This non-fiction book, published in 2014, is arguably the definitive book on how Lance Armstrong rose to the the top of his chosen sport, professional cycling, and simultaneously became an inspiration to cancer sufferers around the world. In a classic tragedy, the protagonist is brought down by his own flaws, and, with the wreckage of his life about him, realizes those flaws and grows as a person. Unfortunately, this is not a classic tragedy, because Armstrong, who loudly and pugnaciously denied using illegal performance enhancing drugs or techniques, going so far as to bring litigation against those who dared to say otherwise, has not learned anything from the wreckage of his life after he admitted that he had lied. (I did enjoy this book, even though it took me months to read.)
Born in Texas to a teen mother and father (who split up not long after producing their son), Armstrong’s mother, once he became famous, became famous in her own right as the single mother who supported her son in his quest for greatness. The truth is that Armstrong’s stepfather (who gave the boy his last name) was with Armstrong’s mother from the time the boy was three until the boy was sixteen; but the narrative of the single mother is what sells books.
Armstrong grew up to be an extraordinarily good cyclist; he also grew up with a need to have his greatness validated and affirmed by beating everyone else to a pulp and by becoming rich and famous. Momentarily sidelined by his diagnosis of testicular cancer, he made a full recover, started the LiveStrong program for cancer research (with its iconic LiveStrong yellow rubber bracelets), and won the grueling Tour de France cycling race seven times. Along the way, in books and other media, he proclaimed that he was such a good cyclist because of his natural ability and his training regime. To any and all questions about whether he was using illegal performance enhancing drugs or techniques, he would deny any and all such allegations, and sue those who held otherwise. The truth was that he would do anything to win; and that he was using any and all techniques and drugs, legal or otherwise, on the grounds that all of the other cyclists were doing the same, so that, in his mind, he was merely evening out any advantage that the other cyclists had.
This book details (very thoroughly) how the myth of Lance Armstrong, the self-appointed Poster Boy for achieving one’s goals through training and hard work, was shattered by the revelations of his use of illegal performance enhancing drugs and techniques, and how, at the end, he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show to admit that he had lied, over and over and over, about using such drugs and techniques. But, with his Tour de France wins taken away from him, the loss of all of his sponsors, and the ever-growing pile of lawsuits filed against him, he still maintained that he had really not done anything that was not being done by everyone else, and that it was unfair to vilify him. He remains, at heart, the bully who insists on not just winning, but destroying the competition, by any means, and it is somewhat depressing to consider that he might live the rest of his life convinced that he did nothing wrong.