William Hartmann’s Obesity is equal parts memoir and investigation into the root causes of obesity. As the author notes fairly early in the book, it’s difficult to say anything new about this subject because, in his words, “it’s all been written before and repackaged a thousand different ways.” Hartmann, however, gives it the old college try and comes away with mixed results. Early chapters of Obesity do a decent job of recapping a lot of recent writing on the issue, and Hartmann gives credit where credit is due. Among others, Hartmann examines Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me as he attempts to figure out where, exactly, the onus for our country’s weight problem lies. The answer, for Hartmann, anyway, is that it’s a matter of individual responsibility, though he does leave room for both divine and satanic intervention. “Satan was the chief rebel in heaven because of pride until God threw him out,” the author explains; “He now runs a lot of this earth and he is busy indoctrinating everybody he can with this spirit and he doesn’t care how he destroys you whether it’s through your poor nutrition decisions or some other way.” Ultimately, though, Hartmann argues that it’s up to us to “get off of our collected behinds” and do something about the problem.
Hartmann’s writing is strongest in Obesity when he writes from personal experience. Indeed, his own battle with obesity saw him balloon up to 452 pounds — at which point, the author explains, he “couldn’t take a poop without laxatives” and “could barely bend down to pick stuff up.” Such confessions, jarring though they may seem, speak volumes for Hartmann’s courage in writing and publishing this book, which serves as both a warning to a nation whose nutrition issues threaten to spiral out of control and an inspiration to anyone struggling with the life-threatening issue of obesity.