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The Boys in The Boat

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

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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.

404 pages, Hardcover

First published June 4, 2013

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About the author

Daniel James Brown

17 books1,615 followers
Daniel James Brown lives in the country east of Redmond, Washington, where he writes nonfiction books about compelling historical events.

Brown's newest book--Facing the Mountain--follows the lives of four young Japanese American men as they and their families bravely confront harsh new realities brought about by the onset of World War II. Facing the Mountain comes on the heels of Brown's New York Times bestseller--The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. That book chronicles the extraordinary saga of nine working class boys who stormed the rowing world, transformed the sport, and galvanized the attention of millions of Americans in the midst of the Great Depression. MGM has acquired the rights to adapt the book for a feature film to be directed by George Clooney.

His second book--The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride--was chosen as an INDIE NEXT NOTABLE SELECTION by the American Bookseller's Association, it recounts the extraordinary journey of a young woman whose fate became entangled with that of the infamous Donner Party in 1846. His first book--Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894--takes the reader back to the events of September 1, 1894, when his great-grandfather and more than 300 other people died in one of America's greatest forest-fire disasters. That book was selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, was named one of the Best Books of 2006 by Booklist magazine, and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 24,818 reviews
Profile Image for Donna.
1,192 reviews17 followers
October 21, 2017
I don't know why I put off reading this book so long, except I was reading other things. BUT when I went to visit my son, who is the grandson of Joe Rantz and named his son Joe after him, I began reading their copy and could not put it down. Everything else I was reading was put aside.

I then realized I would not finish it before I had to leave and besides, I wanted to OWN it. So I got the Kindle version. Besides, my son was also reading it and we had two book marks, his and mine in the book. So it made things easier.

Wow, I was surprised at all the things I learned about Joe and Joyce I had not known before. I remember holding Joe's Olympic gold medal long ago when I first married his son, the first and last such medal I have ever held. I remember because it made such an impression on me. I remember the talk of the other "boys" and how they got together and I remember being invited to the planting of the tree for Joseph Rantz but did not go. I don't remember why. I have always proudly told everyone that my son's grandfather won an Olympic Gold Medal in Hitler's Germany in 1936. Who else can say that? Not many. But really, I had no idea what was involved in that accomplishment.

But after reading this book I realize how very special those boys were, and how important it was that it all came together, the very special men who all had hard upbringings, who had to scrape and scratch for every morsel they ever got, the now legendary boat maker and the coxswain. It took a very unique mix of ingredients to make that win happen and take home that Gold Medal.

But it had to be told in a way that we could all see it,feel it, get it. And Daniel Brown did just that. He interviewed Joe Rantz months before his death.

I remember a man who was tall, handsome, strong and always willing to help. I remember as a young single mother after I had divorced his son, how very warm and welcoming they were to me and how Joe would not only fix my broken down cars but would show me how he did it.

I remember when he fell from the tree when he was still out there too late in his life, climbing trees and cutting them down. I remember saying to myself, if only I could find a man like him, I would keep him. He was my ideal man but I had no idea how he came to be that man.

So now I know.

Update: Sadly last December 15th 2016 At 1:15 pm Joseph Devon Rantz, great grandson of Joe Rantz, was killed in a car accident riding with his friend who was driving in the pouring rain. The car hydroplaned in the rain crossed the median and hit a utility truck and then the bridge abutment. Both boys were wearing seatbelts but the driver was thrown from the car into Dry Creek. Both boys were killed instantly.
We have had tremendous, kind support from the community. We were devastated and just broken by the loss. He was a good kid, 18 years old in his senior year of high school, a lefty pitcher on the varsity baseball team. We loved him and miss him every day.

Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
July 21, 2013
If I told you one of the most propulsive reads you will experience this year is the non-fiction story of eight rowers and one coxswain training to attend the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, you may not believe me. But you’d need to back up your opinion by reading this book first, and you will thank me for it. Daniel James Brown has done something extraordinary here. We may already know the outcome of that Olympic race, but the pacing is exceptional. Brown juxtaposes descriptions of crew training in Seattle with national races against the IV League in Poughkeepsie; we see developments in a militarizing Germany paired with college competitions in depression-era United States; individual portraits of the “boys” (now dead) are placed alongside cameos of their coaches; he shares details of the early lives of a single oarsman, Joe Rantz, with details of his wife's parallel experiences.

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin was the stuff of legend, when Jesse Owens swept four gold medals in field and track, but a Washington crew team won that summer also, against great odds. How that victory took place and how a group of great athletes became great competitors is something Daniel James Brown spent five years trying to articulate. Quotes from George Pocock, crafter of cedar shells, head each chapter, sharing his experience watching individual oarsmen become a team.

At various times I have heard sports like baseball or golf, and now crew, described as “the thinking man’s game.” I like to imagine that any sport, particularly a team sport, is best performed when one is thinking. Surely strategies and tactics are involved. But when a team sport is performed fast and in key, there is something organic in its growth and peak performance that transcends “thinking.”

For one thing, there is the sustained coordinated rhythm of many bodies performing as one, starting from zero and demanding as much as two hundred heartbeats per minute in a sprint, erasing the individual and coalescing into something much bigger than each individual effort could achieve. This particular crew overcame the usual and expected race-day catastrophes to deliver the sweetest win they or their coaches had ever experienced. It is a story at the time and on the level of the historic Seabiscuit: An American Legend victory: speaking of the horse, the race, and the book by Laura Hillenbrand.

One of the things about a great book is the energy one derives from having encountered it. Great teachers generate interest in a subject and Brown did that in this book. Even if you have no knowledge of or interest in rowing before you begin, you will be fascinated by the end. In addition, Brown tells us some things about the Third Reich and Leni Reifenstahl’s photography for Hitler and of the 1936 Olympics that makes me want to revisit that film record. Reifenstahl had taken pictures (after the event) of the rowing crews from inside their boats, among other things, and when the film Olympia came out two years later, it cemented her reputation as a great filmmaker. Of course she is best known for creating the great propaganda film, Triumph of the Will . She used camera angles and techniques that had never been used before and was extraordinarily successful in supporting the political machine that was Germany in the 1930s.

A film version of The Boys in the Boat is scheduled, reputedly with Kenneth Branagh directing, which is sure to capture further interest in this remarkable story. A radio interview with Daniel James Brown is available to download from San Francisco radio station KLLC (radioalice). In it Daniel James Brown shares a little of his narrative non-fiction technique of keeping readers dangling at critical moments and turning instead to talk of parallel events to keep the tension high. He does it better than almost anyone—writers take note!

I believe I can guarantee this title—either you or someone close to you will find this a riveting summer read. I am pleased to be able to offer a giveaway of this title through my blog, ending August 15, 2013-- just enough time to receive it and read it before summer ends. So all of you unsure whether nonfiction is your “thing,” put aside your reservations, add your name to the list, and see if this story doesn’t float your boat.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,819 followers
January 7, 2018
I love books and movies that get you interested in sports you never cared about before. Also, I love how the Olympics does the same thing. You turn on the TV and suddenly life itself depends on the outcome of some not quite mainstream sport like biathlon, cycling, diving, curling, etc. - and, while watching, you become an expert at all the finer points of the sport. The Boys in the Boat is the perfect example of this type of story. And, with the Winter Olympics coming up, the perfect way to whet my appetite for the competition.

In this case, the sport is rowing. The underdogs are the working class Western US college boys competing against the upper class Ivy Leaguers of the East. The true story of their progress to success and Olympic glory is enthralling. The writing is superb. You will find yourself falling in love with rowing even if you have never seen an oar slice through the water before.

History buffs, sports fans, and people who love a good story about the disrespected underdog finding ultimate success in the end - this book is for you!

Side note - this book also does a great job capturing the development of the Nazi regime as they rose to power while preparing for the 1936 Olympics. The stories of whitewashing the towns to cover up poverty and the newly established oppression of Jews and other minorities is heart-wrenching. Tales of the propaganda machine and the wool pulled over the eyes of the world is amazing. At one point, the author goes through a list of the things the athletes did "not see", and I was wondering if this was an intentional play on "Nazi".

A 5+ star book! I am sad that it is over!
Profile Image for Brina.
898 reviews4 followers
March 29, 2016
I read this book because my father kept telling me that I would enjoy it. Truthfully, l finally picked up so he would stop nagging me about it even though it is about sports and history- my two favorite things.
Boys in the Boat is the motivational story of Joe Rantz, his wife Joyce, and the other members of the 1936 Washington University rowing team that won gold at the Berlin Olympics. This story is partially the story of Joe's perseverance during the depression and also his rowing team's quest to make it to the Olympics and subsequent epilogue.
The story is definitely inspiring not just because the US team won gold in rowing in Berlin but because of Joe's story. Abandoned by his father and stepmother and forced to live alone from his early teens, Joe worked his way to college and lived at the university gym. Joining the rowing team as way to keep in shape, Joe still had to work between semesters and during the summer even taking part in the construction of the Cooley Dam, just so he would have enough money to pay for tuition. Although during the depression, he somehow cobbled together the $25 necessary each term to stay in school. This is definitely a far cry from today's pampered NCAA athletes.
Boys in the Boat is a story about perseverance and I enjoyed it immensely. The reason I give this highly regarded book a 4 instead of a 5 is because the writing is not the absolute best, usually referring to Joe and Joyce in third person. I recommend this often overlooked chapter in history to all who haven't read it yet.
Profile Image for Swrp.
662 reviews
February 21, 2022
Divine, Masterful, Soulful and Powerful

Harmony, balance and rhythm. They`re the three things that stay with you your whole life. Without them civilization is out of whack. And that's why oarsman when he goes out in life, he can fight it, he can handle life. That's what he gets from rowing.

~ George Yeoman Pocock

Daniel James Brown`s The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is an amazing and intimate account of nine working-class American boys and their epic quest to becoming world-class rowers, which results in them winning Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, at a time when Hitler and Nazis were in power in Germany.

#must-read & #not-to-be-missed
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews624 followers
August 8, 2014
This book was all right, but there was just too much of it and the title isn't very descriptive. It's really only about one of the nine "boys in the boat," plus their coach and the boatbuilder. Oh, and Hitler.

Perhaps the author came to the project 10-15 years too late; only one of the main subjects survived to be interviewed by 2006, and that figure (Joe Rantz) makes the book worthwhile. Having grown up dirt poor, abandoned by his family, with a strong work ethic and a charming, loyal fiancée, he's someone you can't help but root for. But his story is buried in dozens of pages of descriptions of early twentieth century crew rivalries and what woods to make boats out of and a highly superfluous retelling of the early years of Nazi rule. All of that material is less interesting than Joe Rantz's life, and all of it is noticeably less immediate. I often like nonfiction that weaves several strands together so my complaint here is chiefly about the comparative worthwhileness of the strands rather than the author's art in pulling them together. Then there's the factor of the book's sheer length; my sigh when I realized I was hundreds of pages in and only up to the start of junior-year training must have been audible from Lake Washington.

I've written in another review or two about how the events of WWII, when you stare at them long enough, go from incomprehensible to almost unbelievable. But this book (and In The Garden of Beasts) conjures the opposite cognitive problem, which is that it is impossible for the reader to put the facts of what happened after the 1930s out of our minds. Both books are trading on a rather ghoulish dramatic irony of innocent, upstanding Americans willingly visiting the evil Nazi state without realizing the depth of its coming crimes, but neither manages to evoke the mindset that allowed the Americans to do so, or the historical fact that the later events of WWII and Holocaust were not inevitable. In Erik Larson's book, I think there is a point to be made that a different man serving as ambassador might have measured up the danger more wisely, but where this book is concerned, it would be absurd to say Joe Rantz and his fellows--who had barely been out of Washington State--should have been more perceptive or that they could have done anything.

Even whatever pleasure you might get from seeing an American team win under Hitler's nose has to be tempered by an appreciation of how meaningless this was in the long run. The power in this story comes from the boys' personal stories of overcoming Depression-era obstacles, so padding the book with discussions of Leni Riefenstahl and the fate of a particular German-Jewish family after Kristallnacht draws the wrong kind of contrast by putting the race in the context of world history rather than personal achievement.

I'm ultimately glad I read this because of its evocation of early twentieth century Seattle and its ability to make you cheer for Joe Rantz, but I suspect it was propelled onto the bestseller list by attracting the attention of readers who perhaps don't read 25-30 nonfiction books per year and liked the drama of the Olympic win and implied impending wartime victory more than I was bothered by the author's somewhat paint-by-numbers assembly of the elements of this story.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
February 7, 2019

I honestly didn’t think I would be interested in a book about rowing, but I just couldn’t ignore the fact that so many people loved this book. I added it to my list of books to read about three years ago and I’m so glad that I finally got to it because it was about so much more than the sport. Nine young men making up the USA Rowing Team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin weren’t just rowing for a medal, they “were rowing for a set of values, a way of life”. They were the USA Olympics Rowing Team competing during a time when Hitler and the Nazis were making laws against Jews, burning books and planning the horrors that we now know occurred. It’s about how this team of young men from working class families who worked hard, endured hardships, and achieved greatness in the eyes of the world, and most certainly in the eyes of their fellow Americans. It’s a reflection of the time in the US just after the stock market crash and the Great Depression. While it’s the story of this team and this country, we also experience the story on a more personal level through Joe Rantz’s life.

The narrative alternates between the time that Joe Rantz is a student at the University of Washington and to his sad childhood. Joe seemed to live an ideal life, happy with his mother and father and brother until his mother dies when he was four. It was heartbreaking to see how he was abandoned time and time again when his father remarries and his stepmother just doesn’t want him around. At ten he lives a “life in exile” and at fifteen ends up on his own, digging ditches, building barns, doing whatever it took to support himself and eat . With such stamina and dedication, working as a janitor at the Y for a room, practicing, and studying, I couldn’t help but love Joe and his teammates and pull for them with each race. Highly recommended, even if you’re not interested in crewing because this is just so much more.

This was my first audio book. I tried previously and couldn’t get used to the feeling that someone was reading to me, but I thought I’d try again. It turned out to be a great experience, no doubt because of the inspiring story .
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
December 1, 2014
If someone had told me I would become emotionally invested is a book about rowing, I would have thought they were crazy. First, I knew little about rowing and second, I had no desire to learn. A read for a group I am in had me picking up this book and I am so glad I did. As many mothers have said, try it before you decode you don't like it.

An amazing balance of human interest, history and sport. Joe Rantz's story had my mothers heart wanting to give his ten year old self a big hug. His story and the man he became is simply heart breaking and admirable. He and the other boys wormed their way under my skin and I found myself holding my breath more than once during their races.

The book went back and forth between the US and Germany. The snow job they pulled on the world during the Olympics, convincing many others that they were a progressive and fair nation. There were small moments of humor too, as when the German people greeted our athletes with a raised arm and shouted, Heil, Hitler, our athletes raised their arms and answered back, "Heil, Roosevelt.

The sport of course took up much of the book from the scull maker, Popcock to the coach, Al Ubrickson. The hard work that went into training, and of course the races, competitions between the East and West coast. The lives of the men in the boat and what happened to them after.

All in all I found this a stirring read, a wonderful book.

Profile Image for Jen CAN.
486 reviews1,356 followers
January 15, 2016
Why did I wait so long to read this? Well, a couple of reasons: 1) It’s about rowing…No offense, it’s just not a sport I’m wowed by. 2) It’s about a group of Americans going to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Hey, I’m Canadian, eh... American patriotism and propaganda isn’t my gig.
So finally I picked it up; put it down. Then thought to hell with it, I’m doing this. I cracked the spine, sat down and for the last few days, every spare moment has been living and breathing this story.

It starts with the life of Joe Rantz, the crew member who sat in the 7th seat of the boat. The abandonment he experienced as a child that shaped him into becoming the man he did. It’s of course about the sport - which in itself is a paradox - while the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, each member brought unique qualities and experiences to compliment each other to make a successful and cohesive crew . The determination, the skill, the heart, soul and passion that goes into the making of an athlete; the making of a team; the realization of a dream.
It’s about the two faces Germany wore for the hundreds of thousands of spectators who came to watch. The deception and political ploys used to prevent suspicions from being roused. It will always eclipse the event to a certain degree.

But most of all, it’s an inspirational read and one that will remain most memorable to me. 4 ★
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,002 reviews35.9k followers
March 26, 2015

The books power is in the storytelling. Starts right out on page 1

These were remarkable men -their sacrifice - committed dedication - had to scape for everything -their boat wasn't just handed to them... not all had cozy supportive families.
Joe Rantz's humanity - especially - makes you want to be a better human being yourself.
All these men were humble - with committed dedication -- they were a team. Proud to be American!

With the American depression -the dust bowl -the rise to Hitler - tensions kept building to the end until you just want to cry.

Its moving. Spirit sings... we feel it!

Profile Image for Britany.
965 reviews417 followers
July 12, 2016
I'm going to start off by saying that I'm in the minority on this one, and I'm ok with that.

I felt like I was rowing through the Nile River getting through this book. I wanted it to be great, I wanted it to read like a narrative story, and most of all, I wanted to connect to the characters. I mean, who wouldn't love poor Joe Rantz- a guy that comes from nothing and literally gets left behind by his family- succeed at something?? The story at small points held my interest, and the last chapter was by far the best. I just couldn't get into this book. It had all the right ingredients, but ultimately, I'm disappointed.

I dreaded picking this book up every single time, and I slugged through until I finished (which, just by reading the title- you know how it ends). I have a stupid rule where I can't abandon a book (I know, it's dumb!) and I had to skim to finish this one. I hated reading about rowing and the "swing" and while the writing was good, it's safe to say that this one just didn't connect for me.
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews317 followers
August 9, 2020

As perfect as nonfiction gets. An awe inspiring and finely-crafted story brought to life with a multifaceted and rousing narrative. Daniel James Brown manages to seamlessly weave in the history of the time--the Great Depression, Dust Bowl, rise of the Third Reich among other events--never becoming academic, all the while providing perspective and depth.

The story of how nine, working-class boys overcame obstacles, persevered and eventually succeeded beyond all expectations will take your breath away. And even if you think you’re not interested in a book about a varsity crew, you will cheer every race on as if you were on the sidelines and you will be captivated by how suspenseful they will turn out to be.

There is so much to love and such brilliant storytelling, I could go on for pages, but there are thousands of reviews so I will just say that this is the book you want to read RIGHT NOW. You will come away with a renewed sense of what it means to overcome whatever life throws at you, what it truly means to band together to accomplish a goal and you might just feel a little hope, something we sorely need.

I listened to the audio version narrated by Edward Herrmann (known to GG fans as Richard Gilmore) and I can’t imagine having experienced this story any other way. He enhanced the story tremendously and punctuated the narration with equal measures of gravitas, lightness and utter delight. I highly recommend the audio, but you may also want to have the book on hand for the remarkable photos.

It’s fitting that I’m publishing this review on National Spirit of ’45 Day which honors the can-do attitude of an entire generation affected by the trials and hardships of World War II. This day sets out to illustrate the mettle of the people of the Greatest Generation of which these boys were a part. Their stories deserve to be told, admired and emulated.

P.S. There is a PBS documentary, The Boys of ’36, which I have yet to watch, but I’m looking forward to as it has been lauded as a wonderful tribute to this group of young men.

P.P.S. After years in development hell at The Weinstein Group, the rights to this story have been purchased by another studio and George Clooney has been tapped to direct. I’m hopeful that this film will finally be made, this story deserves the widest audience possible.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
July 25, 2017

The Boys In The Boat in an extremely beuatifually written account of the Universary of Washingtons's Rowing team that won a gold Metal in 1936 Berlin Olympics'

I had no real desire to read a book about sport let alone read a book about rowing but something about a frinds's review here on goodreads pushed me to read this book and I am so glad I did as I loved every moment of it.

I read this on Kindle (oh how I wish I owned a Hard Copy of this book) and I listened to it on audio and what wonderful narrator Edward Hermann is. He just made this book come alive and what a wonderful easy listening voice he has.

Yes for those of you out there wondering if there are descriptions of boat building and rowing techniques and stragaties but there is so much more to this stroy. I fell in love with Joe Ranrz and his story and zest for life, I loved the details given of the Berlin Olympics and how Hitler tried to showcase Germany to the rest of the world . I learned so much from this book. I also really enjoyed the sense of time and place set around the depression in America.

Above all I It is an inspirational story of eight young men from different backgrounds who learned to work as a team and overcome tremendous obstacles, defeating elite teams from other universities and finally the German crew in Berlin.

A terrific read and one that I am so glad I did not miss out on (Thank you Diane) :-)
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,056 reviews1,855 followers
March 29, 2016
Everyone should have heard of this book by now. It's about the crew team that won the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics.

This is really perfect from a non-fiction standpoint. We have poverty and hard work - Joe, our focus, is very poor and works insanely hard just to afford food.

We have Hitler's Germany - always a winner if you want to sell books.

We have Americans triumphing on an international stage, "sticking it to Hitler," as it were. Surefire winner there.

We have "men, patriots! united in harmony, working as one towards a common goal" etc. Very moving.

I have to say Brown is a great author. The book is readable and interesting. I love "struggling to survive in poverty," I love "working physically very hard in order to be a super-athlete" and, of course, I love learning about history. So all those things worked in the book's favor.

However, crew racing bores me. I'm sorry, Brown did his best to make the races exciting, but after reading about twenty of them I was done. Actually I was done after the first two. By the second half of the book I found myself drifting when the "boys" were in an actual race. There's only so many ways you can describe rowing and pulling ahead of your opponents.

This is probably not a drawback to most people. I'm not a sport-viewer. I watch the Super Bowl once a year and that's it.

And that is really the only negative thing I have to say about this book.

Now, these aren't "negatives" exactly - and in no way affected the books rating, but I did notice some things about Brown's writing that I found quite funny.

ONE: He tends to be a bit cheesy and overdramatic. However, I realize that adds when you are writing non-fiction. No one wants dry non-fiction. No one wants to be bored. So this actually could be seen as a plus.

TWO: Hilariously, Brown mentions what women think of each man he introduces. Let me give you some examples.

He had a strong jawline, fine, regular features, gray eyes verging into blue, and he drew covert glances from many of the young women sitting on the grass.

LOL Too funny. I thought this was just an anomaly - Brown wanted to make sure readers knew that our star - Joe - was HANDSOME. Okay. I can understand that. But then, 13 pages later:

Women found him attractive.

Okay, okay, we get it. Women were apparently gaga over him. Great. Then we meet Shorty Hunt.

He was also quite good-looking, with wavy dark hair. People liked to compare him to Cesar Romero. He was six foot three as a freshman, and his fellow students promptly dubbed him Shorty. He'd use the name for the rest of his life. He was something of a fashion plate, always well dressed and forever drawing the eyes of young women around him, though he did not seem to have a steady girl.

This amused me to no end. "Hey," I'd say to my friend. "Brown says this guy is ATTRACTIVE."

"Yeah," my friend would snappily retort. "How many women were giving this one covetous glances? FIVE women gave Joe the eye as he strolled across campus, but only THREE women checked this one out!"

Then we'd laugh and laugh.

Ah, good times.

ANYWAY. I found it highly amusing. There's many pictures of the "boys" in the book - even one where they're all shirtless. I'm sure you can do your own judging of if they are cuties or not. ;)

THREE: Maybe it was just me, but there was a strange sexual undertone in Brown's writing. NOT in relation to the "boys" or even any humans. Mainly when he was describing stuff. Here are some examples:

Brown talking about the pain of rowing:

It's not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it's a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.

When I read this I was like o.O I had to re-read it to make sure I was seeing things correctly. Pain has her wanton way with you? Really? Wow.

Here's Brown discussing Joe's drive to Montana:

He made it over the pass and began to drop down through dry ponderosa pine forests to the apple and cherry orchards of Wenatchee, where magpies, black and white, flashed among the cherry trees, seeking ripe, red plunder.


Every time this happened I had a good laugh. It didn't happen super-frequently, which was good, because then whenever I came upon a fresh one I was startled into laughter again.

Of course, these are just little personal notes and they didn't affect my rating at all.

Tl;dr - This is good non-fiction. Juicy, fast-paced, and character driven. A great combination of a character study and exciting history. I can see why this book is very popular. The only drawback for me would be the actual racing - not Brown's fault, he does a stellar job of making crew sound exciting, but I'm just not very interested, despite his best efforts.

I'd recommend this if you are looking for a non-fiction romp.

P.S. Not available in Spanish. >.< I'm upset.
Profile Image for Cher.
801 reviews275 followers
March 26, 2016
4 stars - It was great. I loved it.

The fact that I had no interest in, and in fact dreaded reading this book club selection yet ending up loving it, is testament to how compelling this inspirational story was.

I have no interest in rowing. Actually, I have no interest in sports. Thankfully, this is not just a book about rowing and Olympic races. The author seamlessly weaves in details about Germany and Hitler's rise to power, the dust bowl, America in post-depression years and on the cusp of WWII, and illustrates with factual stories the sharp contrast of our culture then vs. now, particularly in regards to parenting. The author heavily focuses on the life of one particular rower, Joe Rantz, and his story breathes so much life and soul into the book.

"...this is, in many ways, a book about a young man's long journey back to a place he can call home."

The author includes many pictures throughout the book which were greatly appreciated and help to place the reader more firmly in the story. Surprisingly few parts of this book were slow (surprising given my utter lack of interest in the subject). A few of the races were too detailed for my tastes and bogged down the pace, but on the other hand, the details of the Olympic race were thrilling and suspenseful, despite already knowing how it all ends.

"And so they passed away, loved and remembered for all that they were - not just Olympic oarsmen but good men, one and all."


UW Crew of 1936 at their 40th Reunion.


Favorite Quote: They are almost all gone now - the legions of young men who saved the world in the years just before I was born. But that afternoon, standing on the balcony of Haus West, I was swept with gratitude for their goodness and their grace, their humility and their honor, their simple civility and all the things they taught us before they flitted across the evening water and finally vanished into the night.

First Sentence: This book was born on a cold, drizzly, late spring day when I clambered over the split-rail cedar fence that surrounds my pasture and made my way through wet woods to the modest frame house where Joe Rantz lay dying.

Profile Image for JD.
691 reviews289 followers
December 1, 2020
This is an epic book. It is the story about the Washington State rowing crew that won the 1936 Olympic gold in Berlin, told mainly through the eyes of one of the oarsmen, Joe Rantz. But it is so much more than a sports story, it is the story of the young men suffering through the Depression-era in small town America and their hopes, dreams, sacrifices and hard-work to reach their end goal of a better life for them. It is a truly inspiring story and a real tribute to this team of young men that set their minds on achieving their dreams. Running parallel to their story, is the story of the Nazi regime organizing and hosting the Olympics in Berlin in 1936. Even if you know nothing about rowing, the author does a great job at describing the technical details of rowing. This is one of the best books I have ever read and even though you know the end result, the story of these boys are amazing and you are taken back in time by the author to relive this amazing tale. I recommend this book to all readers!
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
616 reviews337 followers
May 23, 2015
To be able to tell a story about an event where the outcome is known ahead of time, about a subject the reader has no interest in, the pages seemingly turning themselves and keeping one riveted all the way is some feat. A team of nine boys, sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, whose coach would come to think of as the greatest racing crew in history, take us on a vision quest through the depression years. Hard work, sheer guts, extreme determination, and supreme respect for one another would take them to Hitler’s Germany and the 1936 Olympics, the same games that would host the talents of Louis Zamperini and Jesse Owens. I read this book aloud to my husband over morning coffee and was at times breathless and choked up. We took it slow not wanting it to end, afterwards going to the web to view pictures and archival film footage of their thrilling victory. Most worthy of the many comparisons to the story and race of the amazing Seabiscuit. Bravo!
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books906 followers
February 21, 2023
An immersive biography about a group of rowing Olympians who beat the German team who had a suspicious home country advantage under Hitler's rule. It seems Brown had access to a dazzling number of historical documents, including diaries of the rowers. Other details were likely his own conjecture based on what must have been unimaginable hours of research. I was wowed by how he took all that information and packaged it as a digestible narrative.

All that said, not even the world's greatest writer is going to get me interested in rowing. There is a fascinating context around the United States whipping Nazi Germany during the Olympics in this particular event, but we already know how that's turning out from the title. Furthermore, given the extent of Hitler's crimes and all the bloodshed of the World Wars, this little boating competition seems rather insignificant. It's still history, though, and I'm thrilled the book has been written. It's just not a piece of history that is fascinating to me personally. This is of no fault of the author. There's tons of history I obsess over which I know others wouldn't care about. Maybe Brown could have done more to showcase the social impact of this rowing competition. But doing so might run the risk of inflating facts, which could be a far greater sin.

I would say you don't have to be a fan of rowing to appreciate this book, but for me that isn't true. The "characters" were not particularly captivating or multi-dimensional. There's also a lot of boys in that boat so it's easy to get them mixed up. One's identity seemed to be totally wrapped up in the fact that he liked to eat a lot. He's the only one I remember with any clarity, and it's only because that one detail was repeated so often. Most could be summarized by the general fact that they were young and strong.

If I were personally connected to this sport, I would have likely been more interested in the minor (sometimes cruelly minor) details about the boys involved. Without that, though, this was an incredibly tough read. But I got through it, fueled by the dedication I have to my book club and the great narrator who did the audiobook. Maybe I deserve a medal too?
Profile Image for Jonetta.
2,202 reviews918 followers
August 28, 2016
This is a bit more than the story of the 1936 Olympic crew challenge by the team from the University of Washington. Using one of the crew members as the focus, it combines his personal experience against the backdrop of the important historical events of that era (the 1929 stock market crash and resultant depression, the dust bowls, the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, etc.). It made for a richer story with the added context.

While the backgrounds and histories of the other members of the 9-man crew team were also provided, Joe Rantz's story was the main focus. His was symbolic of the boys who became men even before they started college given the challenges of that time. By the time I got to the actual Olympic race, I felt these men had already reached heroic heights, especially Joe.

Edward Herrmann was fantastic as the narrator. He brought each character to life and his calling of the Olympic race was just outstanding. I highly recommend the audio version.

This story left me inspired and will continue to do so every time I think about the team. What a wonderful tribute to these men.
Profile Image for Geza Tatrallyay.
Author 17 books281 followers
November 21, 2018
I loved this book. It is a study of human struggle, teamwork, the striving for perfection. As a former Olympic athlete, I can understand what these boys went through to achieve a dream -- and that for some, the dream comes alive as they struggle, and then the struggle only becomes more intense. Also, set against the backdrop of the Berlin Olympics, the struggle is just that much more poignant. My grandfather who was the official doctor of the Hungarian team in 1936, left a wonderful book for me with lots of pictures of those Olympics. This book provides another perspective for me. Well worth the read.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,133 followers
April 1, 2015
Really enjoyed reading about The Boys In The Boat and their quest to win US GOLD at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While a bit heavy on the practice runs (for me) the excitement of the actual races kept me engrossed as well as the heartbreaking personal background of Joe Rantz, and his struggles to overcome adversity.

Although not particularly a fan of boat racing, I found this work of non-fiction and the many tidbits of historical data laced throughout the story informative and memorable...........a truly amazing and inspirational read! 4.5 Stars.

Profile Image for Brian.
688 reviews335 followers
February 3, 2019
“Like so much in life, crew was partly about confidence, partly about knowing your own heart.”

I really enjoy books that find a human story in the midst of a larger historical drama. “The Boys In The Boat” is such a book. Although its primary focus is the sport of rowing, and specifically the sport on the west coast of the US, and more specifically at the University of Washington and 9 crew members and the coaching staff there, it also captures an era and the first 40 years of the 20th century very well.
This text does a nice job of jumping between the life of Joe Rantz (the member of this iconic crew team that the book gives the most attention to), the history and mechanics of the sport of rowing, and the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Berlin.
The depiction of the buildup to, and opening ceremony of, the 1936 Olympic Games is well done. The author jumps from the perspective of the boys on the US Rowing Team to the propagandist workings of the Nazi state and the manner in which they created the image of the games and Nazi Germany that they wanted conveyed to the world. It is compelling.
A highlight of the text is chapter 18 where the reader is immersed in the climatic gold medal race. The writing is taut, dramatic, and creates tension in the reader despite the fact that we already know the result.
Daniel James Brown is a solid writer. His prose is efficient, but not beautiful. Occasionally he tries to get poetic, and it is just not his milieu, and it shows. This is not a criticism of his style, just an observation. The good moments in this text far outnumber the bad.
As I read the Epilogue, I missed my grandfather and some of the other people I have known from this generation of Americans. Our society has fallen short of the life those people lived. In this text we are hit again and again with the hardships that were such a normal part of life for most Americans during the first 40 years of the last century, and one wonders if our current generations could surpass with such flying colors the hardships that they did.
After following the boys of the 1936 US Rowing Team thru the years of their youth, to read about their decline and eventual deaths in the Epilogue can’t help but make the reader a little down. Youth is for a season, life just a vapor that quickly passes, and then it is gone. And few there are among us that will have a sort of immortality as those boys did. The final paragraphs of the text drive that realization home. They are simply lovely to read.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,336 followers
November 3, 2015
I listened to The Boys in the Boat on audio, which was a good way to absorb this book. It's the story of the US rowing victory in the 1936 Olympics. There's way more to this book than "they worked hard, and then they won". Daniel James Brown cleverly pulls together a lot of great information, which I listened to in 40 minute increments on my walk to work every morning. He focuses particularly on one of the oarsmen, Joe Rantz, giving a very detailed portrait of his family, background and character. He also focuses on Washington State University's rowing program, including the local boat builder, the coaches, and the years of training and races before the Olympics. He provides information about the rowing scene in the US. He delves into many technical and psychological aspects of rowing. He also covers some US politics and economics of the time, and what was going on in Berlin in the lead up to the Olympics. And of course, he gives a detailed account of the trip to Berlin and THE race. It's a lot of information, but it's vividly put together and generally really interesting. My very favourite part was Rantz's story. His family background is very sad, and Brown powerfully fleshes out his story, character and the importance of rowing to his life. At times, other aspects of the book felt long and a bit too detailed and my interest would drift. But this is a minor complaint. This was worth the listen and provided me with good company every morning.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
125 reviews83 followers
September 15, 2020
It was a shared experience—a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love.

I just took a massive standardized test (which is why I’ve been incommunicado for some time), so guess those kinds of questions are still swimming in my brain! There’s especially this example that sociology classes will bring up about cultural capital—that is, what you know—and how it can reproduce social inequalities. You know, that infamous example of the analogy where:
runner: marathon
(A) envoy: embassy
(B) martyr: massacre
(C) oarsman: regatta
(D) horse: stable

And, folks, the answer choice is C! Process of elimination notwithstanding, the essential critique was that this question advantaged the more affluent test-takers who knew what the heck a regatta actually was, let alone coxswains or catching crabs. Crew is one of those sports that grew popular in the rich and wealthy corridors of Oxford and Cambridge and found its way to the elite collegiate counterparts on the New England coast. I had this strikingly similar perception myself (I placed it in the same box as golf), so color me surprised that there was a book about nine scrappy boys from the West who scrabbled their way to gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The Boys in the Boat is an underdog story at its finest. Boys who were hardened by the Great Depression and crippling poverty but persevered to accomplish a special feat in their time together at the University of Washington. These were loggers, farm boys, miners, and fishermen—the perfect antithesis to the old money and tradition of the Ivy League crews. And when they race against the other teams, you feel their exhilaration in victory as your own. When they struggle to find their swing, your heart grows leaden with the same anxiety and disappointment.

Daniel James Brown has captured the scope of these boys’ physical and emotional journeys beautifully. Focusing on the years preceding 1936, the book spends the most time with Joe Rantz. His mother died young, and his father and stepmother abandoned him at age ten to fend for himself in the wilderness of Washington. His compelling story, as are the struggles and triumphs of the other key characters that intercalate this central narrative, ultimately allow The Boys in the Boat to shine. Unfortunately, some plotlines felt disruptive; I personally found the parts about Hitler and Germany less essential, too vague that they failed to establish the desired context.

Despite occasions where Brown may wander too far into descriptions of events and risk veering into a string of platitudes, I appreciated his natural exposition about the details of this sport. Melding some beginner-level physics with the basic technique of crew and coaching strategy, I found myself getting a better picture of the skill and coordination that must be flawlessly implemented by an eight-man rowing team.

This book is undoubtedly of the inspirational variety. I can understand why the American Dream is so ingrained in our country’s mythos, and as disillusioned as I become about the real injustices that contradict it, I think there’s always a secret spot reserved in my heart for the kind of genuine optimism, strength, and integrity that The Boys in the Boat exudes in spades. Eventually, the crew, the races, the Olympics all drift away into the background until you reach the crux of it—the accomplishment of nine good men bound by trust and affection.
They were rowing perfectly, fluidly, mindlessly. They were rowing as if on another plane, as if in a black void among the stars, just as Pocock had said they might. And it was beautiful.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,508 followers
November 3, 2014
Quite an uplifting story of the young men from the University of Washington who took the gold medal for nine-men shell rowing at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Like Hillenbrand’s wonderful book “Seabiscuit” this is a tale of underdogs overcoming personal adversities and capturing the attention of a nation laid low by the Great Depression. Starting in 1933, we get the story of a young man, Joe Rantz, arriving at the college and merging the dreams from his hardscrabble life with that of other sons of miners, farmers, and lumbermen of the northwest. The other story is that of the coaches who mold and inspire this raw human material into a team which hopefully can beat their traditional rivals, University of California at Berkley, and challenge in the annual regatta in Poughkeepsie the historical masters of the sport, the elite private colleges of the East. These include the crafty and laconic head coach, Al Ubrickson, and legendary boat builder George Pocock, the guru of a Zen-like philosophy of rowing and master of techniques adapted from Thames working boatmen that he picked up from his days at Eton.

Joe’s family was hurt bad by the depression. He lost his mother at a young age, and his father married a much younger woman who favored her own children over her stepson. At one point she forces Joe’s father to make a move, leaving Joe behind to fend for himself at age 14. A heartbreaking story to read about. But he became strong from plenty of outdoor work, self-reliant to the extreme, and ripe for a sense of belonging that a team sport can engender. Going out at dawn in the bay in all kinds of weather and pushing himself beyond exhaustion and pain was something he could handle well. His new girlfriend is a big support, though she finds it hard to understand how Joe can forgive his father for the abandonment. It took a lot for the coaches to help Joe surmount a wavering confidence and performance so bound up in a fundamental mistrust of people. Pocock eventually found an angle to instill a way for Joe to submit himself to a trust in his teammates.

George Pocock learned much about the hearts and souls of young men. He learned to see hope where a boy thought there was no hope, to see skill where skill was obscured by ego or by anxiety. He observed the fragility of confidence and the redemptive power of trust. He detected the strength of the gossamer threads of affection that sometimes grew between a pair of young men or among a boatload of them striving honestly to do their best. And he came to understand how those almost mystical bonds of trust and affection, if nurtured correctly, might lift a crew above the ordinary sphere, transport it to a place where nine boys somehow became one thing—a thing that could not quite be defined, a thing that was so in tune with the water and the earth and sky above that, as they rowed, effort was replaced by ecstasy. It was a rare thing, a sacred thing, a thing devoutly to be hoped for. And in the years since coming to Washington, George Pocock had quietly become its high priest.

I especially appreciated the segments about Pocock’s story. How he designed and constructed by hand the elegant 60-foot racing shells. The special qualities of wood for each component of the boat, buoyant and flexible Western red cedar for the panels, long straight sugar pine for keels, and resilient and strong ash for the frames. Joe grooves on this artistry, based on his experience working on hauling cedar out of woods with horses and hand cutting of shingles. Pocock’s marvels were so outstanding that soon all colleges in the U.S. were using his boats.

Team rowing is such an unusual sport in how so much effort goes into preparation for so few and so brief competitions, events that provide no spotlight for individual performance success. My recent personal experiences with a rowing shell given to me by a neighbor contributes to an appreciation of some of the physical details. Like the trade-off between fast strokes and deep hard strokes. The precision of wrist action required to control the angle of the oar at entry and exit from the water. How the faster you row, the harder it is to do it well and avoid a “crab”, when the wrong angle or too deep a stroke leads a diving of the oar, impossible to lift. These factors are amplified in importance when it comes to achieving the synchrony required in team rowing. I never imagined the hidden sociology that lies behind a good team:

…the greatest paradox of the sport has to do with the psychological makeup of the people who pull the oars. Great oarsmen and oarswomen are necessarily made of conflicting stuff—of oil and water, fire and earth. On the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos, and titanic willpower. They must be almost immune to frustration. Nobody who does not believe deeply in himself or herself—in his or her ability to endure hardship and to prevail over adversity—is likely even to attempt something as audacious as competitive rowing at the highest levels. The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at it. And yet, at the same time—and this is key—no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength; they may have outstanding coxswains or stroke oars or bowmen; but they have no stars. The team effort—the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat and water; the single, whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes—is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self.

Good crews are good blends of personalities: someone to lead the charge; someone to hold something in reserve; someone to pick a fight; someone to make peace; someone to think things through; someone to charge ahead without thinking. Somehow all this must mesh. That’s the steepest challenge. Even after the right mixture is found, each man or woman in the boat must recognize his or her place in the fabric of the crew, accept it, and accept the others as they are.

Brown brings out the truth of these conclusions among the cast of characters Joe rows with over the years preceding the Olympic meet. Ubrickson found that a boat without Joe in it just didn’t do as well in the various collegial meets. A particular coxswain, Bobby Mock, also proved essential to the final team. Whatever the coaches’ plans ahead of time, the motivational tricks and last minute choices of strategy by the coxswain in the middle of the competition is critical to success:

In short, a good coxswain is a quarterback, a cheerleader, and a coach all in one. He or she is a deep thinker, canny like a fox, inspirational, and in many cases the toughest person in the boat.

Throughout the book we get interludes on the preparation of the Germans for using the Olympics as a great propaganda showcase of Nazi greatness, proof that they were the pinnacle of Western civilization and not monsters. The mastery of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and Minister of Propaganda Goebbels in pulling off this largely successful triumph is highlighted well and placed in contrast with the perspective of the rowing crew of ordinary Americans from average walks of life. They made sure no anti-Jewish signs were visible and underclasses like Gypsies were hustled out of town. Germany won most of the rowing races, but the win by the boys from Washington put a nice dent in their armor. The exciting details of adversities the American rowers had to overcome on the day of the competition awaits your reading pleasure. The black track star Jesse Owens did even more damage to Aryan pride by winning four gold medals (the main character of Hillenbrand’s biography of Louis Zamperini, “Unbroken”, also competed in longer distance races but did not win).

Ultimately, I wanted more about all the book’s main characters and more beyond on the pervasive theme about teamwork and subjection of the self to the sport. But some of that hunger comes from the successful illusion that this is a novel. The writing depended on limited resources, including interviews with Joe at age about 90, the daily logs of Ubrickson, and a biography of Pocock. There is magic in Brown getting me all caught up in the athletic success of long dead young men in a sport I don’t follow. I couldn’t help get a tear in my eye over saying goodbye with the author to the boys from Washington:
I was swept by gratitude for their goodness and their grace, their humility and their honor, their simple civility and all the things they taught us before they flitted across the evening water and finally vanished into the night.

There is footage from the rowing races at the Berlin Olympics on YouTube. This short promotional clip for “The Boys in the Boat” has some closeups of the 9-man rowing team and video spots from their race:
Book trailer.

Profile Image for Cathy.
124 reviews
September 16, 2013
This book is so good you won't want to pick up another book for a while after finishing it, knowing that nothing else could be this good. High marks for story, characters, writing, and research. Nine University of Washington students, the sons of loggers, farmers, and miners, overcome many disadvantages of their impoverished circumstances and learn to row their eight-oared racing shell to perfection. The transcendent experience of coming together as a team doesn't happen without a struggle, and each individual needs to learn to trust his teammates and to set aside his own ego. When they learn to work for each other, with respect and love, that's when the magic occurs. Once they find their swing, their victories come with joy and even ease. Together, they make it all the way to the Berlin Olympics of 1936. The experience is one the boys never forget. One of the boys, Joe Rantz, grows old, becomes an old man, and on his deathbed tells his story to the author, Daniel James Brown. Joe says don't make the story just about me, "It has to be about the boat." The author struggles to understand what that means, but comes to appreciate that it is the sheer beauty of their endeavor, this mysterious thing that together they are able to create.
Profile Image for Anne .
443 reviews360 followers
September 27, 2022
Excellent and inspiring story. Actually, there are two inspiring stories which are both very moving. Who knew that rowing crew could be so beautiful and teach important life lessons?

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,734 reviews1,469 followers
April 17, 2021
I am not competitive and team sports do not enthuse me, yet still I got excited and was rooting for the American team. Crazy but true. Every darn reviewer says the same thing! I have to explain what I think happened to me.

It took me a while to feel the excitement. Half-way through the book I had an epiphany. The reason why I am not into competitive team sports is not that I couldn’t care less who wins, but that I am one who doesn't and never has enjoyed working together in a group. I am a loner. Give me a job and I will do it well, but please let me do it alone. To understand team thinking is hard for me

The author personalizes the Olympic win through Joe Rantz, one of the American rowing crew that won the Olympic Gold in Berlin in 1936. One of eight oarsmen, one of nine if you count in the coxswain. But you have to count in the coach, Al Ulbrickson. You have to count in George Pocock, he made the boats. These shells are not just any old boats. They are made with western redcedar (Thuja plicata), but more importantly they are made with love and care. You have at least eleven people working together and the only way to succeed is to forget your own self and become one with the others. THIS is what I had to understand. It didn't help to be told this, in the first half of the book, but finally I understood it, in my heart, in my being. That is the epiphany. The complete synchronism of a group is a beauty to behold.

By tying the Olympic win to these people the author makes you understand. Tell me, how many books can pull in a reader when the subject is a whole group of people? Brown succeeds. Particularly Joe Rantz and George Popcock, their life stories grabbed me, but plenty is told of the others so you understand how it happens they all became one. You cannot be told to feel what you don't feel. You cannot be lectured or threatened with, "Otherwise you will fail!" It just has to happen and the reader has to see it happen. Joe, he too had to have such an epiphany.

Topics covered - the infatuation with Hitler in Berlin in the 30s, antisemitism in Germany and the US in the 30s, the publicity stunt of Leni Riefenstahl, the Depression, a dysfunctional family, the beauty of wood and of course rowing. All of these topics are woven in bit by bit. They are not dumped on you, so you sink. You have to understand the art of rowing to understand the win. I had quite a bit to learn.

The only thing I worried about is how much of this "team spirit" credo was a creation of the author to make a good story and how much was what actually was going on in Joe's head then, back there in the 30s. I am a born skeptic. I assume this book is based on Brown's talks with Joe. I certainly hope so.

There is a succinct epilog that details what happens to all of the central role-players after the 1936 Summer Olympics. It follows each of them until their respective deaths.

The narration by Edward Herrmann was p-e-r-f-e-c-t! During the races, at least by the book's end, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, it was so very exciting. Clearly spoken and a good speed. Easy to follow.

Here is a Cinderella story in modern format.
Profile Image for David.
436 reviews7 followers
January 1, 2015
What a hodge-podge mix of interesting and at other times dull events! The book jacket calls it "breathtaking" and I've not found that yet. It also says it's a "suspenseful tale of triumph" and I haven't found the suspense yet. The back jacket terms it "riveting" and I haven't found that yet. Turns out that about 60% through the story, the author kicks it in. The last of 4 sections picks up the pace and is a fine telling of an interesting story, and it becomes a fascinating tale of strategy, strength, dedication, boat construction and superior coaching - a total synthesis which produced champions.

Indeed, though the title tells us that it deals with the 9 boys in the Washington shell, as pictured on the front cover, the author tells a lot about Joe Rantz, some about Shorty Hunt, a bit about Roger Morris, then in the last of four sections we learn the others were made up of different UW students, including coxswain Bobby Moch. Brown dedicates the book "for" the nine, whose lives and careers and deaths he summaries in a very fine Epilogue.

OVERALL, the book lacks a clear focus, thereby seeming disjointed, mixing significant events with the trivial or irrelevant. For instance, there are 2 pages devoted to a "cyclonic windstorm" (which had nothing to do with the sculling). And 20 pages are devoted to the famous German movie-maker Leni Riefenstahl and asserting that Goebbels propositioned her on his knees (which had nothing to do even indirectly with the boys in the boat). And such other irrelevances as that a Seattle hockey team defeated the Montreal Canadians many decades ago. And that the "Black Sunday in the Plains blew away twice the amount of soil that had been excavated from the Panama Canal." Also extensive reconstruction details for the Berlin Olympics stadium, far from where the crew races were to be held. Other examples of which there are hundreds:- Before sailing to Europe, the boys visited Loew's State Theatre for Duke Ellington "under the theater's huge Czech-crystal chandelier, sitting in red-plush theater seats and surrounded by gilded woodwork, they listened entranced as Ellington and his orchestra lilted through Mood Indigo [as author Brown continues naming all the pieces] and Joe basked in the bright, brassy music, soaking it in as it washed over him, feeling it swing him". Irrelevant to the rowing story? It adds "color," and such extraneous journalistic flourishes throughout the book must add over 100 pages of extraneous interest to the core history of the boys and their singular rowing experiences and victories.

The best parts are about the sport of rowing sculls of which there is a lot of lore and technical information given here. (Thus I give the book 3 instead of 2 stars.) On this aspect of rowing, the author did well in portraying master craftsman George Pocock who emigrated from England to Canada and settled in Seattle to market his extraordinary skills as boat-maker - with the author giving us a lot of fine technical info. Even Pocock's use of Sperm whale oil on the shell underside before the final winning Olympic race. All ll chapters begin with a relevant quotation from Mr. Pocock, from a 1987 biography of Pocock. And, indeed almost 'riveting', the few scull races which these 9 boys won in Seattle, Oakland, Poughkeepsie, and then a different set of nine at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin were remarkable extraordinary athletic feats worthy of book treatment.

As a book about a notable slice of sporting history, this book may be compared to Doris Kearns Goodwin's 1998 "Wait Till Next Year" and Laura Hillenbrand's 2001 book "Seabiscuit" - though in my comparison this book comes in at best a very weak third.

With the paperback running to 404 pages, one wonders if it might have been more "riveting" if reduced to 300 or 250 pages. Does this book deserve an index running to 12 pages in small point type? Fortunately the publisher reduced in excess of a thousand endnotes to a mere 15 pages to save us from further ennui. One might wonder if this would have been greatly improved if Penguin Books had spent money on a major editing job to greatly improve its quality.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews515 followers
August 6, 2016
Vivid part of "eternal landscape of the past" embodying the "mighty hopes that make us men" and women*
Story of Glory, Evocative of Greek Mythology

Jesse Owens Wins Olympic Gold in 100 meter sprint, as Hitler watches on

1936 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team

You probably already know this book is about the majestic quest of the U.S. rowing team for Olympic gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I doubt I can add much to persuade you to read this outstanding book of gold and glory telling a story evocative of Greek mythology, a tale of nine young men from the University of Washington, their origins, their Odyssey into a land run by evil men, and the epic of their endurance, resilience, teamwork and victory. This is a book that I cannot help believe that I would have found just as rewarding if the rowing team had been from any Allied power in WWII, a war which obviously followed soon thereafter.

We can be grateful for writers like Mr. Brown, who so splendidly capture the near-mythical moments of the past.

If you haven't read this, I cannot prevail upon you enough how you might want to consider it, particularly with the Rio Olympics beginning this week.

*Borrowing phrases from Tennyson.
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