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Peter Mallory's Blog


By pmallory - Posted on 20 June 2012

10 February 2011

We’ve changed the name of the book! It used to be The Sport of Rowing: A Comprehensive History, which was actually fine in a lot of ways.

The book isn’t about rowing in general. It doesn’t really cover triremes. It focuses on rowing only since its birth as a recreational pastime which almost immediately evolved into a competitive sport for those who didn’t row for a living. So The Sport of Rowing has always worked well.

But what about “History”? That’s a word that means different things to different people. I have a degree in history, and I quote Thucydides in the Dedication, but I have to admit that to some, history means a dull book about dead people. The Sport of Rowing is definitely not dull.

And it can be informal, conversational, even personal, qualities not always found in a serious history.

I had never heard Silken Laumann talk about her injury and recovery in 1992 until she talked to me. Now through the book she talks to you as well.

I'm not sure I'd ever heard an Olympian express wistfulness . . . or fear . . . or regret. Several have really opened up to me, and through the book you get to know them as people, as friends as well as our heroes.

I never knew that Steve Redgrave had a sense of humor.

I never knew how the 1968 Harvard crew rowed. Back in the day, I watched in awe as their heads shook with each thunderous catch. But now that I have rowed with them, I find that I was completely wrong! Through the book, you get to row with them, too.

So “History” had to go. This book is so much more than just history!

How about “Comprehensive”? As long as the book is, there’s still not a lot about equipment, certainly not a lot of detail about training, and if you didn’t make the Olympic Team there’s a good chance you and your team are not mentioned.

I spend lots of time on how people have rowed throughout history. It’s groundbreaking stuff. Nobody has ever done it before, certainly not to the extent that I have, collecting and analyzing films, gathering the words of the athletes and coaches, even rowing with them in their boats. I correct more than a few universal misconceptions along the way.

Was all this at the expense of other aspects of rowing history? I suppose it was . . . so “Comprehensive” had to go as well.

After all this, do we need a subtitle at all? Probably not on the covers of the books themselves. Almost nobody is going to wander into a museum bookstore and decide to buy this book based on its title. But a subtitle will probably be helpful on the web and in print ads.

So we have come up with Two Centuries of Competition. The "Two Centuries" part gives a sense of the history and the scope of the book, and "Competition" tells you it is all about the never-ending quest to go fast!

And so today’s rowers can get the message that this is a book that is relevant to their own personal quest for speed in a boat. For from the beginning that has been the essence of The Sport of Rowing.