“Why We Swim”: A Review of Award-Winning Author Bonnie Tsui’s Book

The following is a book review of “Why We Swim” by Bonnie Tsui, published in April 2020, courtesy of Nanaz Khosrowshahi.

She is a writer who is an avid fan of swimming. She is not a professional swimmer nor instructor but researches everything and anything about the sport. Sprinkled with swim facts intertwined with her own swim experiences growing up in Long Island, NY, she creates a book that is all encompassing. Her parents’ divorce, competing on her high school swim team, swimming a lake at her own wedding, and her surf and swim trips to Australia and Mexico are just a handful of stories that will glide your way.

She answers the book’s title in a multitude of ways like the physiological and mental benefits of swimming. She interviews scientists studying our bodies’ metabolism and brown fat upon being underwater. The book allows you to further explore other books, movies, songs and competitions about swimming that she references. She details a documentary called The Swimming Club, a transgender swim group. The film shows how transgendered people want to feel comfortable about which swimwear to don and which restrooms to use when getting undressed for the pool.

Submerge yourself in true stories of extreme temperatures and distances swimmers have conquered. Learn about prisoners from Alcatraz Island that tried to escape by swimming to shore to an American cultural liaison teaching swim lessons to military in Iraq. International ice swimming competitions challenge swimmers to compete in 5 degrees Celsius water or colder without wetsuits. Backyard pools and global adventures flow into one another in Why We Swim.

She tackles tougher issues surrounding the sport, like how families with low socioeconomic status have an increased risk of drownings due to lack of proximity to pools and access to lessons. In the 1950s and 1960s African Americans staged wade-ins to protest all white only pools and beaches, insisting that blacks and whites should be able to share the same space. The Colibri Center for Human Rights sheds light on immigrant swimmers who have died while crossing the US-Mexican border.

Fans of the Olympics will enjoy reading up on Dara Torres and Michael Phelps among other athletes. Touches of feminism dot the book as Tsui discusses when women were first introduced to the sport and the history of swimwear evolved from wool to Lycra for females and males. Females were required to wear stockings during swim competitions for modesty. Take a blast to the past to see how England shaped how US swim teams first began.

Why We Swim is not written in a way to have readers feel bad about their swim abilities or lack of time in the water. It is not an over glorification of swimming and Tsui refuses to objectify swimmers’ fit bodies and how they look in their trunks or bikinis. It is a tale of how swimming unites all of us and is in some way a part of all of us.


Nanaz is a married stay-at-home mom with three children, with five-year-old fraternal twins and a nine-year-old son. Nanaz is also a licensed pharmacist with 14 years of experience.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Gen D
1 month ago

I loved this book. To me, it was spiritual without being preachy. I have a renewed perspective as I enter the next swimming chapter of my life!

1 month ago

Currently reading this now and very much enjoying it!