cover image The Beach: 1the History of Paradise on Earth

The Beach: 1the History of Paradise on Earth

Gideon Bosker, Lena Lencek. Viking Books, $25.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-670-88095-9

Lencek and Bosker (Making Waves) have turned out a thorough but often leaden chronicle of what ""the beach"" has meant to humankind from Roman nobles to WWII assault troops to modern eco-tourists. Their scholarly approach seems tedious in service of a normally lively subject. Details noting coastal zoning laws enacted by the ancient Greeks and England's priggish turn-of-the-century approach to public bathing are interesting, but the story gathers momentum only in contemporary days. Accounts of America's iconographical retreats are noteworthy--Coney Island, Miami Beach, Southern California, Hawaii--are covered, as is the evolution of swimwear: ""The swimsuit on the beach tells the square-inch-by-square-inch history of how skin went public in modern times."" But the authors become highhanded, bemoaning the fallen status of the modern beach vacation; ecotourists are part of a ""highly contrived ritual,"" while luxury travelers are ""entirely divorced from nature."" Still, the authors see fit to include such resorts as Cancun's Ritz-Carlton in their appendix of recommended beach stays. Waves, sand, bikini babes, surfer boys, sun-worshipping hedonists--there is enough material here for a bit of fun in ""the history of paradise on Earth,"" but this treatment turns out to be disappointingly dry. Illustrated. (June)