The best swimming books

8 authors have picked their favorite books about swimming and why they recommend each book.

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Find a Way

By Diana Nyad,

Book cover of Find a Way

I love this book. It's such an incredible story about conquering challenges that appear near-impossible. Diana Nyad was the first person in history to swim 103 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida which she did successfully on her 5th attempt at 64 years old! What is fascinating is how she managed to separate herself from negative thinking - from doctors and the public, not to mention her own.⁣


Who am I?

Dominique Antiglio is a Qualified Sophrologist, former Osteopath, and best-selling author based in London. Sophrology is a simple practice for mental well-being supporting everyone to tap into the unlimited resources of consciousness and become empowered in daily life. Having used Sophrology to overcome her own issues as a teenager, Dominique is passionate about how each one of us can find resilience and meaning through difficult times. She is a world-leading Sophrologist, founder of BeSophro, a leading Sophrology clinic in London and a Sophrology platform so everyone can learn to practice the method based on relaxation, breathing, visualisation and movement. Dominique gained her Master's in Caycedian Sophrology under Professor Caycedo.


I wrote...

The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology: Breathe and Connect with the Calm and Happy You

By Dominique Antiglio,

Book cover of The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology: Breathe and Connect with the Calm and Happy You

What is my book about?

In a world that can feel uncertain and overwhelming, this comprehensive guide on the practice of Sophrology will help you access resilience, confidence, and serenity in your daily life.

Sophrology is a mental well-being practice and self-development system already extremely popular in Europe, growing worldwide, and used successfully by people from all walks of life, including athletes, CEOs and mum-to-be. This simple method combines Western science and Eastern wisdom using relaxation, breathing, body awareness, and visualisation into a step-by-step practice which has the power to radically transform your life. Featuring practical tips, case studies, and 13 audio downloads, this leading book on Sophrology is a must-have self-help resource.

The Chronology of Water

By Lidia Yuknavitch,

Book cover of The Chronology of Water: A Memoir

Yuknavitch’s memoir is a gloves-off gut-punch of stories about her life as a competitive swimmer, a daughter of a tyrannical father, and an artist-in-the-making. Best of all: The sex scenes are like nothing I’ve ever read. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE.

Who am I?

I’ve been reading almost exclusively memoirs and personal essays for over a decade. The women who generously wrote about their bodies—the bowels, the breasts, the bad sex—lit up the path for me when I was drowning in my own body shame and body confusion. Every year I read at least 50 memoirs, and the ones on this list are the ones I revisit over and over. I also study writing with Lidia Yuknavitch at Corporeal Writing, where I first heard six years ago that “the body has a point of view.” I love this as a writer and a reader. So much of women’s bodies and experiences has been hidden away or unstoried, but those days are coming to a close, and these writers are leading the way.


I wrote...

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

By Christie Tate,

Book cover of Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

What is my book about?

Christie Tate has just been named the top student in her law school class and seems to finally have got her eating disorder under control. So why is she driving through Chicago fantasising about her own death?

Desperate, she joins Dr. Rosen’s psychotherapy group, and through his unconventional methods, he challenges everything she thought she knew, about herself and others. In group, secrets are not allowed. This means telling a group of strangers everything – about her struggle with bulimia, her failed sex life, her overwhelming sense of loneliness, and acute longing for a relationship. And as she keeps sharing her thoughts and feelings and listens to the others doing the same, her life slowly begins to change.

Jabari Jumps

By Gaia Cornwall,

Book cover of Jabari Jumps

This book speaks to me because I remember my own boys doing their first jumps from the high dive! I love that Jabari starts out with bravado, but we learn it’s just a false sense of confidence about making his first jump. Like many of us, he’s trying to convince himself he’s ready! In the gentlest way, this story says so much—that sometimes you think you’re ready for something, but maybe you need a minute. That preparing can help. That a cheerleader really helps! And that we all have to be brave in our own way, and in our own time! But oh, the wondrous feeling we humans get when we conquer fear. There’s nothing quite like it!


Who am I?

The best parts of my life have come when I was brave: getting married, having children, embarking on a career. The worst parts of my life have been mitigated by being brave: losing friends and relatives, dealing with illness and disability among family members. A huge part of raising my son who has autism was helping him to be brave. I've always admired brave people. Not daring or reckless, but truly brave. I've found that all the great stories include an element of bravery! I wrote my picture book as a way to help young children navigate the path to courage and resilience. I’m also the co-founder of National Be Brave Day.


I wrote...

Three Ways to Be Brave: A Trio of Stories

By Karla Clark, Jeff Östberg (illustrator),

Book cover of Three Ways to Be Brave: A Trio of Stories

What is my book about?

Three stories of triumph combine to empower young readers to look inward for strength and create their own definition of bravery.

Told in gentle, rhyming couplets, this collection of stories presents relatable moments of unease and the strength found in conquering fears. A roaring nighttime thunderstorm, the first day of preschool, and a doctor's visit, in turn, encourage young readers to forge their own paths of strength in times of distress. Illustrated in rich, emotional scenes that depict vignettes of daily life, this book provides comfort and empowerment for resilience and resolution.

The Stories of John Cheever

By John Cheever,

Book cover of The Stories of John Cheever

Not only is Cheever’s "The Swimmer" part of the “canon” of literary works about swimming, it’s widely considered one of the greatest works of short fiction. He frames the journey as an Odyssey with all the classical echoes that suggests. The protagonist, Ned Merrill, decides to swim back to his home through the pools of his suburban neighbors, a journey that starts out as a lark and slowly turns into a descent into hell. In truth, the story is less about swimming than suburban life in the 1950s, but it packs a powerful punch.


Who am I?

For most of my life I’ve been both a writer and a swimmer. I’ve engaged in both activities for many decades, but I’ve always kept the two entirely separate. Write about swimming? Why? What would I say? What was there to say about water and the act of moving through it? It seemed to me that it was a case of “you have to be there,” that writing about swimming would be too removed from the immediacy, the tactility, the floating state of mind. It was only when I discovered works by some truly great writers that I began to see that I could write about my own love of being in water, and how I might go about it.


I wrote...

Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

By Kathleen McDonnell,

Book cover of Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

What is my book about?

Kathleen McDonnell started swimming in Lake Ontario, infamous for its chilly depths, because it was close to her Toronto Island home. Over the years she began to rely on a daily dip, even breaking through winter ice to raise her spirits and refresh her body. In Growing Old, Going Cold she describes immersion in cold water as “the great anti-aging potion ever discovered.” In this wide-ranging memoir, McDonnell shares her love of cold water swimming and some hilarious stories from her watery travels around the globe.

Young Woman and the Sea

By Glenn Stout,

Book cover of Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World

These days Gertrude Ederle is unfamiliar to many of us, but a century ago she was an athletic champion whose celebrity rivaled Babe Ruth’s. In 1926, two years after winning three medals at the Paris Olympics, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel, an amazing feat of endurance and perseverance that took 14 hours and 37 minutes, a time almost two hours faster than the speediest of the five men who had gone before her. Along with recreating Ederle’s harrowing Channel journey in vivid detail, renowned sportswriter Glenn Stout infuses life back into Ederle and shows us why President Coolidge called her “America’s Best Girl.”


Who am I?

My novels explore women whose contributions to culture have been relegated to the footnotes of mainstream history books, and in few areas have women been more overlooked than in sports. Because of the achievements of today’s female athletes, ranging from the many athletic opportunities available to our young daughters to the professional success of women like Serena Williams, it’s easy to think that progress for women’s sports has come a long way—and in many ways, it has, thanks to legislative protections like Title IX—but these achievements reflect over a century’s worth of sacrifice by many unheralded women athletes. Here are five books that highlight this journey.


I wrote...

Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team

By Elise Hooper,

Book cover of Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team

What is my book about?

Fast Girls is historical fiction inspired by the real-life women track stars of the late 1920s and ‘30s. Three young women—Betty Robinson, Louise Stokes, and Helen Stephens—will join with others to defy society’s expectations of what women can achieve. As tensions bring the United States and Europe closer and closer to the brink of war, these women must fight for the chance to compete as the fastest women in the world amidst the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympics in Berlin. 

Swimming to Antarctica

By Lynne Cox,

Book cover of Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer

Lynne Cox is one of the world’s most extraordinary distance swimmers, and she’s also a remarkable writer. In this, her first book, she writes about her emotional connection to water, her spiritual need to swim, as well as recounting the many challenges she faced in her successful crossing of the Bering Strait – not the least of which was the 38F water temperature. I was truly honored when Lynne agreed to write a testimonial for my book.


Who am I?

For most of my life I’ve been both a writer and a swimmer. I’ve engaged in both activities for many decades, but I’ve always kept the two entirely separate. Write about swimming? Why? What would I say? What was there to say about water and the act of moving through it? It seemed to me that it was a case of “you have to be there,” that writing about swimming would be too removed from the immediacy, the tactility, the floating state of mind. It was only when I discovered works by some truly great writers that I began to see that I could write about my own love of being in water, and how I might go about it.


I wrote...

Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

By Kathleen McDonnell,

Book cover of Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

What is my book about?

Kathleen McDonnell started swimming in Lake Ontario, infamous for its chilly depths, because it was close to her Toronto Island home. Over the years she began to rely on a daily dip, even breaking through winter ice to raise her spirits and refresh her body. In Growing Old, Going Cold she describes immersion in cold water as “the great anti-aging potion ever discovered.” In this wide-ranging memoir, McDonnell shares her love of cold water swimming and some hilarious stories from her watery travels around the globe.

Barracuda

By Christos Tsiolkas,

Book cover of Barracuda

Danny Kelly is a living, breathing gay Greek protagonist, and the choices this driven young competitive swimmer faces about loving relationshipswhile he’s in the pursuit of athletic prowessare written with a resounding ring of truth. Tsiolkas’ visceral sex scenes, underpinned by gripping descriptions of the desires behind the mechanics, speak to much more than the act itself. They go to the heart of identity in a novel with so many layers of self-definition: the migrant, the working class hero, the quintessential male, the stereotypical gay, the success story, and the abject failure. That Danny escapes his ambition alive is a miracle, and it has everything to do with digging deep and staring down expectations.


Who am I?

A century of prejudice is laid bare in these books, but within their pages are countless subtle and overt ways that gay Australian men have given homophobes the big middle finger. We may not always have thrived, but through resistance, migration, verbal agility, notoriety, and sheer resilience, collectively we have conquered. I stand on enormous shoulders at a time when queer writing is proliferating on an inevitable tide of equality that has risen across my lifetime in this country. My selections encompass first nations and migrant stories, some of the pioneers of our gay literature, and ‘outside’ voices bravely looking in to discern us with dignity.


I wrote...

Tank Water

By Michael Burge,

Book cover of Tank Water

What is my book about?

James Brandt didn’t look back when he got away from his rural hometown as a teenager. Now, he’s returned to Kippen because his cousin Tony has been found dead under the local bridge. The event triggers James’s journalistic curiosity—and his anxiety—both of which cropped up during his turbulent journey to adulthood. 

But it is the unexpected homophobic attack he survives that draws James into a hunt for the reasons one lonely Kippen farm boy in every generation kills himself. Standing in the way is James’s father, the town’s recently retired top cop, who is not prepared to investigate crimes no one reckons have taken place. James must use every newshound’s trick he ever learned in order to uncover the brutal truth.

Swimming with the Dead

By Kathy Brandt,

Book cover of Swimming with the Dead: An Underwater Investigation

Kathy’s series – which I wish she’d continue one day – inspired me to include my passion for scuba diving in my novels. Her main character, Hannah Sampson, is a member of the Denver Underwater CSI team, who’s asked to help the police in the British Virgin Islands investigate a case. Needless to say, she stays on the island for the following books and becomes embroiled in hair-raising cases that challenge her above and below the water.

Kathy published her series at a time when very few novels centered around diving, and certainly didn’t include a female protagonist. I found her work transported me to the islands, and enthused me to create AJ Bailey and subsequently, Nora Sommer.


Who am I?

My wife suggested we try scuba diving while on holiday in Grand Cayman. We were already falling in love with the island, and the incredible experience underwater opened a whole new world to us. From that moment on, our yearly travels changed completely. Our destination choices were now based upon diving opportunities. That was twenty years ago. Today, I’m a certified divemaster with dives all over the US (including Hawaii), the Caribbean (including Cuba), Australia, and even Iceland. Throw in my sense of adventure as a former race car driver, motorcycle rider, and outdoor adventurer, and I had plenty of personal experiences to create the AJ Bailey series.


I wrote...

Twelve Mile Bank: AJ Bailey Adventure Series - Book One

By Nicholas Harvey,

Book cover of Twelve Mile Bank: AJ Bailey Adventure Series - Book One

What is my book about?

A mysterious shipwreck. A ruthless treasure hunter. A race against time. Cayman Islands divemaster AJ Bailey is searching for a long-forgotten WWII U-boat at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. Armed with nothing more than an adventurous spirit and her late grandfather’s tale, she's determined to find the submarine and the secret it protects.

My first novel was a passion project. The old adage says "write what you know…" so that’s what I did. Blending my love of scuba diving, the Cayman Islands, and WWII history, Twelve Mile Bank became one woman’s quest to rediscover a lost U-boat. But amongst the action, the story’s backbone is AJ’s touching relationship with her late grandfather, and his captivating stories which fuel her search.

Everything in Its Place

By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales

Everyone knows who the late Oliver Sacks is, and his extraordinary books have been read by millions. But not many know about Sacks’ great love of swimming, which he first wrote about in “Water Babies,” a beautiful personal essay published in The New Yorker in 1997. I had an “aha!” moment when I first read this essay, in my realization that Sacks and I were kindred water spirits, and that it was possible to write about swimming in a way that would engage readers of all stripes. 


Who am I?

For most of my life I’ve been both a writer and a swimmer. I’ve engaged in both activities for many decades, but I’ve always kept the two entirely separate. Write about swimming? Why? What would I say? What was there to say about water and the act of moving through it? It seemed to me that it was a case of “you have to be there,” that writing about swimming would be too removed from the immediacy, the tactility, the floating state of mind. It was only when I discovered works by some truly great writers that I began to see that I could write about my own love of being in water, and how I might go about it.


I wrote...

Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

By Kathleen McDonnell,

Book cover of Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

What is my book about?

Kathleen McDonnell started swimming in Lake Ontario, infamous for its chilly depths, because it was close to her Toronto Island home. Over the years she began to rely on a daily dip, even breaking through winter ice to raise her spirits and refresh her body. In Growing Old, Going Cold she describes immersion in cold water as “the great anti-aging potion ever discovered.” In this wide-ranging memoir, McDonnell shares her love of cold water swimming and some hilarious stories from her watery travels around the globe.

Haunts of the Black Masseur

By Charles Sprawson,

Book cover of Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero

This book is packed with fascinating, dramatic, and sometimes bizarre tales of swimming lore from history and literature. Sprawson is also fascinated with the swimming world’s legacy to Hollywood in the thirties and forties, exploring the careers of “aquamusical” star Esther Williams and Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who starred in a dozen Tarzan movies. Sprawson’s reputation as a literary writer about swimming is second only to that of Roger Deakins. What gives the book a strange fascination for many people is the fact that after the publication of Haunts of the Black Masseur, Sprawson never wrote another one.


Who am I?

For most of my life I’ve been both a writer and a swimmer. I’ve engaged in both activities for many decades, but I’ve always kept the two entirely separate. Write about swimming? Why? What would I say? What was there to say about water and the act of moving through it? It seemed to me that it was a case of “you have to be there,” that writing about swimming would be too removed from the immediacy, the tactility, the floating state of mind. It was only when I discovered works by some truly great writers that I began to see that I could write about my own love of being in water, and how I might go about it.


I wrote...

Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

By Kathleen McDonnell,

Book cover of Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

What is my book about?

Kathleen McDonnell started swimming in Lake Ontario, infamous for its chilly depths, because it was close to her Toronto Island home. Over the years she began to rely on a daily dip, even breaking through winter ice to raise her spirits and refresh her body. In Growing Old, Going Cold she describes immersion in cold water as “the great anti-aging potion ever discovered.” In this wide-ranging memoir, McDonnell shares her love of cold water swimming and some hilarious stories from her watery travels around the globe.

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