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The Temple of Perfection A History of the Gym By Eric Chaline

Release date: 03rd March, 2015
Publisher: Reaktion Books

List Price: 20.00
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You’re in the final session of the ultimate in self-discipline: an end-of-day workout with heavy duty bench presses at its core. You’re determined to at least equal what you achieved during your last visit and, as sweat streams down your forehead and your arms tire, you draw upon an inner strength to achieve it.

As you inwardly congratulate yourself, do you ever consider the gym, that shrine to agony, effort and sweat, to be a hotbed of political thought?

Few of us do, but in Eric Chaline’s original take on the gym’s omnipotence, he suggests that these ‘temples of perfection’ remain at the very heart of western civilisation. It’s an interesting proposition, built on the premise that man’s attention to his body was not some narcissistic obsession but grew because of his spiritual beliefs, moral discipline and aesthetic ideals.

It was in ancient Greece that the gymnasium (a Greek word meaning “to exercise naked”) first appeared. Today’s gym is not too far removed from the Greek version, though attendees show greater modesty on the clothing front. The Greeks exercised to the sound of flute players whereas the modern gym rat must contend with a dull, beating throb of music containing unintelligible lyrics. Progress, I suppose.

Chaline takes the reader on a journey charting the gym's history and considers its enduring appeal in a world increasingly obsessed with plastic surgery. The gym doesn’t offer easy answers, just hard work – employing short cuts or cheating have no place in the gym, which perhaps emphasises the author’s point regarding pure political thought.

The narrative, peppered with a number of amusing, as well as ‘I didn’t know that’, anecdotes, makes for an engaging read, even for those not seeking to discover the sweat-stained origins of civilised thought.

Visiting the gym has always been a means to achieving a form of individual fulfilment and while some folks take their gym sessions to extremes which verge on narcissism, most of us simply want to rid ourselves of a nagging beer belly and look good in a pair of swimming trunks. If this means we’re part of a shifting obsession with our body, then so be it; the Greeks probably thought along similar lines.


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