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The perfect Ger-man, British Citizen, Strongman entrepreneur


I find as I read David Waller’s biography of strongman Eugen Sandow that its relevance a century on is profound: it touches on fame, fortune and celebrity, advertising, entrepreneurship, showmanship, self-publicity, branding and networking, as well as British Empire and our relations with Europe, The US and the ‘colonies’.

No doubt Sandow would have done movies (and appears in a pre-1900clip). He is part Arnold Schwarzenegger, part Simon Cowell or Rod Hull and Emu both Michael Ballentine and Richard Branson. It’s a read not merely for those who operate leisure centres and gyms, but also successful athletes and their agents, franchisees, and soft drinks companies, ad and PR agents and events companies. You’ve got to exploit what you’ve got while you have your admirers.

It should even interest body builders, sports coaches and anyone whose lifestyle includes fitness. And add in the British Army for good measure.

Homosexuality, parenting, the state of the nation’s health and what today would be called ‘wellness’. With Waller there is always the sense of a well read mind and a well exercised pen. I happen to have read HGWell’s Tono-Bungay, but this to me suggests that David is as much an historian as an English scholar, as he does in EH Carr’s words ‘read on a period until you can hear its people speak’. The context of profound ante-German sentiment leading up to The Great War is touched upon and handled well. Indeed, there are occasional phrases or words than give the sense that the author is sitting in his study in his Edwardian smoking Jacket smoking a cigar.

This and I’ve added half a dozen new words to my vocabulary.

When’s the best time to blog?

Now! It is always immediate. Ten years ago you had to be plumbed in, online at home writing into that blank space; today you can do it through a smartphone while walking the dog, on the commute or attending a conference. A penny for your thoughts? Your current, spontaneous, candid thoughts, perhaps profound, maybe mundane, we forgive you either way at the expense of openness and honesty.


So you get the ‘The Perfect Man’ recumbent rather than upright: never mind, this is how I read when I read at all: in bed or the bath (on the beach or a boat in summer).

‘Perorations’ is my Waller word this time, it was ‘splendiferous’ last week. He does tend to slip into the late Victorian / Edwardian lingo with ease. An Oscar Wilde in the making?

This is a book that crosses over in so many directions it is like a recently stunned and bundled blue bottle in a spider’s web; i would recommend it to gym owners and leisure centre franchises, I would recommend it to historians and to sociologists, I’d also recommend it as a biography whose narrative escapes into the literary.

Only now do I appreciate the war mongering, gung-ho dilemma faced by the British Empire when facing off first the Boers and then Germany; it even puts my late grandfather in context, born in 1896 and certain his earliest memory was of an enormous bonfire lit on the Spa Fields, Shotley Bridge, in 1902 when he was five, turning six so probable.

The Perfect Man – the Victorian Bodybuilder exposed

I stumbled upon ‘The Perfect Man’ about a Victorian body-builder physical well-being guru while reading and researching ‘The magnificent Mrs Tennant’ by the same author. This is my second read; these books are dense with detail, in the case of Gertrude Tennant from diaries and hundreds of letters.

‘Bulging in all the right places’ says one reviewer  of ‘The Perfect Man’.

David Waller, a former FT Journalist, has an uncanny knack of telling a vivid story while packing it with the kind of detail you’d need to study postgraduate history (which he did, while keeping up the day job). Whilst Mrs T is still only available in print form, ‘Mr P’ as I am calling it, will be available as an eBook. The beauty of this is to then link instantly to all the resources.

An apt read going into the New Year?

I guess I’m studying the wrong MA. I wish all academic tomes could be such a good read, the mix of narrative with the resources/references woven in. I’ve looked at the History modules.

Would I be able to study an MA 1820-1920 for example?

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