There’s method acting and then there’s method writing. A. J. Jacobs, editor-at-large of Esquire, strictly practices the latter while crafting pieces for both the magazine and his New York Times bestselling books.
From spending a year abiding by the laws of the Bible to reading every entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Jacobs has done it all for the sake of the story. He visited MTV as part of its author speaker series, to talk about his most recent venture and the life lessons gleaned from these projects.
This talk was a reunion of sorts—Jacobs had once been a writer for MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and studied abroad with MTV President Stephen Friedman in Spain during college.
Jacobs’ new book, Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, is his latest foray into experiential writing, chronicling his attempt to try every dietary and fitness regimen out there to become the “healthiest man in the world.”
“As a writer, I like to immerse myself in my topics. I like to dive in and almost become a human guinea pig,” he said. This complete immersion into these areas has enabled Jacobs to emerge with a set of powerful observations on each of them.
He started by discussing the trends he saw after reading the encyclopedia from A to Z, interestingly enough echoing the same message espoused by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman during his visit to MTV a few months ago. Recalling the story of the Romans who fought incredibly well on land and had to adapt to naval warfare, Jacobs noted, “Over and over, throughout history, you have to adapt or die.”
He applied this concept to developing fresh strategies in business and life, “Keep a little of the old and a little of the new,” said Jacobs, “and you come up with a brilliant idea.”
His endeavor to living by the laws of the Bible was sparked by a childhood devoid of religion and a need to satisfy his curiosity about spirituality. After doing everything including stoning an adulterer (with pebbles) and avoiding poly-cotton blends (the Bible bans mixed-fiber clothing), he developed his own view of this ancient text.
“There’s some wonderful stuff in the Bible and there’s some stuff that’s totally archaic,” he said, lauding the merits of practicing “cafeteria religion” in which people pick-and-choose which tenets to follow, similar to how they might select food in a cafeteria. “It’s adapt to survive.”
“I had done the mind, I had done the spirit, so I figured I had to finish off the trinity by doing the body,” he joked about the inspiration behind his new book. For him, the goal of being healthy for this project became a full-time job, dictating his entire schedule. Whether it was a raw food diet, juice cleanse, or the need to apply a “shot-glass” size amount of sunscreen every two hours, Jacobs spent two years working on toning his “skinny-fat” self.
His conclusions from this experience seemed painfully relevant to much of the audience who were listening to this talk amidst a busy workday, “Avoid the sedentary life,” he said, “the research I found on sitting is quite alarming—sitting is the new smoking… any time you can get up from your desk, walk around for a minute.”
Now a guru on history and random facts, the Bible, and living life to its healthiest, Jacobs did provide some reassuring commentary for those who spend a great deal of time in the office, “If you enjoy your work, then it’s not unhealthy to work a lot,” he said, “If you’re doing what you enjoy that’s going to lengthen your life.”