Best Book About Swimming Ever Written

Best Book About Swimming Ever Written

Look no further. Ralph Thomas’ book “Swimming” from 1904 is probably the best book about swimming ever written. At least it is the most comprehensive.. Ralph Thomas’ book “Swimming” from 1904 is the best book about swimming ever written.

It also sports the longest subtitle I have so far encountered: “With lists of books published in English, German, French and other European languages and critical remarks on the theory and practice of swimming and resuscitation, biography, history, bibliography including upwards of one hundred illustrations” – that about covers it.

True to its promise the book is very thorough. No known book up until 1903 is left uncommented. Ralph Thomas worked on the book for more than 10 years. He traveled all over Europe to visit libraries that might hold yet another book or pamphlet on the subject of swimming. The effort put into this book is impressive in its own right, but so is the result.

Ralph Thomas writes:

The importance of swimming is really paramount and is admitted by all, but the art is universally neglected and I fear looked down upon even in the present day.

And then he goes on to give a heartfelt and very knowledgeable account of the evolution of swimming. He traces the sport as it can be traced throughout Europe with books on the subject as his source material. In the book he describes in detail what every single book or pamphlet states about swimming and he then looks at all the different sources and compares the findings in his own conclusions. Epic!

International Swimming Hall of Fame also acknowledges his importance, and they state that as far as the bibliography of swimming is concerned, ‘Swimming’ is the most important work in the English language, if not in the world. His work is a pillar of research and devotion.

Few have contributed more to the sport during the course of a lifetime than Ralph Thomas, but the most remarkable thing about him is that he does not appear to have been an active competitive swimmer, an official, or a coach, but just a keen swimmer with an intense interest in practicing new techniques so that he could write authoritatively about them. (See the full text on Ralph Thomas here: It is a highly recommended read. The book is long out of print and original copies are fetching and increasingly high price, but it is now possible to buy a photographic reprint, which is the next best thing and the prices on Amazon are reasonable.


A swimmer and swimming aficionado. I love everything related to the manifestation of swimming references in popular culture and litterature througout history.

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