cover image Sweat: A History of Exercise

Sweat: A History of Exercise

Bill Hayes. Bloomsbury, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-62040-228-3

“If I were to trace a line back in time to the beginnings of exercise, where would I land?” asks journalist Hayes in this candid study (after How We Live Now). Inspired by a trip to the library in which he found accounts of writers explaining their fitness routines, Hayes surveys “descriptions of exercises going back to the fifth century B.C.” He finds a kindred spirit in Renaissance physician Girolamo Mercuriale, who, in a time when “cathedrals replaced gymnasiums as sacred sites” was fascinated by the reverence the ancient Greeks and Romans held for the human body, viewing it not just as a means for movement but as its own form of art. Hayes follows in his footsteps, collecting musings from Plato (who suggested that women should exercise “together with the men”), Greek physician Galen (who critiqued fitness trainers for masquerading as medical experts), Franz Kafka (who wrestled with his neighbor every night), and Jane Fonda. With an introspective eye and dynamic prose, Hayes keeps his investigation grounded in his personal search for meaning: “Libraries, like gyms, have always been a refuge for me.” It’s a great—if niche—introduction to an action-packed part of history. Agent: Emily Forland, Brandt & Hochman Literary. (Jan.)