950s]." That's true. As a young lifter searching for the secrets of the champions, I was drawn to York in the late '50s. I rubbed shoulders with John Grimek, Steve Stanko, John Terpak, and other lifting greats who Hoffman had recruited to York Barbell to work and train for national and international competition. The York gang and Bob's Strength & Health had a wonderfully positive influence on me. I realized early on that Hoffman was a blowhard, but I respected him for his many legitimate contributions. His teaching contributed immeasurably to the quality of my life, especially in my formative years. I'm proud to say that I am a Bob Hoffman boy grown up. As Terry Todd says in the book, "We would not be where we are had we not been carried forward in the arms of giants, the tallest of whom was Bob Hoffman."

Anyone interested in physical culture owes it to themselves to read Muscletown USA. We also owe John Fair a great debt for putting his considerable talents to work collecting and chronicling this wonderful saga while the paper trail was still relatively fresh and many of the actors were still around to fill in critical details.

Muscletown USA is the story of a great man with an even greater ego and a will to win at almost any cost. Like sausage and politics, some might say that many of the details would be better left untold. I was inclined to feel that way about some of the more unsavory episodes. On reflection, however, I believe John Fair was correct to tell the whole story, warts and all. In addition to being a fascinating tale, it's a warning to modern-day seekers of strength and health to view the physical culture field with eyes wide open. The iron game has much to offer that's wholesome and good, but the story of Muscletown USA teaches that there are potholes aplenty for the unwary.

John Fair's book is no longer available from Ripped Enterprises but can be found on Amazon, etc.

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