‘There is a lot to marvel at hearing about how Middleton not only faced it all, but came out a better version of himself at the end of it.'
To say that Ant Middleton has led a life out of the ordinary is the understatement of the year. Probably even of the century. In First Man In, Channel Four's SAS: Who Dares Wins instructor goes back to the very beginning, where his incredible life journey started.
The book is an action-packed, hugely gripping memoir of Middleton's life, from the buried traumas of his childhood, to enrolling in the British Army and the many, many adventures that followed during his time as part of the most elite groups of soldiers in the United Kingdom.
Middleton's writing style is definitely enticing, and plunges you right into the stories he recounts with incredible skill. Those of us with a voyeuristic appreciation of how the other half lives (by which I mean the highly trained, deadly skilled, unsung superheroes of our modern age) will revel in the detailed tales of the inner workings of the Royal Navy and its gruesome selection processes, or the underground missions to rescue victims of kidnapping.
There is a lot to marvel at hearing about how Middleton not only faced it all, but came out a better version of himself at the end of it. And there is a lot to learn, of course, because Middleton is everything a strong leader ought to be - brave, honest with himself and with us, willing to push his own limits and guided by sterling values of the kind that is at high risk of extinction in our modern era.
Reading how he summoned his cool-headedness to look danger so close in the eyes, we too want to emulate some of his courage in our more mundane endeavours. I mean, who wouldn't be filled with awe and determination at the story of his survival on a ship with a small crew, braving the harshest conditions, or his climb of Everest, leaving behind all he knew for his chance to take on the world's fiercest peak.
And, despite all that, one of the biggest takeaways I have from First Man In is its incredible underlying love story. The story of a bond that goes much, much beyond a relationship of convenience. The sort of relationship in which there truly is no judgement, where you take the other person for who they really are, and not who you want them to be. One that gives you the strength you need to be the best you can be, unconditionally. One of these once in a lifetime encounters they write about it novels. Don't get me wrong, I'm not taking anything away from Middleton's achievements, of course. Nothing and no one can. But I salute the amazing woman who stood in the shadows helping it all come to life. Their relationship is as inspiring as some of the more action-orientated stories in First Man In (hashtag: life goals).
I can think of very little to balance all this high-praise for First Man In, whether you go for the paperback or the great author-narrated audiobook. Except maybe this: the risks of you wanting to take a long hard look at your life and thriving to make something extraordinary with it when you finish the book are very, very high. Read at your own peril, and don't say I didn't warn you!