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The Great Swim [Hardcover]

Gavin Mortimer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
RRP: 14.99
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Book Description

1 May 2008
During the summer of 1926, four swimmers battled the weather, the odds and each other to become the first woman to conquer the formidable waters of the English Channel. In this text, the author paints a portrait of a gargantuan struggle that changed the way the world looked at women, both in sport and society.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Short Books Ltd (1 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906021295
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906021290
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 247,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Mortimer tells this story with a verve that pulls the reader in like a high tide" -- Washington Post

"Mortimer's book, narrated with pacy enthusiasm and highlighted by the achievements of four largely forgotten heroines, is a fascinating and irresistible slice of sporting history." -- The Daily Mail

"Mortimer's deft, uncomplicated prose emerges as the perfect vessel for the story...his thorough research provides a cultural context as striking as his narrative." -- Times Literary Supplement

"Mortimer's story of the grit of these women cracks along like a Channel tide...his descriptions of the caprice of the ribbon of water that defeated so many are compelling." -- The Daily Telegraph

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for swimming buffs 5 Jun 2008
Format:Hardcover
This is most certainly not "just a book about swimming" which, according to the author, was the dismissive response of many potential publishers. To be sure the nub of the story is the race between four swimmers who in the summer of 1926 were attempting to become the first woman to cross the treacherous waters of the English Channel. But the rivalry is conveyed not as a simple narrative but is, in the author's skilful hands, played out against a backdrop of intrigue and drama. Especially influential were the press. Rival newspapers signed up the two leading aspirants, both young and photogenic, and proceeded to stoke the rivalry between them. The tension was heightened by the close proximity of the two camps on the same French beach during the several weeks of preparation for the challenge.
The drama builds chapter by chapter as some of the swimmers, spotting a break in the unseasonably cold weather, strike out from either side of the Channel but all are forced out of the water at some stage by combinations of prolonged exposure, heavy swells, tidal drift, cross-currents, jellyfish, seasickness, stomach cramps, or (in one case) an impenetrable fog. It is the nineteen-year-old American Gertrude Ederle who eventually triumphs. Not only does she do so in the teeth of a Channel storm but in a time which beats the men's record - the world record - by more than two hours - a first in any sporting event.
All in all it is a rattling good tale of sporting courage and endurance told with verve and a good eye for detail. My one criticism - which concerns the publisher not the author -is the absence of an index.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Book 30 May 2008
Format:Hardcover
America, 1925. Women had only just won the vote. Flappers were scandalising respectable society with their short hair and cigarette smoking. In a huge concession to women's sport, the International Olympics Committee had just allowed women to compete in 100m backstroke and 200m breastsroke swimming competition in the 1924 Olympics - up until then it had been deemed improbable that a woman would be able to swim further than 100m.

Meanwhile, the race to become the first woman to swim the English Channel was being staged by an improbable but amazingly stubborn and intrepid cast of female swimmers. Gertrude Ederle, Mille Gade, Lillian Cannon and Clarabelle Barrett from the US - a diverse collection of swimmers from different backgrounds and with different temperaments - were all racing to become the first woman to swim the Channel. The strict social mores of the time meant that national newspapers entered a bidding war to sponsor each of the female swimmers: they realised it was a legitimate way to get previously frowned upon photos of scantily clad women on their pages to boost circulation. Each of the swimmers became regular columnists in a national paper, recording the trials and tribulations of their training and swims, exciting the imagination of the general public to the race. Poor humble Clarabelle Barrett was the exception to this - too tall and large framed to be deemed photogenic in a swimsuit and therefore spurned by the press - she had to fund the whole costly affair herself.

From America at fever pitch, the isolated windswept beaches and cliffs of Cap Griz Nez and Dover, where the swimmers moved to train for the summer of 1926, were a very different thing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Bryn
Format:Hardcover
Thanks Sally for your review - made me buy the book which I read quickly and have already recomended to two friends. I would add to Sally's review that this book has introduced me to a new world of press sponsorship/manipulation from 80 years ago that I thought was a more modern day phenomonen. This well written 'story' with an extensive bibliography will appeal to swimmers, cross channel wannanbees/swimmers, those intersted in 1920's US and England and probably Womens Rights advocates too. Trudie in particular was quite inspirational and as you'll read did much to change society's view of women in sport.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A 1920s Media Circus 7 May 2012
By takingadayoff VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
In 1926 Gertrude Ederle, a 19 year old New Yorker, became the first woman to swim the English Channel. She did it in record time, faster than any of the five men who had swum the Channel before her. Although that feat is little more than the answer to a trivia question today, at the time it was an accomplishment that rated a huge parade through Manhattan. She was treated as a heroine, at least until Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic three years later.

The Great Swim by Gavin Mortimer tells Ederle's story and the media frenzy surrounding it. There were three other American women competing to become the first woman to swim the Channel that year, as well as the man who broke Ederle's record only three weeks after Ederle set it. What is most interesting is the role of the press in reporting, in making these historic events. Ederle and another of the swimmers were under contract to write regular newspaper columns about their preparations. Some newspapers sponsored one or more of the swimmers. They reported daily on the swimmers, and included lots of photos of the swimmers in their swimsuits. It had only been a few years since bathing costumes for women had included sleeves and stockings. The new one-piece form-fitting swimsuits of the twenties were the bee's knees. Incidentally, Ederle developed what may have been the first bikini, using men's swimming shorts and a modified bra. Shortly after she started the record-setting swim, she chucked the bra and swam the Channel topless.

Mortimer covers the preparations, the swim itself, which was quite dramatic, and the aftermath. Ederle was treated as a conquering hero, then as an accused cheater, and then as a traveling show curiosity. If anyone thinks the media frenzies of today are new, they need only read The Great Swim to see that they are only carrying on a tradition as old as the press itself.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Than Just A Good Swim 4 Aug 2009
By Y. Zohar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I greatly enjoyed this book for a number of reasons. As a swimmer it was very elucidating, shedding light on what is considered the greatest challenge in distance swimming. But as I stated in the title, this is more than just a book on the annals of Channel swimming. In fact, I would classify it as social history. The events take place during the "Roaring Twenties", an era of change, turmoil and optimism after the destruction of the Great War of the previous decade. The place of women in society was changing. Part of this change, was the status of the woman athlete. This book focuses on the struggle of four courageous women to become the first female to swim the English Channel. Two accomplished the goal. An amazing feat considering that up until that summer of 1926 only three men swam the Channel successfully. As with any great story, there is no derth of human emotion including ego, jealousy and pettiness.

The author wrote the book in a fluid style (no pun intended) and it's a great read. I happened to read the book during the summer, 53 years to the day after the events.

One last thought: I have to ask myself if Mr.Mortimer purposely used obscure words in many descriptions ("emollient", "mulligrubs" and many more). At any rate, I had to look them up so I must thank him for improving my vocabulary.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 1920s Media Circus 10 July 2008
By takingadayoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1926 Gertrude Ederle, a 19 year old New Yorker, became the first woman to swim the English Channel. She did it in record time, faster than any of the five men who had swum the Channel before her. Although that feat is little more than the answer to a trivia question today, at the time it was an accomplishment that rated a huge parade through Manhattan. She was treated as a heroine, at least until Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic three years later.

The Great Swim by Gavin Mortimer tells Ederle's story and the media frenzy surrounding it. There were three other American women competing to become the first woman to swim the Channel that year, including one who broke Ederle's record only three weeks after Ederle set it. What is most interesting is the role of the press in reporting, in making these historic events. Ederle and another of the swimmers were under contract to write regular newspaper columns about their preparations. Some newspapers sponsored one or more of the swimmers. They reported daily on the swimmers, and included lots of photos of the swimmers in their swimsuits. It had only been a few years since bathing costumes for women had included sleeves and stockings. The new one-piece form-fitting swimsuits of the twenties were the bee's knees. Incidentally, Ederle developed what may have been the first bikini, using men's swimming shorts and a modified bra. Shortly after she started the record-setting swim, she chucked the bra and swam the Channel topless.

Mortimer covers the preparations, the swim itself, which was quite dramatic, and the aftermath. Ederle was treated as a conquering hero, then as an accused cheater, and then as a traveling show curiosity. If anyone thinks the media frenzies of today are new, they need only read The Great Swim to see that they are only carrying on a tradition as old as the press itself.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take a dip 22 July 2008
By Mary G. Longorio - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
During the summer of 1926 the eyes of the world turned to Europe, specifically the small strip of water that separated the British Isles from France. Four American women had announced their intentions to swim the English Channel. The first swimmer to accomplish that feat would be the first woman to ever complete the channel swim, joining elite group of male athletes who had managed to navagate the channel. Women had been making huge strides in the realm of athletics, steadily setting aside stereotypes and prejudices.

Four women, Gertrude Ederle, Mille Gade, Lillian Cannon and Clarabelle Barrett, completely different but each posessed the desire to be first to complete the swim. Each knew the accomplishment would thrust them into the public spotlight and could better their fortunes and futures. The public interest after their swims was beyond anything anyone could imagine, and changed their lives. The Great Swim captures the giddy optimism of the 1920's and the emergence of women as a force in the world. Using diaries, newspaper archives, and primary sources Gavin Mortimer brings to life the excitement that surrounded the swims, the people supporting the swimmers and the swimmers themselves. It is a unique glimpse into the "roaring twenties" and the way the idea of a lone female swimmer taking on the channel captured the American public's imagination. It is also a cautionary tale of public adolation, the power of the press and greed. An engrossing read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a must-read history! 27 Aug 2008
By R. Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
At a time when it was declared that no woman would ever be capable of swimming the English Channel, then the pinnacle challenge of endurance swimming, four American women set out to do just that. Not just the story of incredible and ground-breaking athletes, this is also the story of a time in American history when a woman was arrested for indecency on a New York beach for removing her shoes, and women were barred from the Olympics because it was unladylike to sweat. Gavin Mortimer has written an amazing history that was an absolute pleasure to read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History and Swimming 2 Aug 2011
By Swim Guy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The author did a tremendous amount of research putting this book together. It's as much about the era as it is about the swim. I found it to be pretty slow starting. There was so much at the beginning about social issues of the time: bobbed haircuts, scandalous swim suits, the appropriateness of women participating in sport... I was a bit impatient waiting for the swimming to start but once it did I found the book quite interesting. By the end, I was glad I read it.
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