The crash of surf, smell of salted air, wet whorls of sand underfoot. These are the sensations of the beach, that environment that has drawn humans to its life-sustaining shores for millennia. And while the gull's cry and the cove's splendour have remained constant throughout time, our relationship with the beach has been as fluid as the runnels left behind by the tide's turning.
The Lure of the Beach is a chronicle of humanity's history with the coast, taking us from the seaside pleasure palaces of Roman elites and the aquatic rituals of medieval pilgrims to the venues of modern resort towns and beyond. Robert C. Ritchie traces the contours of the material and social economies of the beach throughout time, covering changes in the social status of beachgoers, the technology of transport, and the development of fashion (from nudity to Victorianism and back again), as well as the geographic spread of modern beach-going from England to France, across the Mediterranean, and from nineteenth-century America to the world. And as climate change and rising sea levels erode the familiar faces of our coasts, we are poised for a contemporary reckoning with our relationship – and responsibilities – to our beaches and their ecosystems. The Lure of the Beach demonstrates that whether as a commodified pastoral destination, a site of ecological resplendency, or a flashpoint between private ownership and public access, the history of the beach is a human one that deserves to be told now more than ever before.
List of Illustrations
1. The Lure of the Sea
2. The Rise of the Resorts
3. Leisure Comes to America
4. The Industrial Revolution Finds the Beach
5. Can a Proper Victorian be Nude?
6. Entertainment Comes Front and Center
7. The Modern World Intrudes
8. Beach Resorts Become a Cultural Phenomenon
9. Who Owns the Beach?
10. The Relentless Sea
Robert C. Ritchie is Senior Research Associate at the Huntington Library and author of Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates.
"[Ritchie's] book is both engagingly written and thoroughly scholarly."
– Geography Realm
"With insight and wit, Ritchie traces the long and shifting human fascination with beaches, the alluring frontier of land and sea. From Baiae to Brighton and the Riviera to Waikiki, Ritchie illuminates the fancies and fashions of humanity over two thousand years to the current peril of rising ocean levels. Timely and lively, The Lure of the Beach can be read in the den or, better still, at the shore."
– Alan Taylor, author of Thomas Jefferson's Education
"Drawing on extensive research, this engaging and informative new history of the therapeutic and recreational beach, from Roman times to the present, offers rich insights into how technology, economics, and class conspired with mores, manners, and medical science to produce the myth and reality of the beach as the premier site of our leisure escapes."
– Lena Lencek, coauthor of The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth
"Robert C. Ritchie presents a fascinating global history of how we played at the beach from the eighteenth-century days of horse-drawn bathing machines for women in long gowns to the rise of beach resorts and the evolution of increasing skin exposure in female swimming garb."
– Orrin Pilkey, Emeritus Coastal Geologist, Duke University
"Humans have bared far more than their bodies in going to the beach. Class and racial tensions, national differences, preoccupations with health, changing sexual mores and gender roles, the evolution of popular culture, national differences, and environmental change are all on full display. Beaches are where leisure has become a business. Ritchie conducts a 2,000-year tour of the world's beaches. Rarely will readers learn so much so painlessly."
– Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896