Ballistic Books: Swimming

Swimming is the harmony of floating in motion. Much like running, it is a form of moving meditation. As a kid, I used to spend most of my days in, around, or near rivers, lakes, and the ocean. From building rafts with friends that would make Huckleberry Finn proud to jumping into the water with immaculate cannonballs from trees along the shoreline or simply swimming against relentless swell in hopes of catching the perfect wave. Water is freedom. Moving in water is the closest to feeling free we humans can experience. Recently, a wonderful soul gave me Why We Swim with a warm recommendation. I look forward to learning more from Tsui about our relationship with water. Understanding the psychology and philosophy behind overcoming our natural fear of water seems to me a worthwhile endeavor. Swell caught my attention because it tells the history of swimming with a focus on equality. Swimming used to be reserved for men only. Landreth tells the story of how fearless women challenged the status quo and fought for equal access to swimming. These women paved the path for many incredible female athletes. One of these incredible female athletes is Penny Lee Dean. Her autobiography Just Try One More chronicles the highlights of her life and her many adversities, but perhaps more intriguing she tells the reader that you can do it too. Lastly, a guide about books on swimming can’t live without the greatest swimmer of all time: Michael Phelps. His 2009 book No Limits takes the reader through the trials and tribulations of an olympian. It’s a blend between autobiography and revisiting his most spectacular successes at the Olympic Games.

Ballistic books is a series to present literature of interest. Each edition is dedicated to a specific topic. I found it challenging to discover and distinguish good from great literature. With this series, I aim to mitigate that challenge.

1. Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui

Bonnie Tsui is a longtime contributor to the New York Times and an accomplished writer. She lives, swims, and surfs in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find Bonnie Tsui on Twitter @BonnieTsui

2. Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth

Jenny Landreth is a writer, script editor, and was the main contributor to the Guardian’s weekly swimming blog. You can find Jenny Landreth on Twitter @JennyLandreth

3. No Limits: The Will To Succeed by Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is an American former competitive swimmer. He is the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time. His foundation focuses on growing the sport of swimming and advocating for mental healthcare. You can find Michael Phelps on Twitter @MichaelPhelps

4. Just Try One More by Penny Lee Dean

Penny Lee Dean is an American long-distance swimmer and author. You can find Penny Lee Dean on Facebook.


A Life In Special Operations

Nobody goes through life and is successful all on their own. In his memoir “Sea Stories: My Life In Special Operations” retired Admiral William H. McRaven chronicles some of his experiences, achievements, and challenges that would not have been possible without the help of others. 

I never know what to expect from memoirs, autobiographies, or personal accounts. “Make Your Bed”, however, made me feel excited to learn more about the life of Admiral William H. McRaven. He first went viral following his commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin reaching a broad audience at home and abroad. His remarkable career within special operations could be described with an endless list of Hollywood movies that includes the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, and the infamous Operation Neptune Spear – the mission to bring to justice the leader of Al-Qaeda – Osama bin Laden. Sea Stories is the rendezvous of his personal account and professional experience. Across eighteen chapters, McRaven tells his story of becoming a special operator. Born into a military family, McRaven gradually evolved his character from a rambunctious average child to a skilled and trusted leader. The early chapters eloquently describe the struggle to follow the footsteps of his family and the generation that ended European tyranny. Finding his profession through an evolution of athletic endeavors combined with the grace and support of good people helping the young McRaven along the way was heart-warming to read but also inspiring when McRaven reflected

knowing I could set a goal, work hard, suffer through pain and adversity, and achieve something worthwhile made me realize that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to

McRaven’s writing style is entertaining yet sometimes a little bland. Each chapter has its own charisma and appeal, which make this book a great read for a commute or as an alongside read to another book.

Critics called out that other communities within special operations have taken a different approach to public relations, one defined by discretion and the principle of the quiet professional. McRaven’s memoir continues to amplify the already romanticized image of the Navy SEALs without critically examining the current issues within the Navy SEAL community ranging from alleged war crimes to mental health to discipline problems. When in reality, the Navy SEAL community is drifting away from its core values prompting retired and active duty Navy SEALs to speak up against the exploitation for personal gain by so many former special operators. McRaven failed the reader in that regard, but perhaps more tragically failed his fellow SEALs. Sea Stories is nothing more than repeating special operation missions already known to the public. In some cases these stories were immortalized by heroic portrayals of Hollywood actors. But it’s also nothing less than a personal account of serving 37 years, almost four decades, in one of the toughest professional organizations within any military industrial complex in the world. I found pleasure reading some of the stories while its sometimes repetitive nature often undermined a true takeaway for the reader.