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216 × 138 × 27 mm
336 pages
75 illustrations
01 Jul 2017

Strokes of Genius A History of Swimming Eric Chaline

‘Pleasure beckons at the water’s edge.’ With these words, Eric Chaline celebrates the physicality and sensuality of swimming – attributes that might have contributed to the evolution of the human species. Chaline’s comprehensive account surveys swimming from prehistory to the present day. He decodes the earliest human myths to reconstruct swimming’s prehistory and history; he explains its role in religious rituals, trade and manufacture, warfare and medicine, and chronicles its transformation into the leisure activity and competitive sport that together have made it the most commonly practiced physical pastime in the developed world.

Swimming is now a cultural marker that stands for eroticism, leisure, endurance, adventure, exploration and excellence, and latterly, like other disciplines that use repetitive movements to discipline the body and still the mind, it is held by wild swimmers to be a lane to spiritual awakening – one stroke at a time.

There is no single story of human swimming, but many currents that merge, diverge and remerge towards a future in which our survival may depend on our ability to adapt to life in an aquatic world.

‘Chaline is an athlete, a coach, and the author of several books . . . Strokes of Genius follows in a similar vein by examining swimming through historical, cultural, psychological, and philosophical lenses . . . This far-ranging, engaging work examines the history of humanity's relationship with water from the earliest humanoid ancestors to the present day . . . Recommended.’ — Choice

‘Chaline provides detailed snapshots of the evolution of swimming as formal practice, from dim glimpses of prehistory to the latest trends in undersea exploration. His careful analysis of swimming techniques nicely complements Tsui’s examination of how swimming makes us feel. Together these books emphasize that swimming operates through the combination and subtle interpenetration of form and feeling.’ — Public Books

Strokes of Genius is so much more than a history of swimming – it is an expertly guided tour of humans’ long relationship with the aquatic realm. In accessible and witty prose, Chaline writes commandingly about everything from alternative theories of human evolution to Roman warfare and bath culture to social tensions piqued at modern pools to the swirling mass of plastic polluting the Pacific Ocean. Arresting anecdotes and thought-provoking insights appear page-after-page and remain lodged in the reader’s mind for later contemplation.’ — Professor Jeff Wiltse, University of Montana and author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

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Eric Chaline has combined journalism, academic work and writing with sport and exercise, both as a practitioner and coach. He is the author of Simple Path to Yoga (2001) and Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History (2012). His first book for Reaktion was The Temple of Perfection: A History of the Gym (2015). He lives in London.