Book Group Guide: Young Woman and the Sea

Book Group Guide for Young Woman and the Sea by Glenn Stout


Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World is a biography of New York native Trudy Ederle.  In 1926 Ederle, who was partially deaf, became the first woman – and only sixth person – beating the men’s record by nearly two hours.  Set against the backdrop of the Roaring ‘20s, her story recounts a seminal moment in the struggle for women’s equality, details the early history of swimming, explores the demands of being a celebrity, and tell the story of the most important pioneer in the history of women’s sports.

Discussion Questions


1)    How would you life be different if you had not been allowed to swim or compete as an athlete?  Try to imagine a world in which women were not allowed to participate in  sports or any other physical activity.  How would your day be different?

2)    What has been your most challenging physical accomplishment?  How does that compare with Trudy’s fourteen and a half hour swim across the Channel?  What did you find familiar in her experience?

3)     Compare the roles of important men in Trudy’s life.  How did her father, coach Louis De Breda Handley, Jabez Wolffe and Thomas Burgess help or hinder her effort?

4)    How did Trudy’s training experience differ between 1925 and 1926.  What changes did she make that led to her success in 1926?  Which changes were most important?

5)    The author states that “More people have climbed Mount Everest than have swum the English Channel.”  Discuss the similarities and differences between these two challenges.

6)    Can you think of a contemporary celebrity or the experience of a contemporary celebrity that is reminiscent of Trudy?   What lessons does Trudy’s experience and her reaction teach us about fame.

7)    In the first half of the book the author tells the story in alternate chapters, telling Trudy’s  story and providing background on swimming, the English Channel, Channel swimming and women’s sports.  Did you find this tactic effective?  Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in this fashion?

8)    Trudy once said “To me, the sea is like a person – like a child that I’ve known a long time. It sounds crazy, I know, but when I swim in the sea I talk to it. I never feel alone when I’m out there.”  What does she reveal about herself in this statement?

Contact the Author:

I am happy to participate in a book club discussion.  All you need is a speaker phone.

Read an excerpt:

Listen to an interview with Glenn Stout from National Public Radio:

Read an interview with author Glenn Stout:


Critical Praise: 

“Young Woman & the Sea is the story of Trudy Ederle’s epic swim across the English Channel interwoven with a sweeping and glimmering history of swimming.  These were the good old days when open water swimmers were sex symbols, pioneers of the sports, and leaders of social change.  For anyone who loves the water, or has a big dream – this is the book to read.”

– Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica and Grayson.

In 1926, 18-year-old Trudy Ederle fascinated and inspired millions around the world when she became the first woman successfully to swim the English Channel. With great storytelling, sportswriter Stout (series editor of The Best American Sports Writing) chronicles Ederle’s singular accomplishment and its significance for the future of women in sports as well as the tremendous challenges for any swimmer who would dare traverse the waves of the channel. At age five, Ederle (1908-2003) suffered permanent hearing loss, which made her reticent and shy; at age 10 her father taught her to swim. The ocean opened to her like another world, and she loved the feeling of floating and swimming in its vastness. After lessons at the Women’s Swimming Association, Ederle developed her gift and emerged as one of America’s fastest swimmers, earning a spot in the 1924 Olympics. Disappointed by winning only a bronze medal, she quickly turned to the challenge of swimming the English Channel-difficult due to its strong tides, winds and currents-and after an initial failure, Ederle conquered the channel on August 6, 1926. Stout’s moving book recovers the exhilarating story of a young girl who found her true self out in the water and paved the way for women in sports today. -Starred Review, Publisher’s Weekly

“Even before she swam the English Channel in 1926, Gertrude Ederle was a Roaring 20s celebrity: Olympic gold medalist, world-record holder and renowned distance swimmer. But becoming the first woman to conquer the Channel made her an icon, and Glenn Stout brings the women’s sports pioneer back to life with an engaging, deeply researched account.” – Sports Illustrated 

”A great summer read…is “Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World,” by Glenn Stout… The book swishes around like the tide, from the history of swimming (especially women’s swimming and the development of the American crawl) to the conditions that created the English Channel-”some of the roughest and most unpredictable waters in the world”-and its legendary conquerors.”  – The New Yorker                                                                                                                                               

 “You need not care one whit about swimming, women breaking sports barriers or events of the 1920s to be gripped by sportswriter Glenn Stout’s fast-paced account of how, in 1926, a partially deaf, 19-year-old New Yorker became the first woman to swim the English Channel… The descriptions of the interaction between Trudy and her crew, Mr. Burgess’ plotting of the Z-shape route, the almost hourly press dispatches sent, the hazards Trudy overcame as the storms came, the swells grew and the tide changed earlier than expected are breathtaking.” –The Washington Times

“Stout adeptly traces the history of swimming and Ederle’s significance in it. Whether recounting the origins of modern strokes or the geological formation of the English Channel, the author is comprehensive in his research. His blow-by-blow accounts of Ederle’s two attempts to cross from Cape Gris-Nez, France to Dover, England, demonstrate his engaging style… saturated with thrills and melodrama.  A compelling account of a woman who, though long forgotten, changed the way the world viewed swimming.” –Kirkus Reviews

 “In the thick of the storm, when deep ocean swells made it hard for the panicked folks on the tugboat to keep Ederle in sight and they wanted her to quit, someone shouted at her: “Come on out, girl!” Ederle, lost in her partial deafness and in the joy of swimming, took a while to respond. According to those aboard, she looked up, eventually smiled and shouted back: “What for?” It may have only been a fleeting moment, but the way Stout tells it, it just may have been the best moment of Gertrude Ederle’s life.”-Maureen Corrigan  “Books We Like” on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air”

“Too often, looking at America through its sports, and vice versa, results in a distorted view of both of them. In Glenn Stout’s account of Trudy Ederle and the English Channel, we have a clear and honest mirror. A first-rate piece of social history, and a tale told, well, swimmingly.

Charles P. Pierce, author of Idiot America: How Stupidity Became A Virtue In The Land Of The Free.

Selected by the Wall Street Journal as a “BEST SUMMER READ” of 2009, one of only five non-fiction titles to make the list.

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