“The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown.
Genre:Rowing, Crew, Olympics, Non-fiction, historical
June 4, 2012
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:The 1936 Olympics may be best remembered for Jesse Owens winning gold medals, by nine young men from the University of Washington rowing team also had their moment of Olympic history at those games as well. Their story, from the time they were a rag-tag bunch of college freshmen to a polished team representing America in Nazi Germany, is well-documented in this outstanding book by Daniel James Brown.
The book is driven by personal stories, especially that of Joe Rentz, a young boy whose father and stepmother abandoned him and his siblings during the Great Depression. Left to fend on his own, Joe was able to keep the family alive and also find a way to the University of Washington, where he was part of a seemingly rag-tag bunch of young men thrown together to form the freshman rowing crew.
These young men became a team through hard work, camaraderie, excellent coaching, and a lot of perseverance. The research on this team – everything from the results to the coaches to the lives of the young men – is outstanding. Much of the knowledge came from accounts provided by either the team members or their surviving family members. Painstaking detail is written for some of these stories, such as the courtship of Joe and his future wife Joyce, the conditions the team endured in Poughkeepsie during the regatta championships (Washington became the first school to sweep the three events – varsity, junior varsity and freshman), and the experiences they each shared during their time in Berlin at the Olympics.
The events of the time shaped how this team would be viewed at the Olympics, and the author does a good job of writing about the history of that time without getting too deep. The references made to the rise of the Nazis, the Dust Bowl gripping the country and the effects of the Great Depression all are important to the story but do not take away from the central theme – namely the nine young men from the University of Washington rowing team.
Every aspect of the book is well researched, well written and told in the proper amount of detail. This was an inspiring tale and a book that kept my interest from beginning to end. An outstanding read that anyone will enjoy.
Did I skim?
Did I learn something new?Yes. Having no knowledge of rowing, the history of the sport or any of the strategy involved, I found the passages on the actual races undertaken by the Washington crew, whether in their hometown of Seattle, the regattas at Poughkeepsie or the Olympics, the manner in which these races and the strategy involved made me feel like I could coach these men.
Pace of the book:Excellent. It moves between the sport, the personal stories and the current events of the time smoothly. Each time there is a change, it is for the good of the book so the reader can catch up on that aspect.
Positives:Just about everything – the research, the writing, the sport and the personal stories, especially that of Joe Rantz. Even mundane items such as how the team traveled to first Poughkeepsie and then to Berlin for the Olympics was made interesting by the style of the author’s writing.
Negatives:No major problems – well edited, researched and written
Do I recommend?
Book Format Read:EBook (Netgalley)