Splash! by Howard Means – a refreshing dip into swimming history

From Roman baths to the ‘Australian crawl’ and the politics of swimming, this chronicle is ideal for readers missing the water

In a cave in Wadi Sura, in the southwest corner of Egypt, there is evidence that one of the driest corners of the Earth used to be flowing with water. The Cave of Swimmers (famous from The English Patient) is covered in paintings of little human figures that appear to be doing doggy paddle. They suggest not only that the Sahara desert was once crossed by rivers and lakes but that, about 8,000 years ago, people were swimming in them. And apparently loving it.

So begins this fascinating history of how, where and why humans swim. It is perfect reading for those missing a splash-about during the lockdown. Howard Means, a lifelong swimmer and coach, explains that swimming “remains deeply encoded in our biology”, and sees it not only as a panacea but also a leveller for humans. Water “forgives our infirmities, physical and otherwise,” he writes. “It frees us to dream. Swimming is an equal playing field.” Or, at least, it should be.

Continue reading...


Bi by Julia Shaw review – the past and present of a maligned minority

A tour of the science, culture and history of bisexuality that ranges from the vehemently political ...

Read More >

How Minds Change by David McRaney review

A fascinating exploration of how beliefs are formed ends up asking whether it’s always right to wan...

Read More >

Control by Adam Rutherford review – a warning from history about eugenics

To know the story of this dark science is to inoculate ourselves against its being repeated, argues ...

Read More >

The Social Lives of Animals by Ashley Ward review – be more bat

From to self-isolating bees to bonding baboons, lessons on cooperation from the animal worldVampire ...

Read More >

2022 in books: highlights for the year ahead

New writing from Ali Smith, Marlon James, Elena Ferrante and Jarvis Cocker – a taste of good things...

Read More >

The Sleeping Beauties by Suzanne O’Sullivan review – 21st century health mysteries

Sleeping sickness, strange behaviour and mass hysteria ... a neurologist makes sense of ‘psychosoma...

Read More >