Make or Break book review

Dave MacLeod’s second book, Make or Break, has set out to do what few other books have done before: provide a comprehensive way to avoid, deal with, and manage climbing injuries. Dave MacLeod’s in an exceptional position to write the book, being one of the best climbers on the planet, an experienced climbing coach, and with academic qualifications in sports science and medicine. Every climber gets injured, and every climber spends hundreds of pounds on kit, but is it worth shelling out for a book just on injuries?

Upfront cost

I’ve seen a few people bemoaning the £29 price tag on this book. The book’s only got 216 pages, apart from the cover it’s all in black and white, and it’s on a very specific subject. However, what a lot of people don’t realise is that this is basically an academic book: it won’t sell many copies and the amount of work that has gone into it is absolutely vast. I’m finishing my PhD at the moment, and my four years of work (also the approximate time-span that Dave has put into the book) are, I think, worth more than £29 a pop. Specialist academic books often cost more than £100 (including the one I contributed to, which costs £153), so…

…I’m going to stick my neck out and say for the amount of research, writing, rewriting, and checking, that goes into this work, the book is a bargain.

One session with a private physio is £50+, so looking after your body can be expensive, but isn’t it also the whole point?

Ouch. A simple fall while running caused this, but mushed fingers are definitely not beneficial for climbing.

Ouch. A simple fall while running caused this, but mushed fingers are definitely not beneficial for climbing.


The book’s divided into two main parts: the first part is general advice on injuries and is relevant to almost anyone interested in keeping healthy, and the second part is much more climbing-specific and covers each part of the body in turn, from fingers to toes. Particular attention is given to areas that are susceptible to injury (shoulders, elbows, fingers, etc.). In each section, quotes from people as diverse as Gullich and Einstein are used to good effect, and very clear black-and-white diagrams and photographs describe many of the key points.

A fairly typical page in the book - plenty of text, and very clear black/white photos.

A fairly typical page in the book – plenty of text, and very clear black/white photos.


I’ve a keen interest in sports science, biomechanics, and injury prevention, and Dave’s book sits on my bookcase alongside books like Kelly Starrett’s ‘Supple Leopard’ (exceptional in places and beautifully presented but too much waffle) and Kendall’s ‘Muscles’ (that’s from the library as there’s no way I can afford a copy; it’s long, detailed, academic, and exceptionally clear, but not an ‘introductory text’). Like the other two books, it distils a lot of stuff you’ve thought yourself, but weren’t sure about, and then sticks it in one place: things like the differences in expectations between a patient and a GP, that your body’s injury has an underlying cause, and a very good section on dealing with the mental difficulties of being injured.

If you don’t know how to deal with your injury, there’s a good chance that this book will cover it. With, for example, more than ten pages on shoulder-specific climbing injuries, including how to diagnose them and how to fix them, this book has more detail than any website or online forum and is far more accessible than journal articles.

However, the biggest thing this book does is that it gives you a sense of empowerment – it gives you a toolkit on how to manage your body and how to get the best out of it.


Firstly, this book is not for everyone. It’s not a coffee table book, it’s not full of cool pictures, and it’s not steady bed-time reading. Dave is unapologetic that some of the book reads like a textbook as this in unavoidable. However, more break-out boxes with anecdotes from the author would be useful in dividing up some of the text. Dave includes a section on his own injury woes towards the end of the book and I found this fascinating – more stories like these would be great. The second downside of the book was the number of small grammatical errors I found (‘remodelling’ and ‘remodeling’ on the same page, for example). Not one of them was major, and they did not affect comprehension, but another read through before publishing would have been beneficial. It’s very easy to criticise spelling and grammar mistakes, and I know from my own blog posts and my thesis that they often sneak through, especially when pushing for a deadline and reading with tired eyes, but one more check always finds an error or two.

I was injured for this trip but despite a very frustrating knee problem managed to get a lot done. That was cool.

I was not 100 % on this trip but despite a very frustrating knee problem managed to get a lot done. That was cool.

In summary

If you’re a climber interested in the way the body works or have frustrating injuries or niggles then you should buy this book. If you’re a climbing coach then this is required reading, and academic libraries should get a copy too. I’d love climbing walls to get a copy or two as well to make way for the fifteen-year-old magazines, but I’m not sure that will happen. Parts of it are not a riveting read but it is full of very good, well-researched, and up-to-date advice from an author who clearly cares passionately about the subject. What seals the deal for me though, is knowing that, having read the book, I am now better-positioned to avoid, diagnose, and treat injuries. No one likes being injured, and the book is a comforting friend that might just stop the niggles in their tracks.


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