Margin Notes: Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
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.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book. I think we all know about the WWI Soldiers and the greatest generation, but it was interesting to see what challenges they faced and what helped build their character.

This book was beautifully written. The story is compelling--a mix of dust bowl and depression history, personal story lines, the rise of the third reich, the East vs. West mentality in the US at the time, the crew rivalries, and so much amazing information about crew and rowing in general. How the team must work together, how a crew is put together, the grind on their bodies to make them excel, the beauty of a boat in the water that is functioning optimally... But beyond that, the people come alive in this book. Author Brown is really talented and weaves a wonderful story that I feel lucky has been put on paper.

George Pocock (So impressive--I want to do some additional reading about him!), Joe Rantz and his struggles to become part of the team, the competitors from Cal--particularly the coach, the cox and his backstory, . I am dying to know what happened to Hume right after the gold medal race! What sickness did he have? Why did he go white in the boat?! I was also really interested in hearing about Bob Moch whose father divulged that they were actually Jewish--did he go to Switzerland? He was such an interesting character too!! It gave me insight into the different life of people out west and during that time, what their mind frames were like and I completely enjoyed it.

I understand that some people might not like the technical aspects of this book, but I think it needed them. Otherwise, I'd have no idea how to imagine everything. I thought it would have been easy to skim those sections for those uninterested. I loved the detail, and as a history nerd, they were highlights.

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