The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat


by Daniel James Brown

Overview: 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.

Gail Reid (01/17/16): The Boys in the Boat is the story of the very successful University of Washington rowing team that went on to win the 1936 Olympic gold medal in Berlin. There are several different threads transpiring in this large book: the history of American college rowing and the craftsmanship of boats; the secrecy of early Nazi Germany and Hitler's preparation for the Berlin Olympics; and the profile of one college rower, Joe Rantz.

The most meaningful story for me was the focus on Joe and his hardscrabble life during the Depression when he worked whatever jobs he could find to eat and pay tuition with no family financial or emotional support. The author does a remarkable job of portraying what rowing and camaraderie with the 8-man team meant to Joe over his college years and subsequently his lifetime.

Daniel James Brown's style of narrative non-fiction is filled with very dense prose. There is an incredible amount of detail and endless research that seems to have gone into this. The result is a wonderful story but a ponderous book. Joe Rantz's story alone provided me with an in depth understanding of what it meant to be poor and abandoned by family but rich in dedication to a goal, commitment to teamwork and friendship.

I look forward to seeing "The Boys in the Boat" as a film because I think the history and background of rowing, the Nazi pre-World War II years and sportsmanship during the depression will translate to the screen in a very interesting and compelling way.
Rating: ****

Debbie Weiss (05/24/15): This story is an interesting one, where ordinary college boys on the Washington University Rowing team beat the odds to first win the national championship and then to win the gold medal in the Olympics held in Nazi Germany. This is a true story and centers mostly on one of the boys, Joe Rantz. We certainly come to respect Joe, who had a very difficult childhood, yet worked hard to pay his way through college so that he could get an education and compete in the collegiate sport. All the boys in the boat had similar stories of overcoming obastacles with their tenacious attitudes. While Judy Stanton loved the book and all the intricate details that were provided about the sport, I kind of struggled with all the details and was more interested in the basic story and the characters themselves. As I was reading, I kept thinking what a wonderful movie this would make. After I googled the title to see if it was, in fact, made into a movie, I was informed that a movie is in the works. It should be a good one!
Rating: ****

Judy Stanton (10/26/14): WOW. This is an amazingly well researched and written book that reads like a novel though it is non-fiction. From the beginning, you know that the University of Washington rowing crew earns the right to go to the Olympics in 1936 and brings home a gold medal, yet you are still compelled, chapter after chapter, to read and learn in detail about the masterful creation of rowing shells; the impact of the depression on families in the US; how the art of rowing is taught and how a group of young people come together to create an unbeatable team; as well as hearing the story behind the (unfortunately) very talented Nazi propaganda machine that used the Olympics to portray the best possible image of Germany to the world. The book has a lot of information to take in, so I found myself taking my time to read it....only a few chapters at a time, thoroughly enjoying the journey, with a remarkably well portrayed cast of characters. Lovingly told, it a masterful work; highly recommended.
Rating: *****

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