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10 Essential Strength Books Part 10: The Mighty Atom

Picture a man who can loosen the bolts and nuts on a tire, lift the car, put the new tire in place, and then screw everything back together with his bare hands.  What does he look like?  If you’re like me, you might be picturing someone like The Thing from Fantastic Four.

Joseph L. Greenstein, aka “The Mighty Atom,” stood 5’4″ and weighed between 140 and 145 pounds. He could also keep airplanes from taking off with his hair attached to them, bite nails in half with his teeth, and resist the advances of the many strumpets who threw themselves at his feet during his reign as a leopard-skin-clad strongman.

Humble beginnings

Joseph was a sickly child, nearly to the point of death.  During an unlikely stint with a traveling circus, he became apprenticed to the performing strongman.

When he returns to his hometown, nobody can believe the change.  After problems which involve being a Jew and living in turn of the century Europe, he  gets married and heads off to America to make his fortune.

The Mighty Atom

I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but here’s what I can say.  Joseph becomes The Mighty atom.  Ed Spielman’s tale of how he begins his training and the feats of strengths he conquers one by one is an absolute joy.

My favorite part of the book is when his long-suffering wife enters the kitchen to find him standing there with the kitchen table in his mouth as he bites one corner and lifts it off the ground.

“You’re ruining my table,” she says.

Who this book is for

The Mighty Atom is for anyone who has ever lifted a weight. It is strength training 101 for anyone who needs some motivation. Anyone who loves the underdog.   Anyone who loves the world of strength.  Anyone who admires the working man and still believes in the American Dream.  Anyone who loved Rocky.

Anyone who enjoys testing and defying their limits.  Anyone who loves to read.  I could go on and on and on and on, but you probably already know if you’re interested.  It is a true story that reads like fiction.  Truly, truly incredible.

Sadly, The Mighty Atom is out of print and can be hard to find.  It is still found in many libraries, but so far I can’t get any of them to lend it to me via inter-library loan.

If you can find it, please read it.  You’ll be glad you did.  If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Joseph Greenstein’s book about Joseph Greenstein may be the most inspiring thing I’ve ever read.  I loved every page and I really, really want them to start printing it again.

If you are a publisher, please print this book!


PS: Speaking of strong, Adam Glass and Brad Nelson have released an incredible DVD of their Grip N Rip 2010 workshop. I was there. It changed my training and it changed my life. Highly recommended!

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  • Randy February 4, 2010, 1:11 am

    I actually saw him perform at Knox College in 1974 I think it was. I was still in high school. Still bending horse shoes.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 4, 2010, 12:56 pm

      Awesome. Do you know when he quit performing?

  • Jaky Astik February 4, 2010, 2:36 am

    Nice. Splendor I should say!

    • Josh Hanagarne February 4, 2010, 12:55 pm

      Jaky, I think that’s the first time “splendor” has appeared on this blog:)

  • Kris Wragg February 4, 2010, 5:46 am

    My cities central library appears two have two copies, one is reference the other says to ask about. I am going to dig out my library card tonight and try and borrow a copy tomorrow 🙂

    I’ve not used my library card since leaving University about 3 years ago!!

    • Josh Hanagarne February 4, 2010, 12:55 pm

      Maybe I need to move to the UK.

      • Kris Wragg February 4, 2010, 1:10 pm

        I don’t believe the grass is any greener on this side 🙂 Although I could be wrong as I haven’t been to the USA yet!

        I’ve got my library card, now I will take a lunchtime trip to the library, to find my account has expired and I have to set up a new one, then after that it’ll turn out they can’t find the book!

        But if I do get a copy I will let you know my thoughts on it, I really do need to read more and watch less TV!

  • Dermanus February 4, 2010, 6:45 am

    Surprising: Toronto library doesn’t have it. I’ll have to do the same and put in an inter-library request.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 4, 2010, 12:55 pm

      Good luck! You seriously need to track it down.

  • Todd February 4, 2010, 7:23 am

    This sounds like my kind of read. I’ll have to search for it.

    If you haven’t already read it, you may also like “Sandow the Magnificent” by David Chapman.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 4, 2010, 12:55 pm

      I’ll look that up, Todd, thanks. I’ve read a lot about Sandow, but don’t think I’ve ever seen that Chapman book.

      • Todd February 4, 2010, 11:13 pm

        Chapman’s take on Sandow’s life is pretty good. There is just so much about the man that is a mystery, as the strongman told different versions throughout his life.

        BTW, The Mighty Atom is going for $60 and more on Amazon. Wow!

  • Laurie February 4, 2010, 7:50 am

    wait–who wrote it, spielman (“Ed Spielman’s tale of…) or Greenstein himself (“Joseph Greenstein’s book about Joseph Greenstein”)? Good review. Sounds fun.

  • Heather February 4, 2010, 8:03 am

    Rockin’ review! If I can get my hands on this, I’ll give it a whirl! “You’re ruining my table. . . . ” I LOVE IT!

  • Chris February 4, 2010, 9:20 am

    I managed to score a copy through ILL, and finished it recently; maybe it’s still on its way back, and that’s why noone will lend it out. I’m sorry!
    It was an incredible book, though.

  • Srinivas Rao February 4, 2010, 10:03 am

    I”ll have to go to my local library and try to see if they have a copy. I’m hoping since I live in a big city they might have it.

  • Jon February 4, 2010, 11:12 am

    From Amazon.com….

    “this book was re-issued under the title “The Spiritual Journey of Joseph L. Greenstein: the Mighty Atom”, in 1998.”

    This title also appears to be hard to find, but I thought I would share in case it helped anyone in their search.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 4, 2010, 12:53 pm

      Thanks Jon. Even that version is still pretty spendy. I appreciate the heads up!

  • Justin Matthews February 4, 2010, 12:50 pm

    I am continuously impressed with these old time strong men and the things that they could do. I am just working on nails and decks of cards and not doing well on either. I am going to go pick up my rock. (110 pound piece of petrified wood)

    • Josh Hanagarne February 4, 2010, 12:53 pm

      Justin, what is your card tearing practice like?

      • Justin Matthews February 4, 2010, 1:25 pm

        Not much right now, I want to get some stronger grippers, the walmart ones are way too easy. I am working on general strength right now after trying card tearing and nail bending. It is amazing how many different muscles you use to do those things. Now it is thawing out a bit I will be back outside playing at blacksmithing and doing yardwork. A shovel and a hammer do great things for grip. I am looking forward to bending horseshoes like Dave Whitley.

  • Jack Stanton February 4, 2010, 4:33 pm

    Amazon and Amazon UK both have copies of this book. They are expensive. Amazon (US) has 1 new for $179.95 and 6 used copies. The used copies start at $48.65 to a max of $160.00. Amazon UK has 4 used copies costing from £50.00 to £141.95. So there are several copies available if you want to pay the price.

  • Logan Christopher February 4, 2010, 10:07 pm

    This is the book that really inspired me to follow the strongman path. The Mighty Atom even inspired me to do feats of strength with my hair as you can see in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VT76FWM-xXc

    Its one of my favorite books of all time.


  • Boris Bachmann February 4, 2010, 11:14 pm

    I had a copy – great book. If I can find it, it’s yours.

  • Kris Wragg February 5, 2010, 8:24 am

    I managed to get a copy from the library today, but it took a while! First I had to get a new library card because mine had expired, and then they fetched the reference, so had to wait longer whilst they found the lending copy!

    But now it is safe in my bag and ready to be read this weekend 🙂

  • Kris Wragg February 7, 2010, 2:37 pm

    Thanks for suggesting this book Josh. I’ve just finished reading it and WOW… Joseph Greenstein (The Mighty Atom) was an amazing guy!

    Some of the feats he performed were simply amazing, and not only that he was a bookworm too and a spiritual person.

    It’s really hit home what I’ve been thinking recently, that a lot of things aren’t a physical limitation, that its as much mind as body!

  • Ed Spielman April 5, 2010, 2:39 am


    Please give me your mailing address.

    I thought you might like an autographed copy of
    ‘The Mighty Atom’.

    My thanks for your kind comments about the book.

    Best regards,

    Ed Spielman

  • Fred Blue April 9, 2010, 9:33 am

    Here is a link on the http://www.abe.com website to this book. Finding out of print books is one of my hidden talents.


  • christopher July 22, 2010, 2:32 am

    I have just finished re-reading Ed Spielman’s “The Spiritual Journey of Joseph L. Greenstein: the Mighty Atom”.
    Ed did a fantastic job, the book is moving and inspiring, and should be required reading at schools the world over.
    A new edition could perhaps include Mighty Atom’s 12 Rules for Raising Delinquent Children!
    If Ed Spielman reads this post I would like to thank him for this gem of a book, and ask if he knows whether or not any footage exists of Joseph Greenstein performing .
    Best regards,
    c Sutton

  • Lon Fahs April 13, 2011, 1:22 am

    My family had a booth at Zern’s market during the era when The Mighty Atom would frequent the place. I was about 8 or 9 and was totally fascinated with the guy. My brother and I didn’t quite understand that he was selling soap, I just thought he liked to rant about things when not busy bending stuff. Well, during one of his rants, when he was berating other brands of soap, I niavely spoke up “What about LifeBouy? That’s pretty good soap.” Needless to say, I was verbally attacked by The Mighty Atom to the point that I ran away, scared to death!!!
    Of course, I returned the next week and kept my mouth shut to enjoy his anectdotes, performances and the great pictorial display he had of his great feats of strenghth.

  • Gavin Morrice October 22, 2011, 6:13 am

    Reading the Mighty Atom just now – what a dude!

  • ol' Man Dave October 23, 2011, 8:30 am

    The book has been reprinted under a slightly different title. Available on Amazon.

    Check out the books by Mark Rippitoe.
    “Basic Strength Training” is is a lot like “Convict Conditioning” only utilizing weights.

  • Jesse O'Donnell November 1, 2011, 8:34 pm

    Heard about the Mighty Atom book years ago but can never find a copy.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 2, 2011, 10:10 am

      Yeah, it’s out of print in most places I find it, and pretty spendy.

  • Kevin July 22, 2012, 8:42 am

    I came across a copy of this book many yeas ago, bought it and have read it about 5 or 6 times…. It still amazes me. If I had a good offer for it now I would sell it, although it has been my favourite book for years. I recommend this book to everyone as a damn good read…laugh, cry, wonder in awe at his life and exploits. One work for it, amazing!