cover image The Great Swim

The Great Swim

Gavin Mortimer, . . Walker, $24.95 (325pp) ISBN 978-0-8027-1595-1

In 1926, when Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel, the event was publicized around the world, and she was celebrated as an American hero in a series of public events, including a ticker-tape parade in New York City. Yet when she died in 2003 at the age of 97, her accomplishment was often mentioned in newspaper obituaries in only a few brief lines. British journalist and historian Mortimer has done Ederle—and sports history in general—a huge service in this wonderfully written book by detailing what was one of the biggest media events of the 1920s: the attempt by four Americans to become the first woman to swim and survive the brutal waters of the channel. He explores in great depth their differing personalities as well as the effects the race had on their lives. He also explains the cultural impact of the “great Swim,” such as how the “revolution” in women's bathing suits from a “neck-to-knee bathing dress over woolen tights and shoes” to a two-piece bathing suit was a key event in getting the International Olympic Committee to begin incorporating more swimming events into its women's schedule. (Feb.)