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A History of Exercise

Bloomsbury Publishing

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opens in a new window Sweat Download image

ISBN10: 1620402289
ISBN13: 9781620402283


256 Pages



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Exercise is our modern obsession, and we have the fancy workout gear and fads from HIIT to spin classes to hot yoga to prove it. Exercise—a form of physical activity distinct from sports, play, or athletics—was an ancient obsession, too, but as a chapter in human history, it's been largely overlooked. In Sweat, Bill Hayes runs, jogs, swims, spins, walks, bikes, boxes, lifts, sweats, and downward-dogs his way through the origins of different forms of exercise, chronicling how they have evolved over time, dissecting the dynamics of human movement.

Hippocrates, Plato, Galen, Susan B. Anthony, Jack LaLanne, and Jane Fonda, among many others, make appearances in Sweat, but chief among the historical figures is Girolamo Mercuriale, a Renaissance-era Italian physician who aimed singlehandedly to revive the ancient Greek “art of exercising” through his 1569 book De arte gymnastica. Though largely forgotten over the past five centuries, Mercuriale and his illustrated treatise were pioneering, and are brought back to life in the pages of Sweat. Hayes ties his own personal experience—and ours—to the cultural and scientific history of exercise, from ancient times to the present day, giving us a new way to understand its place in our lives in the 21st century.


Praise for Sweat

“Bill Hayes has an unusual set of skills . . . He is part science writer, part memoirist, part culture explainer.”—The New York Times

“Bill Hayes' peripatetic inquiry into the history of exercise is a delight for anyone who loves a good search for a missing manuscript, as well as anyone who loves being 'so drenched in sweat as to feel amphibious.' And if those predilections happen to overlap for you, hang onto your Bosu ball—you're in for a treat. Hayes weaves his riveting findings in the archives with a revelatory memoir of physical exertion that begins to answer that most human of questions: what does the body mean?”—Alison Bechdel

“I was riveted by Sweat and its extraordinary tale of the ups and downs of exercise over millennia. Who knew?”—Jane Fonda

“Obsessed by both working out and its history, Hayes writes a book that combines them . . . An entertaining hodgepodge of autobiography, travelogue, and history.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Hayes entertainingly describes his adventures in the world of fitness, learning how to box at a pugilists' boot camp, swimming, running, and performing power yoga in a New York gym class. A brisk jaunt through the history of working out in Western civilization.”—Booklist

“At once a book about exercise history, and a travelogue, a literary discovery tour, and another of Hayes's personal and exhilarating memoirs.”—Library Journal

“With an introspective eye and dynamic prose, Hayes keeps his investigation grounded in his personal search for meaning.”—Publishers Weekly