I read Hell Bent as soon as it came out. However, I struggled for a long time if I should review it here or not. Why? I don’t have positive things to say about it, and I think I am probably in the minority. Most people seem to truly love it. But after much thought I decided to go ahead and write up my thoughts on it. I think my thoughts on this book are an important critique of it and not just negative ramblings.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you if you haven’t read it. I’ll try to write this up in a way that doesn’t spoil it.
Here are my two issues with the book:
1. My first beef is the least serious. It’s this: The book lacks a clear focus. Is it a book about competition? Sort of. Is it a book about the author’s journey into developing a Bikram practice and the community at large? Sort of. Is it about key players in the Bikram community? Sort of. You get my point. It’s sort of about a lot of stuff and never about anything specific. As a result, Lorr dips his toes into lots of pots on a primarily superficial level. I learned some new things from the book, but not that much. I was able to follow the book. It’s just not clear to me what the overall purpose of the book was.
2. My second issue is the most serious. In reading this book, I had to wonder if a purpose was to make Bikram, the man, look as bad as possible. I’m not saying Bikram is a golden child who doesn’t do jerky things. What I am saying is that Lorr appeared to go out of his way to uncover everyone’s bad experiences with Bikram as well as lay out any negative rumors/conjecture with minimum evidence to back up his claims. He collected many negative stories about Bikram in depth. A bad form and misuse of triangulation in research. It made me question his motives.
Wait a minute. Who said this was research?
Well, the description of his book on amazon says that this text was a, “…culmination of two years of research.” So I think it’s fair to critique the quality of the research.
But really, is the point of the book to share negative stories about Bikram? I don’t know. The book lacks a clear focus. This is just one example of that at play.
I’m not saying that the stories Lorr collected about people’s negative experiences with Bikram are false or inaccurate. I accept that each person is telling his/her truth. I’m not questioning their authenticity. But what I know as a researcher is that if you get a bunch of evidence that paints a key player in your project in a negative light you better go and talk to that player – or at least try to. Lorr never interviews Bikram or has any significant conversation with him. As far as I know, he didn’t even attempt to talk to him. I could forgive the absence of Bikram’s voice had Lorr said he reached out to Bikram and was refused, but he didn’t say that. And you should know, there are at least two serious allegations against Bikram in the book that shouldn’t be there without additional evidence beyond an interview with the person making the claim. Are these more serious stories true? I don’t know. I cannot trust that I am getting all the information I need to make a decision because one interview does not provide all the information. What I do believe is that you don’t go making serious claims about people in print without real, verified evidence. And Lorr does not provide it. All he does is fuel the rumor mill.
As a researcher, Lorr committed a very serious sin in my eyes. He wrote a book based on a man but did not provide that man a full voice. Instead, the voice that he gave Bikram was what he found in the community. And by not speaking to Bikram, not allowing Bikram to have his own voice in the text, he effectively silenced and marginalized him. It doesn’t matter how rich Bikram is or what you think of him or if you think he would have told the truth had he been included. None of that is the point. If you’re going to write a book that critiques a person, that person has a right to have their voice included or at least opt out.
Are there things to enjoy about this book? Sure. There are fun and interesting stories, and it was cool to learn that, “L like Linda” is a real person, and I enjoyed reading about Tony Sanchez. But I can’t get over the way the research for this book was conducted. It’s a major flaw of the book which results in an overall lack of credibility on the author’s part.