Making the American Body


Making the American Body

The Remarkable Saga of the Men and Women Whose Feats, Feuds, and Passions Shaped Fitness History

Jonathan Black

264 pages
19 photographs


November 2013


$36.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

April 2020


$36.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

November 2013


$36.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

If you thought the fitness craze was about being healthy, think again. Although Charles Atlas, Jack LaLanne, Jim Fixx, Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons, and Jillian Michaels might well point the way to a better body, they have done so only if their brands brought in profits. In the first book to tell the full story of the American obsession with fitness and how we got to where we are today, Jonathan Black gives us a backstage look at an industry and the people that have left an indelible mark on the American body and the consciousness it houses.
Spanning the nation’s fitness obsession from Atlas to Arnold, from Spinning to Zumba, and featuring an outrageous cast of characters bent on whipping us into shape while simultaneously shaping the way we view our bodies, Black tells the story of an outsized but little-examined aspect of our culture. With insights drawn from more than fifty interviews and attention to key developments in bodybuilding, aerobics, equipment, health clubs, running, sports medicine, group exercise, Pilates, and yoga, Making the American Body reveals how a focus on fitness has shaped not only our physiques but also, and more profoundly, American ideas of what “fitness” is.

Author Bio

Jonathan Black is a veteran of magazine editing, and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Inc., Forbes, GQ, and the American Spectator. He is the author of Yes, You Can! Behind the Hype and Hustle of the Motivation Biz and has taught at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.


Making the American Body is a fascinating and informative sprint through the history of body worship from the classical Greeks to the present-day fanatics of fitness.”—Pat Jordan, author of A False Spring

"In Making the American Body, Jonathan Black masterfully explores the many twists and evolutions of the fitness industry, from barbells to exercise machines to today's health clubs."—Jeff Friend, Foreword Reviews

"An interesting history of physical fitness in America."—Karen Sutherland, Library Journal

"An engrossing history of fitness in the United States. . . . A must-read for fitness buffs and beefy enough to whet the appetite of even the most inert couch potato."—Kirkus Reviews

"The antecedents of the American fitness industry are varied and fascinating, and journalist Black . . . does a superb job of chronicling them."—Publishers Weekly

"As a book for a popular audience, it will be of interest to diverse readers."—J. L. Croissant, CHOICE

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Night to Remember
1. The Shape of History
2. Selling the Body Beautiful, 1900<EN>1930s
3. America Shapes Up, 1930s<EN>1950s
4. The Machine Age, 1960s<EN>1970s
5. Gotta Move, 1960s<EN>1980s
6. The Buff Culture, 1970s<EN>1990s
7. Pumping Up Business, 1980s<EN>1990s
8. Fitness Today
9. Why Exercise?

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