Making the American Body.

Author:Friend, Jeff
Position:Book review

Jonathan Black (author); MAKING THE AMERICAN BODY; University of Nebraska Press (Nonfiction: Sports & Recreation) 27.95 ISBN: 9780803243705

Byline: Jeff Friend

This informative account delves into the personalities who brought the fitness trend to America.

In Making the American Body, Jonathan Black masterfully explores the many twists and evolutions of the fitness industry, from barbells to exercise machines to today's health clubs. Black reveals the huge egos, intense rivalries, and the rise and fall of trends that have defined Americans' quest for healthier physiques.

Opening with an historical overview, Black notes the Greek admiration of the perfect body and the spread of the fitness movement into Europe. One of the earliest American sensations was Eugen Sandow, who visited the United States in 1893. His good looks and impressive physique became legendary, and women were known to faint after simply touching his muscles. The early 1900s saw a proliferation of magazines and books on bodybuilding and fitness, as well as the appearance of men like Charles Atlas, barbell manufacturer and weightlifter Bob Hoffman, and Joe Weider. Outrageous health claims and accusations and feuds among competing stables of strongmen were common as self-promotion, pride, and shifting alliances fueled the various physical competitions and public posturing.

Black continues by breaking down his chapters into time periods of two or three decades each, allowing him to focus on the highlights of each era. He transitions from the early emphasis of dead-weight lifting and building up physical bulk to Muscle Beach, California, during the 1930s to 1950s, where the focus shifted more to gymnastic-type fitness and an overall proportioned physique. The emergence of women also began in this period, and Abbye "Pudgy"...

To continue reading