The Temple of Perfection : A History of the Gym

Author(s): Eric Chaline

Sport | History

Many of us have exercised in a gym; many more of us intend, at some point, to join one. Some work out at the gym with the regularity and zeal once reserved for attending religious services. It is seen as an emblem of modernity, yet the gym's origins date back 2,800 years to the beginnings of Western civilization. The Temple of Perfection charts the gym's long history, exploring its enduring appeal and growing popularity in a world increasingly obsessed with plastic surgery quick fixes and pharmaceutical methods of attaining physical fitness. Despite its significance, the gym's complex, layered history and its influence on the development of Western individualism, society, education and politics has never been properly considered. This book examines how body care arose from spiritual beliefs, moral discipline and aesthetic ideals. Today, training in a gym is primarily associated with individual fulfilment, though the gym has always had a secondary role in creating men and women 'fit for purpose' - but exactly for what and whose purpose? Across its incarnations, the gym has been a stage for the interests of individuals, nation-states, the media and the corporate world to intersect, sometimes with unintended consequences. Although the gym may look like a place where the self-obsessed pursue the superficial ideal of physical perfection, Eric Chaline argues that it has always been one of the principal battlefields of humanity's social, political, sexual and cultural wars. The history of the gym is a history of the human body: its authentic and idealized forms, artistic representation, and public and private presentation. While this book might not make us join a gym, it will change the way we think about the concept of it, our bodies and our attitudes to fitness.

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“The Temple of Perfection is written in a soberly academic register, with occasional digressions on the author’s observations as a long-time gym-member and devotee of physical culture.  The historical and philosophical background to the development of the gym is well established, even overly so at times, with surveys of political and social factors leading us away from the subject at hand.  Chaline insightfully considers humankind’s beliefs about the body as they have changed across history, providing an ample account of the technologies, practices and ideas undergirding the honing of physical strength and beauty.”  

Rob Doyle – The Irish Times  (JC BookGrocer)


"Gyms today are a familiar part of the life of millions of people across the globe and a regular aspect of a fitness and leisure oriented culture. But they have a long and fascinating history, from the pedagogic and military cultures of the ancient world to the sun swept beaches of California in the 1940s and '50s through to the metrosexual body culture of today. Gyms are about fitness, well-being, beauty, and pleasure, but always about the body. Through their history we can see how the body is shaped, inscribed, worshipped, and displayed, in different ways at different times. Chaline has produced a compelling history that illuminates not just the culture of the gym but also our shifting obsessions with the body through three thousand years. It is a fascinating read."--Jeffrey Weeks, London South Bank University and author of The World We Have Won and The Languages of Sexuality

Eric Chaline has combined journalism, academic work and writing with sport and exercise, both as a practitioner and coach. He is the author of Simple Path to Yoga (2001) and Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History (2012). He lives in London.

Introduction, Illustrations, Chapter 1: The Pursuit of Arete, Chapter 2: The Rebirth of Vitruvian Man, Chapter 3: The Health of Nations, Chapter 4: The World's Strongest Man, Chapter 5: Pumping Iron, Chapter 6: Let's Get Physical, Chapter 7: Macho Man, Chapter 8: Consuming Fitness, Selected Bibliography, Index

General Fields

  • : 9781780234496
  • : Reaktion Books, Limited
  • : Reaktion Books
  • : January 2015
  • : 216mm X 138mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : May 2015
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 25
  • : 224
  • : 796.4068
  • : Hardback
  • : Eric Chaline