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Why We Swim

Why We Swim

by Bonnie Tsui
Why We Swim

Why We Swim

by Bonnie Tsui


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“A fascinating and beautifully written love letter to water. I was enchanted by this book." —Rebecca Skloot, bestselling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
We swim in freezing Arctic waters and piranha-infested rivers to test our limits. We swim for pleasure, for exercise, for healing. But humans, unlike other animals that are drawn to water, are not naturalborn swimmers. We must be taught. Our evolutionary ancestors learned for survival; today, swimming is one of the most popular activities in the world. Why We Swim is propelled by stories of Olympic champions, a Baghdad swim club that meets in Saddam Hussein’s former palace pool, modern-day Japanese samurai swimmers, and even an Icelandic fisherman who improbably survives a wintry six-hour swim after a shipwreck. New York Times contributor Bonnie Tsui, a swimmer herself, dives into the deep, from the San Francisco Bay to the South China Sea, investigating what it is about water that seduces us, and why we come back to it again and again.

An immersive, unforgettable, and eye-opening perspective on swimming—and on human behavior itself.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781643751375
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 04/13/2021
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 87,881
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.62(d)

About the Author

Bonnie Tsui lives, swims, and surfs in the Bay Area. A longtime contributor to the New York Times and California Sunday Magazine, she has been the recipient of the Jane Rainie Opel Young Alumna Award from Harvard University, the Lowell Thomas Gold Award, and a National Press Foundation Fellowship. Her last book, American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods, won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and Best of 2009 Notable Bay Area Books selection. Her website is

Table of Contents

Survival 1

1 Stone Age Swimming 11

2 You're a Land Animal 25

3 Lessons from a Sea Nomad 30

4 The Human Seal 37

Well-Being 59

5 The Water Cure 67

6 Seawater in Our Veins 82

7 Open Water, Meet Awe 101

Community 117

8 Who Gets to Swim? 123

9 A Mini United Nations 128

10 Chaos and Order 144

Competition 151

11 The Splash and Dash 159

12 How to Swim Like an Assassin 171

13 Sharks and Minnows 179

14 Ways of the Samurai 192

Flow 213

15 A Religious Exercise 219

16 The Liquid State 230

17 From One Swimmer to Another 239

Epilogue 253

Acknowledgments 255

Notes 259

An Essay by Bonnie Tsui 281

Questions for Discussion 285

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