The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth

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9780140278026: The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth

The beach is the favourite getaway destination for most of us. Using numerous paintings, photographs and advertisements, this book charts the evolution of the seaside, from ancient societies, through the development of famous resorts to the present-day quest for the luxurious and unspoiled.

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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 titbits 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 sea, 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 plenty to ponder between naps on the beach, such as the origins of suntan lotion, the development of the Australian crawl and the singing dunes of Kauai, Hawaii. -- Jill Marquis

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Lencek, Lena; Bosker, Gideon
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