Making the American Body: The Remarkable Saga of the Men and Women Whose Feats, Feuds, and Passions Shaped Fitness History

Jonathan Black. Univ. of Nebraska, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8032-4370-5
The antecedents of the American fitness industry are varied and fascinating, and journalist Black (Yes, You Can!: Behind the Hype and Hustle of the Motivation Biz) does a superb job of chronicling them—from the early days of body builders on Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach, through the creation of gyms as spare as “dungeons,” to the high-end health clubs of today. In this nonacademic history, Black brings to life folks like Charles Atlas, Joe Gold, and Doris Barrilleaux (“ ‘the First Lady of Bodybuilding’ ”), while analyzing the ways in which these individuals used their charisma to shape public perception and attract more people—and more money—into the world of fitness. The author explains the impact of technological advances, such as the variable resistance Nautilus machine (“the greatest innovation in fitness equipment in the latter half of the twentieth century”) and Jane Fonda’s workout videos, which ushered organized exercise into the homes of millions and kicked off the age of branded fitness fads (e.g., Jazzercise, Zumba...). Black explores the underside of the industry as well, calling out false health claims, the hard-selling of memberships, and much more. 19 photos. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 07/08/2013
Release date: 11/01/2013
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