15 Fascinating Nonfiction Swimming Books

If you love swimming, or if you're looking for a new interesting read, then you'll want to check out some of the best nonfiction swimming books and memoirs. 

From stories of incredible Olympic athletes to personal tales of overcoming obstacles in the water, these books are sure to keep you entertained and inspired. 

So grab your towel and dive into these amazing swimming stories!

Books about Swimming

1. Fire in My Eyes: An American Warrior's Journey from Being Blinded on the Battlefield to Gold Medal Victory

Fire in My Eyes

Written by: Brad Snyder and Tom Sileo

Published: 2016

Pages: 272

In Fire in My Eyes: An American Warrior's Journey from Being Blinded, author Bret Snyder tells his story of overcoming blindness and becoming a successful warrior. The day Snyder heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed was a momentous occasion, but Snyder knew this wasn’t the end.

Sadly, five months later, Snyder was blinded by an explosive. However, having dreams and refusing to give up, Snyder was able to win a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics Games. With unflinching honesty, Snyder relays the challenges he has faced both physically and emotionally as he learned to navigate life without sight.

A powerful story of resilience and determination, Snyder's account is an inspiration to anyone who has faced adversity.

>> More books about the Olympics

2. Relentless spirit

Relentless spirit

Written by: Missy Franklin and D.A. and Dick Franklin

Published: 2016

Pages: 320

Most people know Missy Franklin for her 6 Olympic swimming medals, five of which were gold at the 2012 London Olympics, but there is so much more to her than that. Instead of just jumping into her swimming career, it discusses her parents' lives and their history.

It then goes into her training and how she was on the U.S. National Team at the incredibly young age of twelve years old.

However, unlike many swimmers, she then writes about going to school at UC Berkeley, trying to figure out if she would swim in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and finally decide to leave school to train and go to them. As mentioned above, there is a lot about parenting and how to raise your child in this book.

So, make sure to expect it not just about her but also about her parents.

3. Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer

Swimming to Antarctica

Written by: Lynne Cox, Martha Kaplan

Published: 2004

Pages: 323

Cox started swimming from the first second that she could and has never stopped. She is an incredibly humble and non-assuming person, and she has taken on some of the most terrifying and freezing cold swims worldwide. However, she doesn't need fanfare and often stays as far away from it as possible since this is a personal journey and not a media event.

Starting at age eighteen, she broke records such as being the fastest to swim across the English Channel. She then swam the Bering Straits from the U.S.A. to the U.S.S.R. Other swims include across the Mediterranean and from South America to Antarctica…and only in a standard Speedo, flippers, and a cap.

We love this book because of the incredible swims and what she experiences as she does them, like swimming with dolphins and embracing the pain to survive instead of fighting it.

4. In the water

In the water

Written by: Amanda beard

Published: 2012

Pages: 248

This book chronicles her journey from a shy 7-year-old to a record-breaking Olympic swimmer. The book opens with Amanda's memories of winning a national championship at the age of 13, beating out girls who were two and even three years older than she was.

It was a fantastic accomplishment for a young girl who had always been painfully shy - but it was only the beginning of her career.

However, this book tells the story of Amanda's life in swimming, but there is so much more. This includes her dealing with depression, anorexia, abusing substances, and even cutting herself to relieve the mental anguish. It also goes into her relationships and how her self-esteem allowed her to be treated horribly.

However, it also is a journey of overcoming these obstacles, finding a way to love herself, and being someone who could openly love others. It is so much more than just a book about a swimmer. It is a book about someone who was a hero, fell hard, and then became one again.

5. I Found My Tribe

I Found My Tribe

Written by: Ruth Fitzmaurice

Published: 2017

Pages: 208

If you've never heard of Motor Neuron Disease, it is horrific: It basically causes your muscles to shut down, and you end up almost paralyzed. Ruth Fitzmaurice's husband has it and can only communicate through machines. Living in Ireland and feeling as if everything was falling apart, including raising her five kids, she needed some way to help herself.

Her tribe is a group of women who would meet early in the morning, in the freezing waters off of Ireland, and go swimming. It may not seem like much to others, but it is life-saving and empowering to her and her friends. They can cleanse themselves, even if just for this short time, and focus on being healthy and happy.

This book goes from the best moments in her life, such as getting married and having children, to the worst such as with her husband’s health, and it is an amazing ride the whole way.

6. Total Immersion: A Revolutionary Way to Swim Better and Faster

Total Immersion

Written by: Terry Laughlin, John Delves

Published: 1996

Pages: 286

Unlike the rest of the books on this list, this is strictly about swimming better, becoming graceful, and ripping through the water. Total Immersion is a technique that has been around for years and is still the go-to training method for many people.

The guidance on how to change your stroke, and the ability to anticipate problems you will have like so many before, is one of the reasons this is such an incredible book. Laughlin knows everything about swimming, what has been taught, and what needs to change for you to succeed.

Even if it is just doing laps or doing open water swims, this method of swimming is invaluable. You will feel like a dolphin gliding through the water instead of forcing yourself.

7. Beneath the Surface: My Story

Beneath the Surface: My Story

Written by: Michael Phelps, Brian Cazeneuve, with a foreword by Bob Costas

Published: 2005

Pages: 228

Michael Phelps is known as one of the greatest Olympians of all time. He has won 28 medals, 23 of which are gold. His swimming prowess and skill have been legendary, and he has always been smiling, outgoing, and a gentleman to all others.

However, many people don't know about Phelps is that he has battled a mental health disorder for most of his life. In his autobiography, Phelps opens up about his struggles with anxiety and depression.

He discusses how his mental health has affected his career and personal life and offers advice for others struggling with similar issues. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the challenges faced by athletes with mental health disorders.

8. Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion

Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan

Written by: Jessica Long

Published: 2018

Pages: 112

On September 7, 2016, twenty-year-old Jessica Long of Baltimore, Maryland, made history by winning the gold medal in the women’s 200-meter individual medley at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. This was her fourth Paralympic gold medal and ninth Paralympic medal overall.

But what makes Long's accomplishment even more extraordinary is that she was born with thigh-length leg impairments and is a Russian orphan adopted by an American family when she was thirteen months old. Against all odds, Long has become one of the world's best swimmers, proving that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it.

NOTE: Long has continued to compete since this book was written; therefore, the number of medals and records may be outdated.

9. Why We Swim

Why We Swim

Written by: Bonnie Tsui

Published: 2020

Pages: 288

The pull is there for everyone. Humans have always loved swimming, whether in pools, lakes, seas, or oceans. Tsui wants to learn more about why this is and interviews many swimmers and what drives them. She also explores the history of swimming, looking at centuries of Samurai swimming (in full gear!) in Japan, how people deal with the freezing cold of open water swimming, and so much more.

She also goes into her own life as a competitive swimmer and why she became an ocean swimmer during this book. Along with that, she describes why swimming can be so mentally and physically healthy and allow you to have time to yourself that you otherwise wouldn't in today’s society.

It is a beautiful exploration of everything magical and life-affirming about being in the water.

10. Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian

Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian

Written by: Anthony Ervin, Constantine Markides

Published: 2016

Pages: 320

Anthony Ervin is most well-known to the public as someone who won the gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Australia. He then went on to win two world titles. However, this wasn't what Ervin was genuinely searching for in his life since swimming didn't fulfill him.

As someone who didn't fit the "usual" type of swimmer, being African American, with Jewish heritage, and having Tourette's Syndrome, there was a more significant calling.

He starts by selling off his gold medal for charity and then goes on an inner and outer quest to see what truly matters to him. This is where things get wild as he ends up doing both negative things such as being homeless, falling into addiction, and a suicide attempt.

However, he can find his way back by becoming a Buddhist and using meditation to heal himself. His trainer, Constantine Markides, adds back history and information that makes this book inspirational since Ervin won gold again in the 2016 Olympics.

11. Silver Lining

Silver Lining

Written by: Beth Fehr, Elizabeth Beisel

Published: 2020

Pages: 234

As an athlete, you experience highs and lows. Every victory is celebrated, and every mistake is mourned. But what about the times in between? The moments when you're not necessarily winning or losing but still putting in the hard work?

For Olympic swimmer Elizabeth Beisel, these are the moments that make all the difference. In her book, Silver Lining: A Memoir of Hard Work and Grace in Pursuit of Greatness, Beisel chronicles her journey from aspiring young athlete to Olympic medalist.

You'd think that for someone with so many accolades, everything would be rosy and easy. However, we know that this is often from the truth. Beisel's story is one of resilience and determination, from overcoming obstacles at home to dealing with disappointment on the biggest stage possible.

No matter the circumstances, this book will help you find the silver linings that make you stronger and able to overcome roadblocks in your way.

12. Find a Way

Find a Way

Written by: Diana Nyad

Published: 2015

Pages: 320

Being that Diana was a record-setting world champion when she was younger and loved ocean swimming, it seemed predestined to her she would accomplish this feat. However, after one of the attempts was unsuccessful, she quit for over 30 years. But then, on September 2, 2013, 64-year-old Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

Her journey was beset by obstacles—crocodiles, jellyfish, and box turtles among them—but she refused to give up.

In her book, Find a Way, Nyad tells the story of her incredible journey and offers advice on achieving your dreams. How did she accomplish this fantastic goal? What kept her going despite the dangers and the mental and physical exhaustion? You'll have to read the book to find out!

13. Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

Contested Waters

Written by: Jeff Wiltse

Published: 2007

Pages: 288

Public swimming pools first became popular in America following the turn of the twentieth century. As communities grew and evolved, so too did the need for spaces where people could come together and enjoy a sense of communal leisure.

While swimming pools were once seen as symbols of modernity and progress, they soon became sites of contention as race and class tensions played out in their waters.

In his book Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, Jeff Wiltse takes an in-depth look at how these tensions have shaped our understanding of public pools over the years.

Drawing on a wealth of sources, Wiltse offers a nuanced portrait of American swimming pool culture that will interest anyone who wants to know more about the history of race and culture in the U.S.A.

14. Body Lengths

Body Lengths

Written by: Leisel Jones, Felicity McLean

Published: 2015

Pages: 288

Leisel Jones has often been portrayed in the media as selfish and not a team player. However, this could not be further from the truth. She tried her best to deal with becoming famous at a very young age and her “failure” at the Olympics in Athens. Part of the problem was that many other swimmers came off as more friendly and open.

However, as we've seen in some of the other books on this list, perception is far from reality. Because she won two silver medals at the young age of fifteen, she was under constant pressure from everyone. Because of that and the constant criticism about her weight, she suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts.

However, she made a comeback, and her medals and awards speak for themselves. This book also explores an athlete's training and what an incredible undertaking it is for anyone.

15. This Is Me

This Is Me

Written by: Ian Thorpe

Published: 2012

Pages: 308

Everyone knows about the incredible feats that Ian Thorpe has accomplished in the water, including eleven World Championships and ten Commonwealth Games gold medals. He has also set numerous records and won five gold medals in the Olympics. In this powerful book, he opens up about his struggles with self-esteem and body image in a poignant and inspiring way.

Thorpe is one of the greatest athletes in swimming history and just an ordinary person who has self-doubts like the rest of us.

He doesn't shy away from discussing his battles with depression and suicidal thoughts, yet he also provides readers with a roadmap to discovering their authentic selves. Following his life, starting from his childhood until it was published, this book truly delves into his life.