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“A gorgeous hybrid of a book. Bonnie Tsui combines fascinating reporting about some of the world’s most remarkable swimmers with delightful meditations about what it means for us naked apes to leap in the water for no apparent reason. You won’t regret diving in.”  —Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

In a way, all swimming stories are attempts to reacquaint our land-adapted selves with water. Why We Swim asks what’s behind the human relationship to swimming. Our evolutionary ancestors swam for survival; now in the 21st century we swim in freezing Arctic waters, wide straits and channels, and piranha-infested rivers just because they are there. Swimming is an introspective (and silent) sport in a chaotic age; it’s therapeutic for those who are injured, and it’s an adventurous way to get from point A to point B. It’s also one route to that elusive, ecstatic state of Flow. Propelled by stories of polar swim champions, a Baghdad swim club, the winningest Olympians, modern-day samurai swimmers, even an Icelandic fisherman who improbably survived a six-hour swim in the wintry Atlantic, the narrative takes us around the globe as Bonnie pursues swim culture and swimmers both living (Lynne Cox), recently living (Oliver Sacks), and long gone (Lord Byron). 

Bonnie’s own parents met in a swimming pool in Hong Kong, so this book is her origin story, too, and we follow her as she swims everywhere from San Francisco Bay to the South China Sea to investigate what seduces us to water, despite its dangers, and why we come back to it again and again. As she writes: “Swimming helps me to slow down, and to speed up. I have practiced enough to know how to be calm, and how to generate controlled fury. I can forget myself in a bathtub-warm lake, or, in a steam-wisped Icelandic lagoon, be so exquisitely present that every glint and glimmer is seared into my brain forever.”

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Bonnie Tsui

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Review quotes

“The only thing better than reading Bonnie Tsui’s writing about swimming is swimming itself—and both are sublime. Why We Swim is an aquatic tour de force, a captivating story filled with adventure, meditation, and celebration.”
—Susan Casey, New York Times bestselling author of The Wave and Voices in the Ocean

“This is a jewel of a book, a paean to the wonders of water and our place within it.”
James Nestor, author of Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves

“Magnificent. Only a truly great story can hold my attention and Why We Swim had me nailed to the chair . . . I love this book."
Christopher McDougall, bestselling author of Born to Run and Natural Born Heroes

Why We Swim is a gorgeous hybrid of a book. Bonnie Tsui combines fascinating reporting about some of the world's most remarkable swimmers with delightful meditations about what it means for us naked apes to leap in the water for no apparent reason. You won't regret diving in.”
—Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

Product Details
Categories
Number of pages
272
Publication date
April 14, 2020
ISBN
9781616207861