Strong, Beautiful and Modern
240 pages, 6 x 9
53 b&w illustrations
Release Date:01 Jul 2013
Release Date:20 Jan 2013
Release Date:20 Jan 2013

Strong, Beautiful and Modern

National Fitness in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, 1935-1960

UBC Press

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a wave of state-sponsored“national fitness” programs swept Britain and its formersettler colonies. Following revelations of Nazi enthusiasm forgovernment-backed sports and the organization of mass leisure, theprograms quickly foundered. They are attributed, however, with layingthe foundations for the twentieth century’s obsession withfitness — a key facet of modern life.

In this highly original account, Charlotte Macdonald shows howgovernments became convinced they must encourage citizens to behealthier and more active, and how these efforts reinforced thecultural ties of the Empire. Alongside these state-sponsored effortswas a growing emphasis from business, the medical establishment, andpopular culture on the importance of having “a betterbody.”

Strong, Beautiful and Modern explains the origins of themodern preoccupation with “the body.” At a time whengovernment concern over public health issues such as obesity is onceagain on the rise, this work offers valuable lessons as to why thefirst national fitness drive was ultimately a failure.

Drawing on extensive research, Strong, Beautiful and Modernis a lively investigation into the way people and their governmentsthink about  health and well-being, and how historical views haveshaped our modern life.

Strong, Beautiful and Modern will appeal to students andscholars of physical education, sports history, and Commonwealthhistory in the interwar period.


  • 2012, Shortlisted - Ernest Scott Prize
  • 2012, Winner - The Ian Wards Prize, Archives and Records Association of New Zealand (ARANZ)
Strong, Beautiful and Modern is an outstanding book: fresh, original and panoramic. Tony Collins, International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University, Leicester
In Strong, Beautiful and Modern, Charlotte Macdonald provides an insightful corrective to previous accounts that have largely focused on domestic developments and writes eloquently about the ideologies of the body. An impressive feat of comparative scholarship. Bruce Kidd, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto
Charlotte Macdonald is a professor of history atVictoria University of Wellington. She has strong interests inwomen’s history, both in New Zealand and the wider BritishEmpire, and in the history of sport. Publishing widely on thesesubjects, Charlotte Macdonald is also the co-editor (with FrancesPorter) of My Hand Will Write What My Heart Dictates (1996)and (with Merimeri Penfold and Bridget Williams) The Book of NewZealand Women / Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa (1991).


1 Movement is Life: National Fitness in England and Scotland

2 Leisure and Democracy: Physical Welfare as the People’sEntitlement in New Zealand

3 Education or Health? National Fitness in New South Wales andAcross Australia

4 Fitness for War and a Changed World: National Fitness inCanada

5 Healthy Bodies, States and Modernity: A Twentieth-CenturyDilemma



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