The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth

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9780140278026: The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth

An absorbing, original account of the beach--its history, customs, spectacles, and how it became the undisputed Nirvana for pleasure seekers.

Turquoise water, pillowy sand, and a warm, salty breeze--today the beach is regarded as the best possible place to restore body and soul. However, this has not always been the case. In other centuries the beach was considered a remote, terrifying wasteland on the margins of civilization. In their entertaining, elegant, and illuminating account, Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker trace the four-billion-year evolution of the place where land, water, and humans meet.

Embedded in the narrative are the histories of sexuality, health, fashion, sport, the rise of the great resorts--St. Tropez, Catalina, Newport, Miami Beach--and the beach tales of Columbus, D-Day troops, and castaways Cook, Melville, and Swinburne. Including a marvelous selection of images evoking the beach's hypnotic appeal--Impressionist paintings, archival photographs, advertising art, and postcards--and an Appendix of the world's most beautiful, unspoiled beaches, The Beach will fascinate any reader from Coney Island to Bora Bora.

"Engagingly eccentric [and] briskly good-humored ... [an] entertaining, handsomely illustrated book." --The New York Times Book Review (front page)

"The perfect beach book, any time of the year." --Chicago Tribune

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Review:

In The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth, Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker chart the history of beaches from the time of their formation to the present, examining the shifting significance of beaches to Western cultures through the centuries. Lencek and Bosker are capable historians whose love of beaches shines through in their writing. They assert that the way people approach the beach reflects their culture's current beliefs about sexuality, class divisions, aesthetics, and leisure. At times, the authors go a bit overboard in proving how important beaches are to society, but it is easy to forgive them because this book is crammed with interesting tidbits and choice sentences, such as, "The sands of Oregon's Florence Beach squeak with the high-pitched bark of distant chihuahuas." Great old movie posters, photographs, and odd tourist brochures are sprinkled throughout the book, enlivening the text.

After a chapter on the geological makeup of sand and beaches, the authors chronicle the waxing and waning popularity of beaches through the ages. It seems that people did not always think of the beach as a good place to kick back, get a tan, and leaf through a book with lots of pictures. During the Middle Ages, many Europeans avoided the ocean in part because they believed water was connected to the horrible plagues that occasionally devastated the region. Later, an entrepreneur convinced the British upper class that drinking saltwater was a good way to cure "windiness of the spirit" and other ailments. Gradually, the rich figured out that the beach is not only healthful, it's fun! Technological innovations made it easier to get to the beach, and so more people of all classes went there. Swimsuit styles changed as textiles, sexual mores, and ideals of beauty evolved. This book should appeal to many readers because it is packed with good tidbits to ponder between naps on the beach, things such as the origins of suntan lotion, the development of the Australian crawl, and the singing dunes of Kauai, Hawaii. --Jill Marquis

From Kirkus Reviews:

A husband-and-wife team of popular-culture experts provides a lively celebration of the beach, ``nature's most potent antidepressant.'' Lenek (The Antic Alphabet, 1994) and Bosker, professors of Russian and medicine, respectively, who live in Oregon, are clearly in love with beaches. In this, their latest in a series of popular-culture studies (including one on bathing suits), they have transformed their unabashed passion for sun and sand (or rocks, as it may be) into a romp through the history of beaches, from their ancient geological formation to the environmental and commercial dangers that threaten them today. Along the way, they explore sexuality, sport, architecture, and fashion at the beach. At the heart of their historical narrative is the premise that the beach as we know it today is a recent phenomenon. Here we witness the beach's gradual transformation from a hostile wildernesssite of conquest, commerce, and tribal practicesto a civilized recreation site. Throughout, the historical narrative is limited to Western cultures, primarily American and European. Chapters often begin with fictional tableaus that lend an intimate feel to the narrative. Throughout, The Beach is filled with fascinating illustrations and photographs of the once-popular bathing machine, assorted swimsuit styles of the past (including the first adhesive brassiere!), and the ``Tan-O-Meter,'' a gas-pump-shaped tanning-oil dispenser. But for all their mirth, Lenek and Bosker are serious about the beach's role in history and its appeal to the human imagination. In the end, they argue, ``it is to the beach . . . that we go to reinvent ourselves.'' For those readers unable to resist the beach's appeal, the authors include a highly select list of the world's hottest and fanciest beach hotels and resorts. Those who ordinarily bike or walk to the local beach will find pleasure and novelty in The Beach, but they'd better look elsewhere for seashore recommendations. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Lencek, Lena; Bosker, Gideon
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