Among the Waves: The History and Narrative of Swimming | Arts & Humanities

An all-encompassing yet highly accessible history of one of humankind’s most elemental and popular activities; a superb account of swimming’s long and remarkable history

Means, Howard. Splash! 10,000 Years of Swimming. Hachette. Jun. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9780306845666. $28. SPORTS
From the earliest days of recorded history, water has been a constant and essential partner for humankind. Means (67 Shots) now reveals the fascinating story of how we interact with water through swimming, from Egyptian cave paintings of dog paddlers created almost 10,000 years ago to modern-day Olympians, their aerodynamic swimwear and race times measured in hundredths of seconds. Religious beliefs, gender disparity, segregation, architecture, and fashion are also part of the history of swimming, as are milestones like the birth of the bikini and crossing the English Channel. Means packs an astonishing amount of information into one concise time line, with his own experiences and observations connecting different norms and eras. Sports fans who may have only a passing interest in swimming will find this an unexpectedly absorbing overview, with plenty of unforgettable characters and intriguing research. VERDICT An all-encompassing, yet highly accessible history of one of humankind’s most elemental and popular activities, this title is recommended for everyone from sports fans to historians. For a sport generally underrepresented in library collections, this is a superb account of swimming’s long and remarkable history.—Janet Davis, Darien P.L., CT
Tsui, Bonnie. Why We Swim. Algonquin. Apr. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9781616207861. $26.95. SPORTS
With lyrical and descriptive writing, Tsui (American Chinatown) shares different stories about our relationship with water, beginning with her own experiences swimming in the Bay Area. The book is similar to a collection of essays, wherein Tsui shares stories about others and intertwines her own voice, including recollections about going to the beach while growing up in New York. The author writes about a wide range of topics, including the history of humans swimming, from early times to the success of marathon open-water swimmer Kimberley Chambers and even a Baghdad swim club that uses Saddam Hussein’s palace pool. Throughout, Tsui references literature, history, and science without overwhelming readers, who will walk away from the book learning an incredible amount of information, yet in an easy-to-digest way.
VERDICT Tsui’s beautifully written book will appeal to a wider audience beyond sports fans. Readers who are also interested in science and nature will appreciate this highly recommended narrative work about a therapeutic sport.—Pamela Calfo, Bridgeville P.L., PA
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