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Haunts of the Black Masseur - The Swimmer as Hero [Paperback]

Charles Sprawson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: £9.99
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Book Description

17 Jun 1993

Haunts of the Black Masseur is a dazzling introduction to the great swimming heroes: Byron leaping into the surf at Shelley's beach funeral, Hart Crane, swallow-diving to his death in the Bay of Mexico, Ulysses, Leander, Weismuller and many more. In lively prose bursting with anecdote, Charles Sprawson leads us into a watery world populated by lithe demi-Gods – one that has obsessed humans from the ancient Greeks and Romans, to Yeats, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and David Hockney.

Original, enticing and dripping with references to literature, film, art and Olympic history, this cult swimming classic pays sparkling tribute to water and the cultural meanings we attach to it.

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Haunts of the Black Masseur - The Swimmer as Hero + Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (17 Jun 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099223317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099223313
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 38,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Part social and cultural history, and part personal credo, Haunts of the Black Masseur is an exhilarating plunge into some of the deepest pools inside our heads" (J G Ballard Daily Telegraph)

"This splendid and wholly original book is as zestful as a plunge in champagne" (Iris Murdoch New York Times Book Review)

"A wholly original idea...a brilliant translation of a singular passion" (Alan Ross Times Literary Supplement)

"A devoted and luminously romantic history of swimming" (Guardian)

"One wants to put it down - and jump straight into the pool" (Independent)

Book Description

A cult swimming classic, laden with references to literature, art and Olympic history.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Sprawson's book has deservedly become a classic. He takes us on a watery journey through the history and culture of swimming. The book helps us to historicize our attitude to swimming: we see how a love for swimming has emerged in particular places and at particular times. A lot of fascinating information emerges: the history, for instance, of the different strokes, and of the swallow dive. However, one of the great strengths of the book is the way the book is personal enough for Sprawson's own love for swimming to animate it. If you love swimming and are interested in culture, read this book. It will have you dashing off to your local pool and then running straight to your library, before you are even dry, to chase up some of the recommendations in the literature of swimming that the author makes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 2nd purchase of this book 12 Oct 2012
By A Customer
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this book in paperback form many years ago, in fact I think it was my first book on swimming. Though I haven't yet re-read my kindle version my memory of it is one of delight. The author recounts places he has visited for swimming and gives his experience and thoughts as well as drawing on any history, mythology, prose or poetry around that place or local area. A beautiful read. If I ever lost all my books, this would be one of the first to be replaced on my shelves.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting 30 Jun 2011
By A Customer
I am writing this review well over 12 months since I read it. A recent tv programme inspired by 'Waterlog' made me recall this book. I realise that this book's ability to provide an insight to the history of its subject is something that has not been easily forgotten by me. I am sure very many people, who like me, started to read it without expectation found once started it was rather difficult to stop. Intriguingly it also involved reading very many pages before you found out the reason for the book's title! Well writen and not presumptious nor pretentious. It is what many a book should be - an unexpected joy.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting - even if you can't swim 26 Feb 2011
Charles Sprawson is, apparently, an obsessive swimmer who (like Byron) once swam the Hellespont and this is a very engaging study of swimming, and swimming heroes, in different cultures. From the English/classical/public school tradition, imbued with the glory that was Greece and Rome and more than a dollop of homo-eroticism, through German Romanticism to - and this is the section I enjoyed most - swimming and the American dream. From Eakins' Arcadian swimming hole to Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby and Dick Diver, Johnny Weissmuller, John Cheever's Swimmer, and Hockney's shimmering Californian pools.
One slightly annoying flaw, however, is the author's habit of citing notable swimmers by their surnames only - even at first reference - and often without even the briefest explanation of who they are. Several times I found myself asking, 'Who he?' Surely an editor should have picked up on this? It sometimes felt like he was talking about a coterie of old schoolfriends to whom I hadn't been introduced.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the book I expected 18 Oct 2012
By A Customer
The low rating is based more on my own misunderstanding of what this book was about. Having read brief extracts in a bookshop, I came away thinking it was a history of swimming in various cultures through the ages - which it was, but only in small doses. Much of the book is given over to endless quotes from Greek, Roman, and Romantic poetry on the virtues of swimming in assorted lakes, rivers and seas (my own swimming is pool-based, hence a lack of empathy), and much on the development of swimming pools and social attitudes towards bathing.

There were some interesting sections, notably a brief look at Captain Webb's story, Edgar Allan Poe and Lord Byron's relationships with the art, and the culture of swimming in Japan and how it impacted on the competitive world. Added to these were all-too-brief accounts of the author's attempts at a few open air swims made in the spirit of past participants. But overall I found it a little overlong and heavy going - perhaps unfairly, given my pre-conceptions. Probably a must-read for open water enthusiasts.
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