The Boys in the Boat
Daniel James Brown
DESCRIPTION: 1930's America was a far cry from the bustling, prosperous country it was a mere decade before. Between the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl,
millions had lost their livelihoods and their homes. To succeed took an extra helping of grit. Joe Rantz was no stranger to hardship and abandonment when he came to
Seattle's University of Washington, barely scraping the money together for the education he hoped would lift him from poverty and allow him to marry his sweetheart.
Earning a seat on the university's lauded eight-oar rowing crew might be his only way to stay in school. But grit alone doesn't win races. It takes something more,
something he long ago gave up on: trust in his fellow man, in the other boys in the boat. Little did he know that the journey beginning in the waters of Lake
Washington would eventually lead him halfway around the world, to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and a race no sports fan would ever forget.
REVIEW: The closest I normally come to sports is firing up my Wii; in reality, I'm about as athletically literate as a sea slug, which also is an apt
simile for my athletic aptitude. Had this book not been a gift, I likely wouldn't have picked it up, despite the local interest. I soon found myself utterly absorbed. Brown deftly establishes the setting, painting a detailed picture of the 1930's Northwest and the greater world of rowing - both of which were equally alien to me.
With Joe Rantz as the primary focus, the story takes on a personal aspect, demonstrating how sports in general and rowing in particular are about much more than
raw strength or physical skill but the personalities and mindsets of the athletes. Other people, of course, play a large part in the almost unbelievable story of
nine working-class West Coast boys rising to international stardom, each with their own tales to tell and hardships to overcome. The perfect crew isn't so much
assembled as evolved, a learned synthesis that rises above individuality. Races unfold in grueling real-time, with triumphs often almost immediately upset by
greater failures and obstacles. Meanwhile, the propaganda machine of Nazi Germany seizes the opportunity to present a false, friendly face to the world at large, to
pacify the international stage and discount tales of oppression and murder and a re-awakening military. One sees uneasy parallels between the propaganda and
spin-doctors beguiling the populace, local and foreign, in the 1930's and modern times. The whole book works as a biography, a historic narrative, and a gripping story
in its own right. I'm trying to think of a downside to it, a nit to pick, but - aside from some occasional name confusion among the many peripheral players - I can't
think of one. Any sports-based book that's interesting enough for someone like me to stay up late on work nights reading it earns its five stars.
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