Sweat: A History of Exercise

For Bill Hayes (How We Live Now; Insomniac City), the human body is a source of endless curiosity and delight. His earliest books (Sleep Demons; Five Quarts; The Anatomist) form a captivating library of historical research--on the subjects of sleep disorders, blood and anatomy--filtered through his own experiences. This makes Sweat: A History of Exercise an appealing, essential addition to the shelf.

Sweat is a brisk and amiable stroll through the history of vigorous activity. Hayes brings his resilient good nature and charming candor to the page, writing both from farflung, international research and considerable practice in arenas of swimming, running, boxing, weightlifting. He is struck, in particular, by one of the original studies of exercise: the 16th-century text Gymnastica by Girolamo Mercuriale, whose scholarship caught the attention of powerful men like Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, and made him the personal physicians to both in due time. But it's not just ancient texts that interest Hayes: Jane Fonda's Workout VHS and other modern wonders get their due as well.

For many, exercise can be a topic littered with insecurity, but Hayes circumvents pitfalls of intimidation by showcasing numerous eclectic fitness routines people have developed (church bell ringing, anyone?). He also writes frankly about his own relationship to fitness, its ebbs and flows, injuries and recovery periods. Throughout, he makes clear that to be embodied at all is magnificent. Whether in a library, a gym or the Grecian ruins of an ancient locker room, Hayes captures the majesty of bodies in motion. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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