• Out of Thin Air

  • Running Wisdom and Magic from Above the Clouds in Ethiopia
  • By: Michael Crawley
  • Narrated by: Raj Ghatak
  • Length: 7 hrs and 47 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (94 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Bloomsbury presents Out of Thin Air by Michael Crawley, read by Raj Ghatak.

Ethiopia is a place where I have been told that energy is controlled by angels and demons and where witchdoctors can help you to acquire another runner’s power. It is a place where an anonymous runner in the forest told me, miming an imaginary scoreboard and with a completely straight face, that he had dreamt that he would run 10km in 25 minutes. It is a place where they tell me that the air at Mount Entoto will transform me into a 2.08 marathon runner. It is a place, in short, of wisdom and magic, where dreaming is still very much alive.

Why does it make sense to Ethiopian runners to get up at three a.m. to run up and down a hill? Who would choose to train on almost impossibly steep and rocky terrain, in hyena territory? And how come Ethiopian men hold six of the top 10 fastest marathon times ever? 

Michael Crawley spent 15 months in Ethiopia training alongside (and sometimes a fair way behind) runners at all levels of the sport, from night watchmen hoping to change their lives to world-class marathon runners, in order to answer these questions. Follow him into the forest as he attempts to keep up and get to the heart of their success.

©2020 Michael Crawley (P)2020 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic Reviews

"Through reading this book you will come to understand that the heart and soul of running are to be found in Ethiopia." (Haile Gebrselassie)

"Full of wonderful insights and lessons from a world where the ability to run is viewed as something almost mysterious and magical." (Adharanand Finn, author of Running with the Kenyans)

"A deep dive into the rich and complex culture that produces some of the best runners the world has ever seen." (Alex Hutchinson, author of Endure)

What listeners say about Out of Thin Air

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couldn't stop listening

so well written and engrossing. couldn't stop listening. great perspective on what running means to different people from another part of the world and culture.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent Book

Thie book offers a fascinating insight into Ethiopian running culture and performance. I had always assumed that Ethiopian success could be attributed to similar factors as those used to explain Kenyan running success, yet this book highlights that while there are similarities, there are also key differences. The depth of insight and nuanced perspective offered on Ethiopian running culture is really intriguing, and I loved the way the author is able to capture the voices and perspectives of Ethipioan runners in the text.

The things I found particularly fascinating about Ethiopian running culture: (1) Running is an occupation in Ethiopia; (2) Ethiopian runners place great emphasis on where they run and they draw energy from their surroundings; (3) Running on different surfaces is part of a runners development and each different surface serves a specific purpose; (4) Running is a social activity, very few serious runners ever run alone and they run in single file, or two abreast, following a leader; (5) Serious runners make careful choices about when to use a GPS and when not to; (6) They almost always use time as a key guide for how long to run (not distance).

If you enjoyed Adharanand Finn's books ("Running with the Kenyans", "The Way of the Runner") or Chris McDougall's "Born to Run" then you will really enjoy this book. It is highly recommended!!!

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Great read

Great story about the Ethiopian running culture. Feeling like the reader is among the group of runners as they train, race, live, recover.

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Really a nice read

A great and respectful testimony of perhaps the greatest running nation and it’s great runners.

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Some refreshing perspective

Very entertaining listen. Sure to help keep your own training in perspective. Running is life!

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  • Donald
  • 04-29-21

Quite interesting content. Wish I'd just read it.

This is an interesting review of the author's 15 month trip in Ethiopia. Getting a glimpse of how the local athletes train and their collective mindset is really interesting and the contrast between that and science led, highly prescriptive and less successful methods of more "developed" nations is stark. I'm not an anthropologist (the author is), so I'm not able to comment on that element other than to say it was unobtrusive and reads (sounds), simply like an interesting memoir.

Unfortunately what really spoiled the experience for me was the narration. While, no doubt, highly proficient at his difficult job, it is clear that the narrator has no interest or knowledge of running. It also sounds like he's had no familiarity with the book prior to recording it. The reading is monotone, at an unnaturally constant pace and with an occasional disregard for punctuation which makes it quite difficult to listen to. My biggest and most grating issue is with the way the narrator deals with time. This book is crammed full of times for example "person x ran a half marathon in 1:06" or "I was running a steady 5:50 per mile". The narrator insists on reading these times as "1 point zero six" and "5 point five zero" which is both totally alien to any runner and also totally wrong. Time is not decimal. 5 minutes and 50 seconds is NOT 5.5 minutes.

A good book though.

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  • Luke Ivory
  • 06-02-22

Great insight into Ethiopian running

I found this book to be one of the most interesting running books I've read. Any runner interested in the training methods and culture of East African running should read it.

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  • David
  • 11-25-21

interesting insight

One of the few audio books I've hurtled through well narrated and offers an interesting insight into Ethiopian approach to running and the determination with which the runners approach their running.

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  • Jammin042
  • 10-13-21

Interesting insight into Ethiopian running.

Great insight into Ethiopian running. Got a great feel for what it means to them and how and where they train.

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  • Martin Gudmand
  • 09-10-21

Insightful story. Horrible narration

The story and insights into Ethiopian running is good and interesting. But, the narrator is completely unprepared when it comes to running terms and names of runners. He also sounds to have no enthusiasm for anything. Just reads aloud in monotone voice. That significantly reduces the value of the audiobook.

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  • Mr G.
  • 03-24-21

Great audiobook to listen to while cruising....

... through some long runs or short ones. Very entertaining and eye opening in equal measure

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  • Good Buyer
  • 03-20-21

superbly written and an absolutely engaging read.

Feel part of the running journey of many aspiring and subsequent successful runners. Inspiring and enjoyable.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Andrew
  • 03-19-21

A classic book on running meets Anthropology

Key takeaways from this book relate to why Ethiopians have dominated races from 10000m and up for so long - culture, training, lifestyle, and systems.

The author explores all these elements through the discipline of ethnography and must be one of the only anthropologists able to do fieldwork at this level since he is a 2.20 marathon runner.


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  • Adam Brant
  • 02-21-21

Great Running Story read an an obvious non runner.

Great insight at the pointy end of running and engaging cultural commentary. just a shame the narrator's performance showed a complete lack of understanding running when describing the technical aspects.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-14-21

Good

Good overall,times read with apparent lack of understanding what they equated to.excellent insight to Ethiopia