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The Urban Hermit: A Memoir

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Faced with the truth that his debts and his waistline had both ballooned out of control, Sam MacDonald devised a plan to change his life. When Sam graduated from Yale in 1995, he watched a classmate make inroads as a head-office guy in professional baseball, another become a day-trading millionaire, and another develop connections at the Playboy Mansion. Struggling to make Faced with the truth that his debts and his waistline had both ballooned out of control, Sam MacDonald devised a plan to change his life. When Sam graduated from Yale in 1995, he watched a classmate make inroads as a head-office guy in professional baseball, another become a day-trading millionaire, and another develop connections at the Playboy Mansion. Struggling to make ends meet, he shrugged his shoulders at their success and raised a tall one to them. It wasn't until April 2000 that Sam got his wake-up call. He weighed 340 lbs. He was flat broke. And the IRS had caught up with him. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Sam decided to limit himself to a budget of $8 a week and 800 calories a day. He called it "The Urban Hermit Plan." He thought he would do it for a month. Instead, he embarked on a bizarre year-long journey. He lost 160 pounds in the process, befriended rent-dodging trailer-park denizens, flew to Bosnia on assignment, traveled to a peace festival in a hippie van, had a run-in with Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard, and met the woman who would later become his wife. The Urban Hermit is a wildly hilarious story about backwoods living, as told by a man who should have known better.


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Faced with the truth that his debts and his waistline had both ballooned out of control, Sam MacDonald devised a plan to change his life. When Sam graduated from Yale in 1995, he watched a classmate make inroads as a head-office guy in professional baseball, another become a day-trading millionaire, and another develop connections at the Playboy Mansion. Struggling to make Faced with the truth that his debts and his waistline had both ballooned out of control, Sam MacDonald devised a plan to change his life. When Sam graduated from Yale in 1995, he watched a classmate make inroads as a head-office guy in professional baseball, another become a day-trading millionaire, and another develop connections at the Playboy Mansion. Struggling to make ends meet, he shrugged his shoulders at their success and raised a tall one to them. It wasn't until April 2000 that Sam got his wake-up call. He weighed 340 lbs. He was flat broke. And the IRS had caught up with him. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Sam decided to limit himself to a budget of $8 a week and 800 calories a day. He called it "The Urban Hermit Plan." He thought he would do it for a month. Instead, he embarked on a bizarre year-long journey. He lost 160 pounds in the process, befriended rent-dodging trailer-park denizens, flew to Bosnia on assignment, traveled to a peace festival in a hippie van, had a run-in with Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard, and met the woman who would later become his wife. The Urban Hermit is a wildly hilarious story about backwoods living, as told by a man who should have known better.

30 review for The Urban Hermit: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    This is the story of a, to this reader's mind, somewhat screwed up man-boy in the body of a 300+ pound self-named "fat bastard" who took extreme measures to straighten up and fly right. MacDonald, though somehow a Yale graduate, seemingly lived to do the bare minimum by day (as in fly-by-night dead end jobs) and to party by night...mainly drinking and specifically in a Baltimore bar called Kisling's. MacDonald's love of Kisling's and the drinking culture pervades the story and, weirdly, he writes This is the story of a, to this reader's mind, somewhat screwed up man-boy in the body of a 300+ pound self-named "fat bastard" who took extreme measures to straighten up and fly right. MacDonald, though somehow a Yale graduate, seemingly lived to do the bare minimum by day (as in fly-by-night dead end jobs) and to party by night...mainly drinking and specifically in a Baltimore bar called Kisling's. MacDonald's love of Kisling's and the drinking culture pervades the story and, weirdly, he writes with more affection and vigor about this particular watering hole than he does about any of the people in his life. Although I am not one to stand in the way of a man (or woman) and their favorite dive, I found this single minded devotion to getting shit-faced depressing, especially in someone who was a decade out of college. Circumstances caught up with MacDonald right around the turn of the millennium in the way of student loans, maxed out credit cards, a beater car with chronic transmission problems and that pesky back rent. MacDonald's plight is all too familiar in the recently departed era of instant gratification, bigger is better, consumption as a virtue and instant credit schemes. However the debt he racked up at Kisling's and with various drug dealers makes his situation somewhat less poignant. Backed into a corner, MacDonald devises a scheme where he will live on 800 calories a day and a food budget of $8 per week. His diet will mainly comprise lentils and generic tuna and bread. Along with this mortification of the esophagus, MacDonald also swears off Kisling's, other bars, drugs and entertainment outside the TV. He begins to take rambling walks at night after work because he has nothing better to do. And he begins to lose weight...precipitously. Throughout the course of the book MacDonald's weight loss becomes somewhat a metaphor for the other detritus he begins to shed in his life as he transforms himself from The Fat Bastard to the Urban Hermit. Some of these changes are very impressive on the surface. MacDonald begins to actually apply himself to his current job at a small Baltimore area paper and realizes that journalism is his professional calling. Along with the opportunities that present themselves with his work, he meets a girl friend. I was uneasy with the end of the book. MacDonald seems to remain a man with issues...food issues, maturity issues and inter-personal relationship issues. In truth, I suppose the vast majority of the population has these issues. It is unrealistic to expect that everything will be tied up in a neat psychological bundle at the end of the last paragraph. However, I found MacDonald difficult to warm up to...and viewed him primarily as the architect of his own downfalls. Maybe that should make it all the more impressive when he started to climb out of the abyss...but, for me, it didn't.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I shouldn't have liked this story of an overweight slacker wannabe journalist who puts himself on a starvation diet for a year in order to save money. MacDonald's narrative voice is so relentlessly colloquial, I kept thinking, "Couldn't this guy who teaches CREATIVE NONFICTION COLLEGE CLASSES have been a bit more interesting in his word choice?" But despite the studied lack of sophistication in his writing (which I know was completely on purpose since excerpts of his professional political writi I shouldn't have liked this story of an overweight slacker wannabe journalist who puts himself on a starvation diet for a year in order to save money. MacDonald's narrative voice is so relentlessly colloquial, I kept thinking, "Couldn't this guy who teaches CREATIVE NONFICTION COLLEGE CLASSES have been a bit more interesting in his word choice?" But despite the studied lack of sophistication in his writing (which I know was completely on purpose since excerpts of his professional political writing stood out like a sore thumb in the book), I was still compelled to finish simply because, WHO DOES SOMETHING LIKE THAT? I had to know how it all turned out. I'll remember the story, but the execution is already slipping away...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    A very charming book about living within your means and realizing what is important in life. I highly recommend this one.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    Fat, broke and sunk to borrowing money from his parents to make student loan payments, journalist Sam MacDonald dreams up the Urban Hermit plan. He will spend $8 a day and limit his food intake to 800 calories a day, with meals consisting of lentils and tuna fish. Who knew deprivation and poverty could be so funny? MacDonald’s journey from the Fat Bastard to the Urban Hermit was supposed to last a month. Instead it starts with his debt during the dot-com boom and his over-stressed size 44 pants Fat, broke and sunk to borrowing money from his parents to make student loan payments, journalist Sam MacDonald dreams up the Urban Hermit plan. He will spend $8 a day and limit his food intake to 800 calories a day, with meals consisting of lentils and tuna fish. Who knew deprivation and poverty could be so funny? MacDonald’s journey from the Fat Bastard to the Urban Hermit was supposed to last a month. Instead it starts with his debt during the dot-com boom and his over-stressed size 44 pants and ends soon after September 11, 2001, with his then-fiancé urging him to eat a little more to fill out his face. In the year in between, readers join MacDonald and his cousin Skippy, their life in a “brown” apartment with accidental pets, a trip to Bosnia and mistakes involving foreign money, trailer-park activism, politics and porn, and cross-country adventures with people so charming, so scary, so absurd that we want to be there. “Dumb Luck” could easily have been an alternative title to this book as both MacDonald and his Skippy quit their jobs anytime they get promoted. Readers happily enjoy the outrageous ride. When the cat finds a linty ball of Ecstasy under the recliner, Sam and Skippy head out to the woods and discover a Dukes of Hazzard convention. MacDonald’s cousin Aaron, a lovable hippie who gets along with everyone, accompanies them to the Rainbow Gathering as the photographer on one of MacDonald's assignments and ends up saving their lives while serving food and fixing his beloved van. Deprived of luxuries such as beer and shots, and lonely since all his friends are drinking without him, MacDonald wanders the streets of Baltimore, oblivious to the weight that is dropping off. Only morons would treat this as a diet and get-out-of-debt book, but “Urban Hermit” is one of the better gimmicky memoirs written today. Well-written, each chapter opens with a newspaper article highlighting the financial excesses of the late 1990s and then MacDonald goes on to describe his own circumstances in a realistic, humorous way. Part of the beauty of MacDonald’s writing lies in his apt descriptions and serendipitous adventures. Rolling Rocks are $1 at Kipling’s bar and MacDonald frequently compares expenditures (shoes, a sleeping bag, a new suit) with how many Rolling Rocks one could buy. MacDonald starred in an ad for Kipling’s as the drunk, fat guy and vaguely remembers the role as an easy one. MacDonald says of his wife Michele on their first date, “She looked like danger and smelled like math.” MacDonald’s first cooked batch of lentils made me gag a little as he describes that mushy, crunchy, soggy bite. An engrossing, engaging read, with a satisfying – yet incomplete – ending, “Urban Hermit” offers a drastic and delightful look at debt and dieting.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carin

    Okay, Sam MacDonald is probably a little bit crazy. But I get where he was (fat, broke, desperate) and while I've not exactly been there myself, I've been able to see there. I'm not sure I could've done what he did to get out of debt and to lose weight, but it was inspiring. Sticking to my budget is a lot easier when I'm thinking, I could just be living on tuna fish and lentils. Thankfully it's nonfiction, or else the part where Sam's life starts to fall into place just as he finally starts to t Okay, Sam MacDonald is probably a little bit crazy. But I get where he was (fat, broke, desperate) and while I've not exactly been there myself, I've been able to see there. I'm not sure I could've done what he did to get out of debt and to lose weight, but it was inspiring. Sticking to my budget is a lot easier when I'm thinking, I could just be living on tuna fish and lentils. Thankfully it's nonfiction, or else the part where Sam's life starts to fall into place just as he finally starts to take responsibility and work towards some resolutions, would be cheesy. But as that wasn't contrived, it's also inspiring. But in a sarcastic, funny way. On my worst day, I'm still not working in a fish warehouse. But I do pray every day for my transmission not to go out, as a lot of us are just one dead transmission away from our budgets going to hell. It's fun, funny, debt and life advice from a regular dude who drinks and is lazy and has crazy cats occasionally. It's nice to not be preached at. Great for the post-college crowd.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Daisy

    Ugh. There's nothing wrong with not going on a journey of personal discovery or learning much about anything when you make a change in your life but it makes for a pretty boring book. MacDonald skims the surface of a change in lifestyle, never really ruminating on the cause and effect of his journey into Urban Hermit-hood (which wasn't particularly hermit-like or urban). Also, he's a little whiny, treating minor set-backs as major downfalls and generally unaware of the fact that what he set out Ugh. There's nothing wrong with not going on a journey of personal discovery or learning much about anything when you make a change in your life but it makes for a pretty boring book. MacDonald skims the surface of a change in lifestyle, never really ruminating on the cause and effect of his journey into Urban Hermit-hood (which wasn't particularly hermit-like or urban). Also, he's a little whiny, treating minor set-backs as major downfalls and generally unaware of the fact that what he set out to do was really not that big a deal. It's inexplicable to me how a person (a political journalist, no less) could voluntarily put themselves on a starvation diet (except for the beer) and never once contemplate the poverty and starvation that affects so many people. You don't have to be a bleeding heart liberal for it to cross your mind that this is a painful reality for millions of people. Possibly, or even likely, MacDonald is a nice man who learned some self-control through his experience but it doesn't make for interesting reading.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

    funny book about a hugely overweight guy living in Baltimore, a few years after graduating from Yale, sharing an apartment with his cousin, drifting in and out of jobs, drinking a lot, and going broke. He tries a two-fold solution to the weight and money problems by living on 800 calories a day (mostly lentils and tuna sandwiches), avoiding the bar where he was a regular, and more or less doing nothing but going on long walks by himself. By the end of a year he's lost approximately a whole adult funny book about a hugely overweight guy living in Baltimore, a few years after graduating from Yale, sharing an apartment with his cousin, drifting in and out of jobs, drinking a lot, and going broke. He tries a two-fold solution to the weight and money problems by living on 800 calories a day (mostly lentils and tuna sandwiches), avoiding the bar where he was a regular, and more or less doing nothing but going on long walks by himself. By the end of a year he's lost approximately a whole adult person, gotten a steady newspaper job, and met the woman he ended up marrying. Some detours/travelogues along the way including a trip to cover the Rainbow Gathering in Montana, driving all the way there in a nearly-expired van with two other ne-er-do-wells. Humor is juvenile at times, but overall I enjoyed it quite a bit. He has a keen eye for detail in describing even mundane things like his first date in quite a while, the reactions he got to his weight loss, etc.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Trina

    If you have ever gotten sick of your own shit then you will love this book. It is honest and self-deprecating with just a touch of intelligence to make Macdonald likable. The events of his life progress beyond mere thoughts rolling around someone's head into lessons of overindulgence and how hard the straight and narrow road can be. As a random pick using gift card riches I was very pleased with this book. If you have ever gotten sick of your own shit then you will love this book. It is honest and self-deprecating with just a touch of intelligence to make Macdonald likable. The events of his life progress beyond mere thoughts rolling around someone's head into lessons of overindulgence and how hard the straight and narrow road can be. As a random pick using gift card riches I was very pleased with this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Disa

    Inspiring story of a guy who eats lentils to get out of debt. Though I'm not sure how that makes him a hermit. Is it a diet book? A memoir about getting his life together? A silly travelogue? It's strange and humorous so I'd recommend this book. But not the lentils. Inspiring story of a guy who eats lentils to get out of debt. Though I'm not sure how that makes him a hermit. Is it a diet book? A memoir about getting his life together? A silly travelogue? It's strange and humorous so I'd recommend this book. But not the lentils.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Traci

    I found this intensely self aware memoir by a former Fat Bastard to be delightful. It's pretty rare for people to actually take full responsibility for their situations in life, but Sam admits it's all his doing, one Rolling Rock at a time. I'd eat lentils with this guy. I found this intensely self aware memoir by a former Fat Bastard to be delightful. It's pretty rare for people to actually take full responsibility for their situations in life, but Sam admits it's all his doing, one Rolling Rock at a time. I'd eat lentils with this guy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    This book is a not-so-charming tale of a depressed alcoholic giving himself an eating disorder because he can't afford to pay his student loans. The problem is that the author doesn't know that. MacDonald tries to write a whimsical anthology of a wacky summer spend scrounging pennies to have incredible life experiences, but when you take a step back and realize that all of the interesting bits of the story took place over about 3 weeks and cost a few hundred bucks total, it's less a story of a s This book is a not-so-charming tale of a depressed alcoholic giving himself an eating disorder because he can't afford to pay his student loans. The problem is that the author doesn't know that. MacDonald tries to write a whimsical anthology of a wacky summer spend scrounging pennies to have incredible life experiences, but when you take a step back and realize that all of the interesting bits of the story took place over about 3 weeks and cost a few hundred bucks total, it's less a story of a scrappy young rebel moving mountains to have the experience of a lifetime and moreso a sort of grim window into the life of a nearly 30-year-old Yale graduate who can't muster enough cash to drive to Montana on nearly 2 months notice. And yet incredibly, almost miraculously, everything ends up working out for our leading man (because his dad pays to fix his car 3 times, loans him cash, and fronts him a down payment on a new truck). MacDonald, despite giving us excruciating detail on how much of a "snarky Libertarian" he is, never spends a moment of self-reflection thinking about how incredibly differently his life might have gone if he didn't have a family that was willing and able to put themselves close to 5 figures in the hole so that he could cruise through life absolutely wasted until his big wake up call. Indeed, the memoir is written in a style of faux-humility that would, at first glance, lead the reader to conclude that MacDonald understood just how fortunate he was, but upon even a cursory inspection, props up this myth of a steel-willed man doing what had to be done to survive. It's this subtext that irks me the most, that MacDonald subtly chalks up his success down the road to his slavish devotion to his medically outrageous scheme, rather than the result of many, many people keeping him afloat until he stumbled ass-first into a sustainable career.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    The author freely admits to having spent most of his twenties obese, drunk, deeply in debt, and occasionally drug-fueled (and this is a Yale graduate). His experiment in asceticism didn't really have to do with dieting as much as it did saving money. He restricted himself to 800 calories a day, primarily in lentils and tuna, and lost an incredible amount of weight in a relatively short time. The book isn't about dieting, though, it's more about discovering if a self-described "Fat Bastard" can m The author freely admits to having spent most of his twenties obese, drunk, deeply in debt, and occasionally drug-fueled (and this is a Yale graduate). His experiment in asceticism didn't really have to do with dieting as much as it did saving money. He restricted himself to 800 calories a day, primarily in lentils and tuna, and lost an incredible amount of weight in a relatively short time. The book isn't about dieting, though, it's more about discovering if a self-described "Fat Bastard" can maintain sobriety and solvency in the face of temptation. He had some humorous experiences during the urban hermit process, reporting on assignment in Bosnia and participating in a huge hippie gathering in Montana. I got a laugh out of his musings about what he would do if he won the lottery: "If I went to a JC Penny and said, 'I want to buy everything in his whole damn store,' would they ring it up and put it in bags for me? How much would it cost? What would happen if I paid, then came back the next day and said, "I want to return this?....Could I buy each and every ad slot at the Super Bowl and just show live footage of a chicken walking around a barnyard?" Funny, even with some unnecessary "f" word usage throughout, but then he was (is) a vulgar guy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Micah Larsen

    The journey of a 27/28 year old man who is morbidly obese, deep in debt, and down on his luck, who goes on an 800 calorie a day diet of tuna and lentils to save money and shed pounds. Mildly interesting, mildly entertaining.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Humorous book about the quest to eat lentils in order to get out of debt.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hollowspine

    I picked this book up hooked by the title 'the Urban Hermit.' I'm urban (kind of...). I'm a hermit. However, in more ways than one I could never be an urban hermit. I am a pretty willful person and usually when I set out to do something I'm able to accomplish it. However, this willpower completely abandons me when it comes to food. I was amazed when he was able to turn away FREE chocolate cake. It's free and it's cake. Nothing wrong with that. Can't say no to that. I'm also not even 200 pounds s I picked this book up hooked by the title 'the Urban Hermit.' I'm urban (kind of...). I'm a hermit. However, in more ways than one I could never be an urban hermit. I am a pretty willful person and usually when I set out to do something I'm able to accomplish it. However, this willpower completely abandons me when it comes to food. I was amazed when he was able to turn away FREE chocolate cake. It's free and it's cake. Nothing wrong with that. Can't say no to that. I'm also not even 200 pounds so there's no way I could live on only 800 (or less) calories a day, no matter how much money I could save. I enjoyed the chapter where he employed a Hunter S. Thompson like voice. I loved all the quotations at the beginnings of the chapters, from Kafka to Jonathan Edwards to Modest Mouse, all of them fit perfectly with the memoir. I thought the bits from the Hunger Artist were especially apt, since he often points out that his Urban Hermit lifestyle didn't have anything to do with dieting, but saving money, which is an art style practiced by the Artists of the Cheap (I may be only a junior member, but I try). As I read the book I really did think of starting some sort of cheap diet, especially after learning that he was able to save 600 bucks the first month. But then again I can't even do 20 push-ups now. I don't think eating less would improve that number for me. I'll have to figure out my own Urban Hermit way, maybe someday I'll be able to publish my own journey from a average sized broke loser to a larger than life rich loser!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ocean

    i initially picked up this book because it has the same title as one of my fave zines of all time (okay, so technically it's "the urban hermitt", two T's, whatever). i checked it out of the library because i enjoy books about living frugally. but, oh my god, this guy is SUCH an idiot! he goes on and on about how much lentils suck and how much his life sucks because he's "forced" to eat them. (i put "forced" in quote marks because, unlike people who live in non-voluntary poverty, he had many chan i initially picked up this book because it has the same title as one of my fave zines of all time (okay, so technically it's "the urban hermitt", two T's, whatever). i checked it out of the library because i enjoy books about living frugally. but, oh my god, this guy is SUCH an idiot! he goes on and on about how much lentils suck and how much his life sucks because he's "forced" to eat them. (i put "forced" in quote marks because, unlike people who live in non-voluntary poverty, he had many chances to get well-paying jobs but gave them up because it would force him to be, god forbid, RESPONSIBLE.) but he eats them plain, with nothing else. duh! of course they suck like that! he could have easily bought a shaker can of curry and made it like 100x better. he could have even bought a packet of ramen noodles for 20 cents and mixed them in. but no, he just likes to pointlessly complain about how hard he has it. this book had some okay lines and ideas, but mostly this guy is just so annoying i couldn't deal with him. his lack of even the most basic common sense or inner life just made him unbearable. i had to put the book down when he's on a cross-country roadtrip in a barely-functional car. his buddy's driving and he asks, "how's it going?" the buddy replies, "like a raped ape!" what the fuck does that even mean? anyone who not only lives that little snippet of dialogue, but thinks it's worthy of including in a memoir.......words fail me.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    This book was nothing like what I expected and in a good way. You can’t judge a book by its cover and apparently not by its synopsis either. I was anticipating a serious (and possibly boring) discussion on how Sam embarked on a diet program while at the same time learning to manage his money. Not quite! It was a fun read but also mesmerizing in the same way we are tempted to stop and stare at a train wreck even though we know we should keep moving. Weight loss was not Sam’s goal; getting out of d This book was nothing like what I expected and in a good way. You can’t judge a book by its cover and apparently not by its synopsis either. I was anticipating a serious (and possibly boring) discussion on how Sam embarked on a diet program while at the same time learning to manage his money. Not quite! It was a fun read but also mesmerizing in the same way we are tempted to stop and stare at a train wreck even though we know we should keep moving. Weight loss was not Sam’s goal; getting out of debt was the motivation and he did it by eating the cheapest food he could find, lentils and tuna. Everyday. For a month. Ewwwwh. No more drinking; no more drugs; live like a hermit. He survived, but at the end of the month another expense cropped up and he extended the plan another month, then two months, and eventually a year. Along the way the pounds keep coming off. The story was written in a conversational, free-flowing style that kept me turning the pages. Did I think he was crazy? Yes, I did. The entire idea was insane but I was hooked on the story. Offbeat, crazy and with a touch of juvenile humor, this was an uplifting story about determination and the ability to accomplish the seemingly impossible if we try hard enough

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    When I read the premise of this book, I was a little put off - it has publicity stunt written all over it. Sam, a Yale grad who is failing at life is obese and broke. He concocts the "urban hermit" plan where he'll live on lentils and tuna during the week, saving enough money to pay off some debts and allowing him to continue his party-hardy ways on the weekend. As he's eating about 800 calories a day, he ends up losing weight. It turns into a bit of an OCD thing with him, though not owning a sc When I read the premise of this book, I was a little put off - it has publicity stunt written all over it. Sam, a Yale grad who is failing at life is obese and broke. He concocts the "urban hermit" plan where he'll live on lentils and tuna during the week, saving enough money to pay off some debts and allowing him to continue his party-hardy ways on the weekend. As he's eating about 800 calories a day, he ends up losing weight. It turns into a bit of an OCD thing with him, though not owning a scale he measures his progress with how often he has to notch his belt. His lifestyle is crazy - binge drinking and drugging, blowing money he doesn't have, wandering from job to job, and using ectasy their cat found in the carpet after an indeterminate number of years. He wasn't exactly lovably goofy, more feckless man-child. However, as his story goes on I bought into the whole urban hermit plan and could empathize with his struggles. A strange story with an even stranger main character - if you like off-beat memoirs/non-fiction you may like this one. Overall it was just ok for me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Watts

    I enjoyed this book. Not something anyone should try -- 800 calories a day and a boring alternating menu of lentils and tuna. But Sam MacDonald's memoir of the time he attempted this and lived to tell about it was fascinating. The title intrigued me and that's no doubt why I chose to pick up the book. What the hell is an "urban hermit", I wondered. Turns out, the hermit part was less hermit-y than I'd imagined. He still carried on his life in the world for the most part. And he described some of I enjoyed this book. Not something anyone should try -- 800 calories a day and a boring alternating menu of lentils and tuna. But Sam MacDonald's memoir of the time he attempted this and lived to tell about it was fascinating. The title intrigued me and that's no doubt why I chose to pick up the book. What the hell is an "urban hermit", I wondered. Turns out, the hermit part was less hermit-y than I'd imagined. He still carried on his life in the world for the most part. And he described some of his world from before attempting to go on his extreme financial diet that just incidentally included extreme weight loss. He describes a cross-country trip that he embarked upon to attend a Rainbow Gathering (something I'd learned about at around the same time that he did (early 2000s) because my sister got involved in attending them for a few years). He did this trip right on the heels of going to Kosovo. So, hermit life? Um, certainly not in a cave. But where did Sam Macdonald go after this? This book was published in 2008 and the flyleaf said he was teaching Creative Nonfiction at the time. Is he still around? Anybody know? Sam, are you out there? How are the kids?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    When I first read about this, it seemed right up my alley. Frugality, strange diets, revealing tidbits in the form of a memoir. PEOPLE magazine even reviewed it. "The Urban Hermit", I'm sorry to say, is a very odd book. It feels like something that MacDonald, a journalist, pitched to his editor because it sounded like a good book idea only to discover too late that it really would exhaust its topic after 80 pages. How else to explain the desultory chapters involving MacDonald's journeys on the r When I first read about this, it seemed right up my alley. Frugality, strange diets, revealing tidbits in the form of a memoir. PEOPLE magazine even reviewed it. "The Urban Hermit", I'm sorry to say, is a very odd book. It feels like something that MacDonald, a journalist, pitched to his editor because it sounded like a good book idea only to discover too late that it really would exhaust its topic after 80 pages. How else to explain the desultory chapters involving MacDonald's journeys on the road, covering topics as diverse as Bosnia and hippie festivals? The main thesis, how the author lost 130 lbs from eating only 800 calories a day, is returned to again and again but it doesn't connect very strongly with other parts of the book. I was left wondering what the point was, other than to write a book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    J

    Big fan. Devoured this in 1.5 days. This is a bit like The Year of Living Biblically, minus the Bible and AJ Jacobs. Sam Macdonald finds himself overweight and in debt. What does he do? Decide to live on lentils and canned tuna and spend as little money as humanly possible. You'd think this would make for dry reading and a depressed reader. Au contraire, my gourmet friends: it's great fun. Structurally loose on occasion--yes. Probably written without much editing--that too. But good fun. After th Big fan. Devoured this in 1.5 days. This is a bit like The Year of Living Biblically, minus the Bible and AJ Jacobs. Sam Macdonald finds himself overweight and in debt. What does he do? Decide to live on lentils and canned tuna and spend as little money as humanly possible. You'd think this would make for dry reading and a depressed reader. Au contraire, my gourmet friends: it's great fun. Structurally loose on occasion--yes. Probably written without much editing--that too. But good fun. After the beginning of the experiment, he hunts for writing work (successfully), goes to Bosnia, goes to the Rainbow Gathering, cheats death a few times, loses more than 100 pounds (I would argue that this is pretty far from a weightloss memoir), and gets married. It's just what we need in an age of belt-tightening. (His is so tightened that he needs to make new holes with--he emphasizes--an "awl.") Good fun. In the frugal spirit of the book: get it from the library.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Doreen

    This is a charming, lighthearted story of a young man beginning to find his way in the world. Typical of young men only a few years out of college, MacDonald was a bit of a partier. He was employed as a bouncer, bartender, and other jobs without much future. He was also grossly overweight, in debt, and struggling to meet his rent payment each month. So, he decided to limit his food intake and swear off alcohol to an extent, in an attempt to limit spending money on groceries, and lose weight at t This is a charming, lighthearted story of a young man beginning to find his way in the world. Typical of young men only a few years out of college, MacDonald was a bit of a partier. He was employed as a bouncer, bartender, and other jobs without much future. He was also grossly overweight, in debt, and struggling to meet his rent payment each month. So, he decided to limit his food intake and swear off alcohol to an extent, in an attempt to limit spending money on groceries, and lose weight at the same time. His travels take him to Bosnia and to a hippie fest in Montana. All the while, he adheres to a strict diet of tuna and lentils. It's fun to witness as this young man tries to figure things out in his professional life while beginning a romantic relationship with a lovely 'Michele'. The book is entertaining and refreshing. It's an easy read and well worth it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Meszaros

    Sam Macdonald was a fat, broke failure. His social life consisted of sitting on a bar-stool all night. His apartment, he noted, was the "brownest" place he had ever lived. Mustering the reserves of a truly desperate man, he decided to go on a starvation diet to loose weight and save money. Breakfast - 2 hard-boiled eggs, lunch - cooked lentils and salt, dinner, - lentils and a white-bread and tuna sandwich. It was horrible, but Macdonald stuck it out. While he clearly warns that no one should ev Sam Macdonald was a fat, broke failure. His social life consisted of sitting on a bar-stool all night. His apartment, he noted, was the "brownest" place he had ever lived. Mustering the reserves of a truly desperate man, he decided to go on a starvation diet to loose weight and save money. Breakfast - 2 hard-boiled eggs, lunch - cooked lentils and salt, dinner, - lentils and a white-bread and tuna sandwich. It was horrible, but Macdonald stuck it out. While he clearly warns that no one should ever eat like this or follow in his path, it did work for him. He lost nearly half his body weight, paid off his debts and saved money, got new interests and hobbies, cut back on his drinking, landed some really sweet freelance gigs that took him around the world and even met a woman who liked him (this he found perplexing). A very good read by a thoroughly likable and very honest guy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Darrenglass

    Sam Macdonald weighed more than he should and owed more money than he should so he decided to implement a simple plan: eat only 800 calories a day (mmmm lentils) until he had saved up money and lost weight. It might not be the most healthy approach, but it worked, and this book tells the tale. The writing is very chatty and self-deprecating, and the story is a pretty good one. This book isnt going to change your life in any way, but it is a fun read. [Disclaimer: I'm not sure if I have ever met S Sam Macdonald weighed more than he should and owed more money than he should so he decided to implement a simple plan: eat only 800 calories a day (mmmm lentils) until he had saved up money and lost weight. It might not be the most healthy approach, but it worked, and this book tells the tale. The writing is very chatty and self-deprecating, and the story is a pretty good one. This book isnt going to change your life in any way, but it is a fun read. [Disclaimer: I'm not sure if I have ever met Sam, but the best man in my wedding was one of his roommates at Yale and is thanked in the acknowledgments of this book, so several of the stories in 'flashbacks' in the book were especially amusing to me as I knew some of the people involved.]

  25. 5 out of 5

    Donna Lyn

    This book reminded me of the movie "Little Miss Sunshine" - quirky characters and hilarious situations all involving a VW van. I laughed till I cried reading much of this book....even from such simple dialogue as "Dude." "Dude, Seriously." (you have to read it in context, hilarious) Bad language and definately not a guy I would go out with (I mean beans and tuna? ew) But his conversational style writing is my style and I really loved how he wrote. He would make an awesome drinking partner, which This book reminded me of the movie "Little Miss Sunshine" - quirky characters and hilarious situations all involving a VW van. I laughed till I cried reading much of this book....even from such simple dialogue as "Dude." "Dude, Seriously." (you have to read it in context, hilarious) Bad language and definately not a guy I would go out with (I mean beans and tuna? ew) But his conversational style writing is my style and I really loved how he wrote. He would make an awesome drinking partner, which I'm afraid he'll gain all the weight back because he's a true party animal. But for him, I hope not. Losing the weight brought some wonderful people into his life. (Not for the faint hearted or those who can't tolerate bad language)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    As a disclaimer, I read this while on a beach in Mexico, so I might have enjoyed this a bit more than if I had read it on the Subway, for example. Loved this book though. Definitely my favorite thing this year, if not more. Easy to read, honest, and truly funny. It's autobiographical non-fiction about the author’s early 20’s, during which he graduated from an Ivy League school and proceeded to fuck around for a few years & rack up so much debt in the process that he had to concoct a crazy scheme As a disclaimer, I read this while on a beach in Mexico, so I might have enjoyed this a bit more than if I had read it on the Subway, for example. Loved this book though. Definitely my favorite thing this year, if not more. Easy to read, honest, and truly funny. It's autobiographical non-fiction about the author’s early 20’s, during which he graduated from an Ivy League school and proceeded to fuck around for a few years & rack up so much debt in the process that he had to concoct a crazy scheme to dig himself out that involved living on $8 a week. As an added but initially unanticipated bonus, he lost a ton of weight too. This is one of those things that’s WAY better than it sounds like it will be when it’s being described to you, so just read it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    MacDonald graduated from Yale, drank a lot, ate a lot, and slacked. As a result of that lifestyle, he was also in big-time debt and flat broke. He gets a crazy idea to live on $8.00 a week and consume only 800 calories a day (mainly on lentils and tuna) for a month to begin to reduce his variety of debts and his waistline. And the adventure begins! On the surface, I wouldn't have thought I would have liked this book, having begun on the premise of an immature, irresponsible, uber-excessive drinki MacDonald graduated from Yale, drank a lot, ate a lot, and slacked. As a result of that lifestyle, he was also in big-time debt and flat broke. He gets a crazy idea to live on $8.00 a week and consume only 800 calories a day (mainly on lentils and tuna) for a month to begin to reduce his variety of debts and his waistline. And the adventure begins! On the surface, I wouldn't have thought I would have liked this book, having begun on the premise of an immature, irresponsible, uber-excessive drinking knucklehead. But this memoir somehow worked. He kept me engaged. I had to find out where he'd end up in spite of my personal feelings about his choices.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    Based upon the short description on the cover, I thought that this book would be better. I don't recommend it. Although the life of the urban hermit sounds intriguing at first, I found Macdonald's approach to losing weight and paying off his debt to be highly disturbing. The fact that he says he finds himself forgetting to eat for 2-3 days at a time, that he passed out several times throughout the book, and that he never sought medical attention did not seem like a good way to live life. I kept Based upon the short description on the cover, I thought that this book would be better. I don't recommend it. Although the life of the urban hermit sounds intriguing at first, I found Macdonald's approach to losing weight and paying off his debt to be highly disturbing. The fact that he says he finds himself forgetting to eat for 2-3 days at a time, that he passed out several times throughout the book, and that he never sought medical attention did not seem like a good way to live life. I kept waiting for him to start his life anew with a normal diet and a job that pays the bills. Unfortunately, this book disappointed me.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dayton DelViscio

    A memoir about Sam macdonald who is very fat fresh out of college, and a journalist. Sam is broke and decides to go on a jurney only allowing him to eat a certain amount of calories per day and spending 8$ a day too. He travels the world trying to lose weight, save money, and focus on his writing. I thing The Urban Hermit is a very funny book I laughed a lot. I like how Sam wrote it as it is and did not "blurr the picture". He told the truth about his drinking problem, collage party's, and how tr A memoir about Sam macdonald who is very fat fresh out of college, and a journalist. Sam is broke and decides to go on a jurney only allowing him to eat a certain amount of calories per day and spending 8$ a day too. He travels the world trying to lose weight, save money, and focus on his writing. I thing The Urban Hermit is a very funny book I laughed a lot. I like how Sam wrote it as it is and did not "blurr the picture". He told the truth about his drinking problem, collage party's, and how truly fat he was. I recommend this book to any one who wants to relax with a funny book, but old enough to handle it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    (One of those times I'm wishing goodreads gave 1/2 stars as I would have added one to this review.)I always appreciate a book that is fresh and new and that describes the Urban Hermit. This fun, easy-to-read memoir is about a writer who led an out of control life style with booze and food, and who not surprisingly found him self well over 300 lbs one day and totally broke. The 30 day lentil and tuna diet he put himself on, was only for economical purposes (he couldn't afford to drink and eat and (One of those times I'm wishing goodreads gave 1/2 stars as I would have added one to this review.)I always appreciate a book that is fresh and new and that describes the Urban Hermit. This fun, easy-to-read memoir is about a writer who led an out of control life style with booze and food, and who not surprisingly found him self well over 300 lbs one day and totally broke. The 30 day lentil and tuna diet he put himself on, was only for economical purposes (he couldn't afford to drink and eat and still pay his bills) but what came out of the experiment was truly surprising.

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