During the summer of 1926, journalists from America and Europe focused their readers' attention on who would become the first woman to swim the English Channel.
Among these were four Americans: Mille Gade, a swim instructor and mother of two small children; Lillian Cannon, a 'professional' swimmer from Baltimore; Clarabelle Barrett, a would-be professional singer and 19-year-old New Yorker; and Gertrude Ederle, who had unsuccessfully attempted the Channel crossing the previous summer.
Whether you are interested in swimming history or world events or just like an intriguing story, The Great Swim details the actual accounts of the crossing attempts of each of these four remarkable individuals in this wonderfully educating and entertaining book.
The drama of the swims not only occurs in the water, but also in learning where these women come from, their family histories, and their swimming experience and backgrounds.
Equally enthralling is what happens after their unique and shared experiences in the icy and challenging waters between England and France that summer of '26. Each had their own reason for wanting to swim the channel and obtain the potential fame and riches that may bring the first woman to do so.
Politics, controversy, finances and a continuous 'one-upmanship' by the world's journalists, each vying to get the latest scoop on this historic event, make for entertaining reading today just as they were attempting to do for their respective newspaper's readership back then.
Channel coaches Thomas Burgess and Jabez Wolffe, both former Channel swimmers themselves, (only Burgess being successful in 1911), are colorfully interwoven into the narrative. Of course there were other challengers to the Channel that summer besides the American quartet, both male and female. Many of their stories are shared as they intersect with the lives of the four from across the Atlantic.
The culture of 'celebrity' is introduced as they finish their respective swims and return home. Ederle and Gade both returned to the States having successfully swum the Channel. Ederle, who will forever be known as the first woman to swim the English Channel, received the first of its kind, ticker tape parade through the streets of New York City. Both had opportunities to cash-in on their feats with varied and interesting results.
The Epilogue brings the reader up-to-date with what many of the major characters did during the rest of their lives and when and how old many of them were when they died. Interesting notes as the author brings this book to an appropriate closure.