Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

I enjoyed listening to this audio book on two levels: the inspiring story of the boys on the 1936 Olympic rowing team and reminiscing about my days of rowing crew in high school. I was blown away by the amount of research Brown must have done to write this book. The details on the boys lives and the surrounding events added greatly to the story. Although I don’t usually appreciate a lot of back story or tangents, because this book was nonfiction, I didn’t mind it.

At the beginning, the story alternated between Joe Rantz and the other boys trying out for the team and learning to row and the history of Joe’s early life, which was pretty awful. The book gave me a good view of life during The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl. My knowledge of that era boiled down to It’s a Wonderful Life and The Grapes of Wrath up until that point.

As additional characters are introduced throughout the book, their history is shared, as well as a brief history of U.S. collegiate rowing. As a former oars-woman, I really loved the descriptions of rowing – the technique, the role of the different seats, and the grueling nature of the sport. I also loved the quotes from George Yoeman Pocock, a boat maker closely involved in the University of Washington crew team.

Brown rounds out the story with a glimpse into pre-WWII Germany as Hitler and his Ministry of Propaganda prepared to host the 1936 Olympics.

Even though I knew that the University of Washington team was going to win the Olympics in 1936, Brown was able to build suspense for each of the races throughout their college career. Right up until the end, I was on the edge of my seat with every race. I knew they’d win, but I didn’t know how they’d win or whether they’d lose certain races along the way. And the final race brought tears to my eyes. The writing was just fantastic! I think any sports-lover could really get into this story.

Rating: 4 Stars

This review was originally published on Mom’s Radius.

The Boys in the Boat
Daniel Brown
Non-Fiction
Penguin Audio
June 4, 2013
Audio CD
12

For readers of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.

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