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The Crossing: The Extraordinary Story of the First Man to Swim the English Channel Hardcover – 1 Jun 2000
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The tribe of Longitude continues to expand; myriad little books casting illuminating and entertaining light upon little-known crannies of cultural history. However, Kathy Watson's account of Captain Matthew Webb and his heroic 22-hour swim across the English channel in 1875 is a different kettle of fish--or of "half man half fish", as contemporaries called the astonishing Webb. Watson is a swimmer herself; she knows how punishing a long swim can be, how "every part of your body hurts, your legs, your groin, especially your shoulders. Some swimmers have finished [the channel crossing] using just one arm, the other too painful even to lift out of the water. If you're a man and you neglect to shave really closely, after the many thousand strokes you will make the stubble on your chin will lacerate the insides of your arms." It is this sort of striking detail that makes The Crossing so engaging a read. There is more to this deft book than a bare account of Webb's epic crossing, although its central chapters do tell that story with an economical vividness that has you panting for the end, almost as strongly as Webb himself (clogged by seaweed, stung by jellyfish, exhausted to the point of agony but still struggling on). Watson uses this central adventure as a peg on which to hang a history of the origins of swimming itself; a pastime that metamorphosed during the 19th century from a fringe activity to being what it is today--with some justice Watson observes that "if participation not observation is the measure, swimming not football or cricket is really this country's national sport." The whole thing is so expertly written, so engaging and witty as well as informative, that the reader crosses from page one to page 243 as rapidly as an Olympic-level sprint-swimmer. Adam Roberts
'told with compassion and wit' SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
'A moving adventure story...an incisive study of the perils of celebrity' Harpers & Queen
'Fascinating ... the [cross-Channel] attempts make up two of the great set-piece descriptions in this engagingly-written yarn' Independent
'A gem of a short life' Daily Telegraph
'A haunting biography and a fine tribute from one swimmer to another' Mail on Sunday
'An affectionate, accurately observed life of Webb that brings his achievement into sharp focus after more than a century of neglect' Sunday Times
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