Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America


Product Details

$23.00  $21.16
University of North Carolina Press
Publish Date
6.1 X 9.1 X 0.9 inches | 0.9 pounds

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About the Author

Jeff Wiltse is associate professor of history at the University of Montana.


Wiltse unpicks a story that begins in an age when the main reason for public pools was to let poor people get clean.--Economist

It quickly becomes clear that Wiltse's Contested Waters isn't a dreary historical catalog of shapes and styles of swimming pools vast and small. It's the colorful story of America's municipal swimming pools in the 19th and 20th centuries. Against that backdrop it becomes a story of America. It's all here: a sense of this country's benevolence, its community relations, civic wars, social strata, sexuality and sexism as well as our capacity for having a good time. Chronicled along with these are our ill-feeling prejudice, ignorance and racial strife. . . . [Contested Waters offers] a good course in America. All its traits, fine and lamentable are found here--the most vivid being, alas, our stinking racism.--Dick Cavett, New York Times Book Review

[A] well-written account. . . . [Wiltse's] myriad primary sources are particularly impressive. . . . Succeeds on all accounts.--The Journal of American History

[An] intriguing history.--People

Incisive.--New Yorker

An expertly researched and well-written new book. . . [that] gives a detailed overview of how race played a major role in defining one of America's favorite leisure pastimes.--Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

Fascinating. . . . Wiltse has put a unique lens to the American experience.--Flint Journal

In Contested Waters, historian Jeff Wiltse argues that the nation's contentious history of racism, class conflict and gender inequality can be captured by chronicling the rise and fall of municipal pools in northern American cities. And he makes a compelling case. . . . [In] this extremely readable narrative. . . . Wiltse persuasively shows that there are some very serious consequences to how Americans play together--and when and why they decide that they won't.--Washington Post Book World

A rare gem. . . . A thoroughly researched and thought-provoking, yet entertaining study.--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Intelligent, compelling social history.--Atlantic Monthly

Provides valuable insight on the evolving attitudes toward race, class, gender, and community in the US. . . . An excellent resource, well researched and well written.--CHOICE

At public swimming pools. . . . [people are] less likely to make the same nice distinctions about one another that [they] would at the pizza parlor or shopping mall. This potential for fluid intimacy is one attraction of public pools. And as Wiltse shows in Contested Waters, it's also the reason they've been social battlegrounds for the past century and a half. . . . The struggle to desegregate public pools . . . makes for compelling reading.--Wilson Quarterly

That rare book that answers questions so interesting and so important that one is surprised they have not been asked before. . . . Wiltse's research is thorough, and thoroughly documented. . . . Wiltse has done a remarkable job of finding and synthesizing a large body of material, most of it never considered seriously before, and the narrative he presents is fresh and important.--Magill's Literary Annual 2008

This is well done, clearly written, thoroughly researched history, and it effectively makes important points about the tensions that confounded America during the Civil Rights movement. . . . Wiltse uses the municipal swimming pool as a fascinating window onto social changes and urban tensions across the 20th century.--Publishers Weekly

From gender integration, class and racial segregation, even down to the definition of a permissible swimsuit, Wiltse covers his topic with in-depth research and examines the levels of contention connected with the history of public pools in America.--Black Issues Book Review

Captivating social history. . . . [Contested Waters] makes absorbing, disturbing reading and meticulously backs up Wiltse's argument that we can see the fault lines in American society by tracing the history of municipal pools. . . . Contested Waters is crisp and readable. . . . Wiltse has put a unique lens to the American experience.--Cleveland Plain Dealer

An excellent and well-crafted social history. . . . Valuable for its presentation of the physical geography of swimming pools, but even more importantly for inviting readers to see individual and personal behavior in public space as a form of social and cultural reproduction.--H-Net

Carefully researched and well-written . . . a welcome beginning to a national story of public recreation.--American Historical Review