The Crossing: The Curious Story of the First Man to Swim the English Channel

Watson, Kathy

Published by Tarcher, 2001
ISBN 10: 158542109X / ISBN 13: 9781585421091
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Synopsis: "An affectionate, acutely observed life of Webb that brings his achievement into sharp focus after more than a century of neglect." (Sunday Times, London)

Swimming the English Channel was once thought to be a feat as impossible as reaching the summit of Everest, flying through the air in a plane, or walking on the moon. But in August 1875, an obscure ship captain named Matthew Webb became a world hero. He was the first to accomplish what fewer than six hundred people have done since-swim the twenty-one miles of ice-cold, jellyfish-infested water from Dover to Calais.

The Crossing is the richly detailed story of Webb's swim. Fueled by infusions of cod-liver oil, beer, coffee, and brandy, Webb competed for the honor of being first with a swimmer who sported the latest Victorian invention: a thirty-five-pound rubber "survival suit" containing ten days' worth of food and water, a headlamp for night paddling, an axe for killing swordfish, and books to ward off boredom. Even more intriguing is what happened to Webb after he made history. Addicted to fame, he hired himself out for ever more desperate swimming feats in pursuit of the money and applause he craved-and died tragically in a crazed attempt to traverse the boiling rapids and quarter-mile whirlpool of the Niagara River.

From Harry Houdini to Evel Knievel to David Blaine, we have long been fascinated by risk-takers. In a fast-moving history of triumph and folly, The Crossing takes us inside the mind of the daredevil.

Review: The Crossing tells the colorful story of Matthew Webb, the first person to swim across the English Channel. Webb was born in 1848, learned to swim as a boy in the River Severn, and joined the merchant marine, where he received a medal for bravery for diving after a seaman who had fallen into the Atlantic. A natural showman, he gained sponsors for what was considered an impossible feat, to swim from Dover to Calais. The author, editor of Women's Realm magazine, skillfully recreates the physical agony of Webb's crossing and his triumphant return as he sailed into Dover to the wild applause of crowds jammed on the pier. His exploit made Webb famous and gave the new sport of swimming an enormous boost. Newspapers described him as "probably the best-known and most popular man in the world" and his achievement "a matter of national importance." As his fame faded, however, Webb tried to keep himself in the public eye with a series of dubious public appearances, such as spending 60 hours in a glass tank at the Royal Westminster Aquarium, exploits that gradually ruined his health. Finally, for $10,000 he attempted to swim across the Niagara rapids and was crushed in the whirlpool below the falls. The author sympathetically places Webb's descent from national hero to desperate promoter in the context of the Victorian quest for novelty and the bizarre. Besides being the well-written biography of an eccentric daredevil, The Crossing is a fascinating piece of social history. --John Stevenson

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Title: The Crossing: The Curious Story of the First...
Publisher: Tarcher
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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Watson, Kathy
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