Bonnie Tsui looks at our love affair with the water, from evolution to mythology, from survival and well-being, from community swim clubs to competitive races. Tsui, a swimmer herself, dives into the deep, from the San Francisco Bay to the South China Sea, investigating what about water—despite its dangers—seduces us and why we come back to it again and again.
Bonnie Tsui’s Why We Swim, an enthusiastic and thoughtful work mixing history, journalism and elements of memoir, is ostensibly focused on those who do swim, rather than those who don’t. Tsui sets out to answer her title’s question with a compassionate understanding of how that mind game stops some and a curiosity about how and why it seduces others ... This is more of a quick dip than a comprehensive history of swimming, but it’s still full of good information ... Tsui is commendably transparent about her methods, but there are times when that gives Why We Swim the tone of a book report, one where the writer likely had travel limitations based on budget ... Tsui endears herself to the reader as well. Her universal query is also one of self, and her articulations of what she learns are moving ...
... succeeds brilliantly ... In theory, Tsui’s globe- and topic-hopping structure could make the book seem scattered. But the breadth of her reporting and grace of her writing make the elements of Why We Swim move harmoniously as one ... deepens from informative and entertaining to transcendent and moving ... There’s a poignancy to the fact that Why We Swim arrives just as COVID-19 has made so many bodies of water, from public swimming pools to beaches, off limits. But you can read it to remember just how good a swim can feel on a hot summer day and dream about when that day will come.
Profiles of Olympic swimmers, long distance swimmers, and others who swim in brutally cold water for therapeutic reasons punctuate the text, in addition to Tsui’s own lifelong experiences in water. In all, Why We Swim is a celebration of the many varieties of joy that swimming brings to our oxygen-breathing species. That we choose to swim, knowing the danger, can only be explained by the pleasure it brings.