Great Swim

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The dramatic story of the four courageous female swimmers who captivated the world in the summer of 1926.

During the summer of 1926, the story that enthralled the public revolved around four young swimmers, Gertrude Ederle, Mille Gade, Lillian Cannon, and Clarabelle Barrette, who battled the weather, each other, and considerable odds to become the first woman to conquer the English Channel—and to become the latest darling of the American tabloid press. Gavin Mortimer paints an ...

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The Great Swim

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Overview

The dramatic story of the four courageous female swimmers who captivated the world in the summer of 1926.

During the summer of 1926, the story that enthralled the public revolved around four young swimmers, Gertrude Ederle, Mille Gade, Lillian Cannon, and Clarabelle Barrette, who battled the weather, each other, and considerable odds to become the first woman to conquer the English Channel—and to become the latest darling of the American tabloid press. Gavin Mortimer paints an unforgettable portrait of a competition that changed the way the world looked at women, in both sport and society.

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Editorial Reviews

Allen Barra
In 1926, in what might be the most amazing athletic achievement of the century, Ederle swam 21 miles from Cape Gris-Nez, France, to Kingsdown, England, to break the record held by a man, Argentina's Enrico Tiraboschi, by nearly two hours. A comparable achievement today might be Michelle Wie beating Tiger Woods by 15 strokes—if Wie's life were at risk each time she approached the sand traps…In The Great Swim, British journalist Gavin Mortimer tells this story with a verve that pulls the reader in like a high tide.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

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.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Mortimer (The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941, 2005, etc.) recounts the quest of four intrepid women who in the summer of 1926 attempted to become the first female to swim the turbulent English Channel. Nineteen-year-old Gertrude Ederle, sponsored by Chicago Tribune owner and New York Daily News founder Joseph Patterson, had tried and failed the previous year. In her 1926 attempt, she was joined by Lillian Cannon, whose conquest of Chesapeake Bay brought her the backing of the Baltimore Post; Mille Gade, who had already completed a swim around Manhattan Island; and Clarabelle Barrett, a 200-pound-plus high-school swim instructor who longed to be an opera singer. Lodged separately with their trainers and backers in the seaside French town of Cape Gris-Nez, the four waited impatiently through July for the unusually chilly, windy weather to break. Even in August, their marathon swims were made in bone-chilling 60-degree water. The absence of today's high-tech wet suits was hardly mourned by the sponsoring newspaper editors, who saw photos of the competitors in swimsuits as guaranteed circulation boosters. (Ederle's swim, in fact, was made in what may have been the world's first bikini.) Mortimer's prose is not especially colorful or evocative, but his diligent attention to detail makes this an engaging, entertaining read; the vintage news photos he unearthed are also worthwhile. Shy, introverted Ederle was better suited to the channel swim than to the media-stoked fame she experienced afterward. Hounded by well-wishers and ill-served by a greedy business manager, she found her celebrity difficult to manage. A stirring portrait of courage and endurance, but also abittersweet tale of the vagaries of fame and fortune. Agent: Gail Fortune/Talbot Fortune Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802715951
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 2/19/2008
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.19 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Gavin Mortimer is the author of Chasing Icarus (page 15). He has written for a wide range of publications, from Esquire to the Daily Telegraph, from BBC History to the Observer. He lives in the south of France.

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