The Boys in the Boat
Daniel James Brown
Daniel James Brown celebrates the 1936 US men’s Olympic eight-oar rowing team – nine working class boys who stormed the rowing world, transformed the sport, and galvanised America.
The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers from the American West, the boys took on and defeated successive echelons of privilege and power. They defeated the sons of British aristocrats rowing for Oxford and Cambridge. And finally, in an extraordinary race in Berlin they stunned the Aryan sons of the Nazi state as they rowed for gold in front of Adolf Hitler. Against the grim backdrop of the Great Depression, they reaffirmed the notion that merit, in the end, outweighs birthright.
Local Book Reviewers
The Boys In the Boat is such a simple title but this is no simple story.
It’s a true and heartfelt journey of one lad, Joe Rantz, whose life takes some twists and turns and he ends up enrolled at the University of Washington.
Joe is rather withdrawn and inward-thinking, likes the outdoors and registers for the rowing club.
Eventually we meet all the lads who are the crew of the boat, the maker of the boat, the coach – but that’s a long way off. This book is thoughtfully and lovingly constructed by the author and is a triumph of the human spirit. If you read only one book this year or in a lifetime, this is the one.
I loved this book. It is an exceptionally well-written and researched non-fiction historical biography with all the elements to make it a great and enjoyable book. The nine “boys”, all from working class families, not only work hard to put themselves through university during the Great Depression, but also row their way to Olympic Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of an angry Adolf Hitler. The life of Joe Rantz is beautifully written and his fight to survive and succeed against all odds brought tears to my eyes. The “boys” form a cohesive team that transcends skill, pain and natural ability in one of the most demanding of all sports.
An integral part of this book is how Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda, creates a movie set Olympic wonderland to deceive the world of their future intentions. This one is for the boys!
This book surprised me. It’s a perfect case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”.
I am not interested in sports books as a rule, but this was something special.
Joe Rantz has had an extremely bleak childhood. He pays his own way to study engineering at the University of Washington, working as a janitor for his board at the YMCA. He’s an outsider in a world of privileged young men from wealthy families.
He’s constantly hungry and desperate to get a better life. Rowing offers him this chance. Anyone who works in a team would enjoy this book. It’s about what can be achieved when people trust each other and themselves.
This non-fiction book has been meticulously researched as the Notes and Index at the end attest. Overall, I enjoyed it but at times I found myself skimming over the pages of training and racing trials and tough weather descriptions.
No skimming with the human element though. I loved the way the author depicted all the characters. The book led me to Google where I watched and re-watched the actual race filmed by Hitler’s photographer, Leni Riefenstahl. Wow!
The message is one of perseverance, courage and belief in oneself. I found this book inspirational and worth reading.
A word of warning… it’s likely that it will subconsciously shake those excuses many of us hide behind and instead challenge us to set goals.
It certainly has for me!
As someone who freely admits to shunning the sports section and raising a supercilious eyebrow at store displays of ghostwritten cricket or rugby biographies, I thought there was little chance of my reaching the finish line with Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat. I was wrong.
Although often swamped with an excess of nautical terminology and sporting jargon, there were also passages of beautiful descriptive writing: spring mornings on Puget Sound, life in the Hoovervilles of the Depression and Berlin’s streets fluttering with their ominous swastikas.
This work of non-fiction demands perseverance – I must confess to skimming through the technical boat-building sections – but the rewards are great.
This book gives the reader an insight into the desperate years of the Great Depression, describes the determination of unprivileged university students to succeed and drives through the transformation of eight young men from talented individuals to a formidable team.
So compelling is the story, that we live with families, appreciate the craft of building racing shells, suffer the torrid training conditions and schedules and appreciate the dedication and support of the people that believe in their charges. It’s the best “true story” I have read.
I recommend it to all who like a well-written book that keeps you interested and tells the whole story.