Great Lengths, by Dr Ian Gordon & Simon Inglis

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The Independent Culture

British swimming success in Beijing was in many respects in spite of rather than because of the facilities available – the entire nation has only 23 Olympic-sized (50m) pools, compared with 19 in Berlin alone, and 78 per cent of diving facilities have vanished since 1977, say the authors of this latest in the Played in Britain series, which explores the architectural legacy our love of sport has bequeathed.

For while they claim: "Our prime concern is for historic indoor pools, and the heritage of swimming," they frequently stray beyond that brief, and this book is much the richer for that. They put into context the civic ideals and local pride that inspired the Victor-ians to build splendid baths, a surprising number of which are still in use thanks to their robust construction and excellent materials, and explain the significance of radical edifices such as Edinburgh's Royal Commonwealth Pool in the more modern era.

Impeccably researched, beautifully produced and sumptuously illustrated, this paean to a popular pleasure deserves high praise.

Published in large-format paperback by English Heritage, £19.99

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