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Crossing Hardcover – Sep 1 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher; 1 edition (Sept. 1 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158542109X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585421091
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.2 x 19 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,664,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

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

From Publishers Weekly

London journalist Watson delivers a sensitive, well-wrought account of the life of Matthew Webb, a 27-year-old British merchant seaman who in 1875 became the first person to swim the English Channel making it from Dover to Calais in under 22 hours, a feat not duplicated for 36 years. Fueled by frequent servings of coffee, beer and brandy, suffering from a jellyfish sting, Webb traversed the icy, "frighteningly unpredictable" 21-mile Channel by overcoming tides so strong that he actually swam over 40 miles. Watson details Webb's early life, his status as "probably the best known and most popular man in the world" after his deed, his tragic fall from grace and his death at age 35 while swimming below Niagara Falls. Watson deftly contextualizes this obscure sporting figure: "His crossing gave swimming an enormous boost, transforming it almost overnight into one of the most popular participant sports in the country"; government-supported swimming baths proliferated and still thrive today. Watson carefully recounts the increasingly exploitative Victorian popular culture in which Webb's popularity yielded to new fads; he had to resort to less-than-professional "championship" races and cheap stunts to support his family. A Channel swimmer herself, Watson understands that the crossing "is never less than a rite of passage in the swimmer's life" and that history "has remembered Webb only in isolated flashes, but his real and lasting monument surely lies in the spirit of all the men and women who, since his crossing, have tried to swim the channel." (Sept.)Forecast: Expect a big push for this book the sales representatives chose it from among Penguin/Putnam's imprints' lists as this season's nonfiction "pick of the list."

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover
As an open-water swimmer myself, I was attracted to this book about the famous first crossing by Capt. Webb I've heard about for years. The author clearly shows that she did her research on failed swims of the past and on how present-day Channel swimmers conquered the Channel between England and France.
To Watson's credit, the actual channel crossing is only a minor part of the entire book. The author looks at Capt. Webb as something more than the first man to swim across the English Channel; she examines him as the Victorian age's first mega-celebrity...think Mickey Mantle meets Michael Jordan at the turn of the century.
She meticulously pieces together newspaper reports of the day regarding Webb's exploits after the famous Channel swim, actually building sympathy for Capt. Webb and the hucksters who set him up for swim after swim (and even more ridiculous feats of endurance).
I only wish that this book had a biography so I could explore more stories about Capt. Webb and open-water swimming. However, you don't have to be a swimmer to enjoy this book - Watson clearly markets it to the casual reader, and it's small size makes it perfect for summertime reading.
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Format: Hardcover
Time was when every schoolboy in Britain knew about Capt.Webb; matchboxes carried his name and image; he figured high on the list of heroes and tales of derring-do - I'm not sure if the same holds true nowadays, so this book is an attempt to set the record straight (even so, we are surprised to discover that someone had beaten Webb to it ... but not by swimming),
Written in an accessible, flowing conversational style, it goes beyond 'the Crossing' to trace the life and exploits of this remarkable man. Incidentally, Ms.Watson (no relation) aspires to be a channel swimmer - this lends a certain authority and credence to the rest of the book; not that it needs it, the research into Webb's life is meticulous.
At the time, swimming the channel was as daunting as climbing Everest; many authorities stating categorically that it was an impossible feat. However, Webb seems to have suffered from no such fears - totally confident, he persuades backers with his no-nonsense charm, incidentally laying the basis of the British love-affair with swimming.
After the success of the crossing, we see more of Webb's bravado and determination ... but directed into increasingly desperate money-making schemes, culminating in the one that would end his life.
One feels for the man, driven as he was by some inner need, but reduced to exhibitionism instead of taking an easier option on life.
A very enjoyable read. *****
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Format: Hardcover
Kathy Watson has crafted a jewel of a book, an exotic Victoria portrait that goes far beyond the simple description of Captain Webb and his extraordinary swimming of the English Channel - the first person ever to do so in recorded history.
For in this miniature we certainly see bits and pieces and touches of ouselves in ways that force us to immediately recognize the subject of the book: the having done a daring, or honorable, or brave, or even brilliant act in our past, one that defined us as eminently worthwhile members of the human family. Perhaps only we knew about what we had done, perhaps we did it only in silence, perhaps there was never outside recognition; but most of us have one or more of those moments, just as Capt. Webb had when he did his extraordinary feat, only less so. He was certainly recognized and feted and admired; he received cash and other rewards for demonstrating British pluck in his accomplishment. And then...glory was taken away from him. Not in one fell swoop, but gradually and ignominiously over a period of 8 years, when he ended his life as a boastful freak who attempted to swim the Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls and failed.
The story of this brilliant meteor and its crash is splendidly narrated; the prose is redolent with Victorian language without being Victorian prose. Meticulous research has obviously been used to underpin the narrative, and the author's joy and enthusiasm is everywhere: "Niagara," she explains "had become the primary port of call in North America for daredevils, con men, suicides, sensation-seekers, and nutcases" in 1883 when Capt. Webb arrived.
Ms.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Tiny Treasure, by fermed Sept. 30 2001
By Fernando Melendez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Kathy Watson has crafted a jewel of a book, an exotic Victoria portrait that goes far beyond the simple description of Captain Webb and his extraordinary swimming of the English Channel - the first person ever to do so in recorded history.
For in this miniature we certainly see bits and pieces and touches of ouselves in ways that force us to immediately recognize the subject of the book: the having done a daring, or honorable, or brave, or even brilliant act in our past, one that defined us as eminently worthwhile members of the human family. Perhaps only we knew about what we had done, perhaps we did it only in silence, perhaps there was never outside recognition; but most of us have one or more of those moments, just as Capt. Webb had when he did his extraordinary feat, only less so. He was certainly recognized and feted and admired; he received cash and other rewards for demonstrating British pluck in his accomplishment. And then...glory was taken away from him. Not in one fell swoop, but gradually and ignominiously over a period of 8 years, when he ended his life as a boastful freak who attempted to swim the Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls and failed.
The story of this brilliant meteor and its crash is splendidly narrated; the prose is redolent with Victorian language without being Victorian prose. Meticulous research has obviously been used to underpin the narrative, and the author's joy and enthusiasm is everywhere: "Niagara," she explains "had become the primary port of call in North America for daredevils, con men, suicides, sensation-seekers, and nutcases" in 1883 when Capt. Webb arrived.
Ms. Watson gives statistics, but does not burden us with them; since Capt Webb there have been 500 or so people who have swum the Channel, but today it is much easier (but not easy) because of the expert knowledge that has built over the years on how to prepare for, and execute, a crossing. Not so when Jabez Wolffe made his first attempt in 1906, nor in the ensuing years, when he tried 22 times and never succeeded in his quest.
Whether one swims or not, this is an exciting and delightful book. Yes, it ends in the defeat of Capt. Webb, but somehow this failure totally pales when compared to his success; and because of that, this is an upbeat book of optimism and hope, brilliantly written.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A glimpse of celebrity in the Victorian era Aug. 21 2002
By Jeffrey Jotz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an open-water swimmer myself, I was attracted to this book about the famous first crossing by Capt. Webb I've heard about for years. The author clearly shows that she did her research on failed swims of the past and on how present-day Channel swimmers conquered the Channel between England and France.
To Watson's credit, the actual channel crossing is only a minor part of the entire book. The author looks at Capt. Webb as something more than the first man to swim across the English Channel; she examines him as the Victorian age's first mega-celebrity...think Mickey Mantle meets Michael Jordan at the turn of the century.
She meticulously pieces together newspaper reports of the day regarding Webb's exploits after the famous Channel swim, actually building sympathy for Capt. Webb and the hucksters who set him up for swim after swim (and even more ridiculous feats of endurance).
I only wish that this book had a biography so I could explore more stories about Capt. Webb and open-water swimming. However, you don't have to be a swimmer to enjoy this book - Watson clearly markets it to the casual reader, and it's small size makes it perfect for summertime reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Rise and the Fall Jan. 3 2010
By Y. Zohar - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a very entertaining, but tragic, story of Victorian times. This little gem is about Capt. Mathew Webb, the first man to successfully swim the English Channel. It relates his rise to renown and his equally swift decent that finally results in his untimely death while attempting a suicidal swim down the Niagara river, below the waterfalls. Capt. Webb was a merchant ship captain of respect and then a renowned long distance swimmer. After the crossing he slowly downgraded from sportsman to performer to freak show exhibitionist. He loses touch with reality and yearns for his glory days to return.

This book gives us a glimpse into the Victorian period and also the beginning of the modern sport of swimming. At the time swimming was not an organized sport as we know today but rather something between a sport and an exhibition of prowess. Swimming made Capt. Webb but also destroyed him.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
'Boy's Own Paper' stuff! May 14 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Time was when every schoolboy in Britain knew about Capt.Webb; matchboxes carried his name and image; he figured high on the list of heroes and tales of derring-do - I'm not sure if the same holds true nowadays, so this book is an attempt to set the record straight (even so, we are surprised to discover that someone had beaten Webb to it ... but not by swimming),
Written in an accessible, flowing conversational style, it goes beyond 'the Crossing' to trace the life and exploits of this remarkable man. Incidentally, Ms.Watson (no relation) aspires to be a channel swimmer - this lends a certain authority and credence to the rest of the book; not that it needs it, the research into Webb's life is meticulous.
At the time, swimming the channel was as daunting as climbing Everest; many authorities stating categorically that it was an impossible feat. However, Webb seems to have suffered from no such fears - totally confident, he persuades backers with his no-nonsense charm, incidentally laying the basis of the British love-affair with swimming.
After the success of the crossing, we see more of Webb's bravado and determination ... but directed into increasingly desperate money-making schemes, culminating in the one that would end his life.
One feels for the man, driven as he was by some inner need, but reduced to exhibitionism instead of taking an easier option on life.
A very enjoyable read. *****
A good read July 6 2007
By iHaveParrrots - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A little book with a big story. It tells the story of the first man to swim the English Channel. Its a solid story, with all the drama of a Tour de France drug scandal.


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