The feel-good underdog story of “one of the most fascinating people not only in the sport of swimming but in all of athletics” (Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines): the first American swimmer to win Olympic gold, set against the turbulent rebirth of the modern Games—for fans of The Boys in the Boat and Seabiscuit

“A truly compelling story of athletic triumph, individual perseverance in the face of adversity, and significant social history.”—Bob Costas, former NBC host of twelve Olympic Games

In the early twentieth century, few Americans knew how to swim, and swimming as a competitive sport was almost unheard of. That is, until Charles Daniels took to the water.

On the surface, young Charles had it all: high-society parents, a place at an exclusive New York City prep school, summer vacations in the Adirondacks. But the scrawny teenager suffered from extreme anxiety thanks to a sadistic father who mired the family in bankruptcy and scandal before abandoning Charles and his mother altogether. Charles’s only source of joy was swimming. But with no one to teach him, he struggled with technique—until he caught the eye of two immigrant coaches hell-bent on building a U.S. swim program that could rival the British Empire’s seventy-year domination of the sport.

Interwoven with the story of Charles’s efforts to overcome his family’s disgrace is the compelling history of the struggle to establish the modern Olympics in an era when competitive sports were still in their infancy. When the powerful British Empire finally legitimized the Games by hosting the fourth Olympiad in 1908, Charles’s hard-fought rise climaxed in a gold-medal race where British judges prepared a trap to ensure the American upstart’s defeat.

Set in the early days of a rapidly changing twentieth century, The Watermen—a term used at the time to describe men skilled in water sports—tells an engrossing story of grit, of the growth of a major new sport in which Americans would prevail, and of a young man’s determination to excel.
“A thrilling sports story about the power of perseverance in the Victorian age, The Watermen kept me up late into the night. There are three underdogs in this story—Charles Daniels, American swimming, and the modern Olympic Games—and I rooted for them all.”—Lydia Reeder, author of Dust Bowl Girls

“The first American ever acclaimed as the ‘world’s fastest swimmer,’ Charlie Daniels seemed to have it all—good looks, high-society background, Olympic gold, and world records galore. Out of sight, though, he had to fight his own self-doubts, the long shadow of his famous swindler-father, and a British-dominated swimming establishment that didn’t want an American to succeed . . . A lively account of high ambitions, low behavior, and a lone athlete with an indomitable will.”—Howard Means, author of Splash!: 10,000 Years of Swimming

The Watermen is a propulsive, deeply researched, and empathetic book. It is the intimate tale of an athlete driven to greatness and the forces that drove him there, and an exhilarating plunge into the early history of competitive American swimming, the Olympic movement, and the rich and powerful people who shaped sports for a century to come.”—Eric Nusbaum, author of Stealing Home
 
“Michael Loynd has crafted the best page-turner about Olympic competition since The Boys in the Boat. I found myself leaning into his vivid descriptions of filthy pools, chicanery among officials, and experimentation with just about any stroke that could push humans faster. If you swim at any level or simply care about how a popular sport develops, The Watermen is a great read.”—Kevin Salwen, author of The Suspect

The Watermen is not simply a sports tale, but a sensational book about courage, the power of the mind over the physical body, ambition, along with the history of the Olympics. . . . A triumph of originality and craftsmanship.”—Roseanne Montillo, author of Fire on the Track

“Told in an involving narrative-nonfiction style, Loynd’s book folds Daniels’ inspirational story into a broader account of Olympics history. Dramatic subplots include the stories of Daniels’ parents: a father who abandoned the family for life as a womanizing swindler; and a mother, born into a Buffalo elite family, who was shamed by repressive Victorian standards as a divorcee. Pair this with Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat (2013), another inspirational narrative-nonfiction history of early Olympic triumphs.” Booklist

“The author creates an inspiring portrait of Daniels’ achievements . . . . An enjoyable underdog tale for swimmers and general sports fans.” Kirkus Reviews