Why We Swim — 5 Star Book Review

I loved every bit of this book. For context, I don’t give 5 stars out easily. For a book to get 5 stars, it has to have an emotional impact on me, be well-written, memorable, and lastly (but not mandatory), teach me something new. If a book does all this but wasn’t as enjoyable as the last five star book I read, I will most likely give it 4.5 stars.


  • Name: Why We Swim
  • Author: Bonnie Tsui
  • Genre: Nonfiction, sports, memoir
  • Page Count: 288
  • Published:  April 14, 2020


Emotional impact

This book was emotional for me because it spoke to my own experiences with swimming. I feel like I intuitively knew the benefits of swimming, but having Bonnie Tsui explain them made me fall in love with the sport again. Also, I listened to some instrumental music while reading this. It felt so soothing and I think it made me extra emotional.


Why We Swim is broken down into five sections exploring how swimming has helped our ancestors survive, the meaning it has in modern society, the competitive aspect of the sport, and more. The writing was clear and inviting. She uses “us” and “we” and the narrative felt like a conversation because she would ask questions and then answer them. Even if I weren’t a swimmer, this book would have fascinated me because of the narrative shape and the unique stories she incorporates into it.

Why it was memorable

Bonnie Tsui discusses a number of topics by sharing her experiences, as well as those of other swimmers around the world. She takes us on a mini tour around the world, stopping in Iceland, Iraq, and Hong Kong to name a few. No matter where we live, or what skill level we’re at, she proves that the water calls us and it unites us.

My favourite section is where she discusses how swimming impacts our well-being. I also really enjoyed learning about the history of competitive swimming, especially cold-water swimming.

I know it’s a privilege to participate in sports in general. But I never fully realized how much of a privilege it is to learn how to swim or why. Bonnie Tsui goes over the history of racial segregation in The United States and how it has had lasting effects which impact the accessibility of pools and the ocean to this day. She also talks about how originally, only boys/men were allowed to take swimming lessons and compete in the Olympics.

What I learned

Going back to ancient Egypt, people thought that water was the cure for everything. Later, Greek Philosophers were also convinced that water had healing properties. They didn’t know why, but they were on the right track about bathing and submerging ourselves in water being good for us. Being in water can be therapeutic in several ways. For one, swimming allows our minds to be free and let go of our daily stressors temporarily. It can also activate the default-mode network in our brain, which enables problem solving and creativity. Bonnie Tsui says that this is why we often come up with good ideas in the shower!

In addition to being good for our minds, swimming is excellent for our bodies. Swimming in cool water has many benefits. It improves blood circulation, speeds up the repair of damaged nerves, and is proven to help with arthritis. Swimming offers pain relief while rehabilitating injuries at a low impact on the body. Compared to walking and cycling, swimming is even more effective at improving vascular functions. In fact, it’s the best at lowering blood pressure.

Another thing I learned is that swimming is one of the most popular recreational activities, simply because people enjoy it. Bonnie Tsui says people are quick to quit going to the gym, but swimming is a form of exercise that people are more likely to continue. Personally, when I swim, I enter a flow state where my mind is blank and I’m focusing on moving my body through the water. It feels great and I always leave the pool feeling happy and lighter.


“Buoyancy, floating, weightlessness. Freedom. These are the words we use to talk about swimming”

“To swim is to witness metamorphosis, in our environment, in ourselves. To swim is to accept all the myriad conditions of life.” 

“If I am floating here in San Francisco and you are floating across the Pacific in Tokyo, are we not floating together?”

Rating: 5 out of 5.


An immersive, unforgettable, and eye-opening perspective on swimming—and on human behavior itself.

We swim in freezing Arctic waters and piranha-infested rivers to test our limits. We swim for pleasure, for exercise, for healing. But humans, unlike other animals that are drawn to water, are not natural-born swimmers. We must be taught. Our evolutionary ancestors learned for survival; now, in the twenty-first century, swimming is one of the most popular activities in the world.

Why We Swim is propelled by stories of Olympic champions, a Baghdad swim club that meets in Saddam Hussein’s palace pool, modern-day Japanese samurai swimmers, and even an Icelandic fisherman who improbably survives a wintry six-hour swim after a shipwreck. New York Times contributor Bonnie Tsui, a swimmer herself, dives into the deep, from the San Francisco Bay to the South China Sea, investigating what about water—despite its dangers—seduces us and why we come back to it again and again. (taken from Goodreads)

If you have any thoughts about this book let me know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Why We Swim — 5 Star Book Review”

  1. This post was so knowledgeable! I love to swim – it’s like the only thing that helps me get out of my mind and spend some time calmly! I totally agree with everything you said and I’ll surely give this book a try! Nice post, Ariel!💛

    Liked by 1 person

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