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The Amateurs

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating details ·  920 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
In The Amateurs, David Halberstam once again displays the unique brand of reportage, both penetrating and supple, that distinguished his bestselling The Best and the Brightest and October 1964. This time he has taken for his subject the dramatic and special world of amateur rowing. While other athletes are earning fortunes in salaries and-or endorsements, the oarsmen gain ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 7th 1996 by Ballantine Books (first published 1985)
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Michael
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a bit outside my usual reading, but back in another life, when I was a collegiate rower and perpetually sore, tired, beleaguered, and intensely happy, this was the book we'd pass among ourselves and pore over with the same monkish devotion we had to our sport. It was the closest thing we had to an answer to the question "why" that we'd often ask ourselves at 5 am, in those hushed pre-dawn hours when we'd sit and sway in a rickety bus on our way to the most physically punishing workout an ...more
Sam
Sep 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Sportsmen, rowers.
Recommended to Sam by: Rowing coach
Shelves: rowing
A very interesting and reveting narrative. As you might know from my 'about me' section of my profile, I really enjoy rowing and find it the ultimate test of my body and mind. This story depicted exactly what rowing is like for me. The Amateurs by David Halberstam

Written in 1985 by David Halberstam, The Amateurs tells the story of four young men, all vying for the coveted '84 Olympic team and ultimately the Olympic gold medal. In telling this story, Halberstam takes as his focus the 1984 single sculls trials in Princeton. The
...more
Tom Gase
Mar 03, 2010 rated it liked it
After reading David Halberstam's "The Amateurs" I am convinced that the man could have written a book on bird watching and would have made it interesting.

Halberstam is one of my favorite authors of all time, having written classics such as "Summer of 49", "Teammates", "War in a Time of Peace", "The Coldest Winter" and "Playing for Keeps." So when I saw Halberstam's "The Amateurs" for a book at Green Apple, I picked it up without a second thought--even though the book was on rowing.

In this book,
...more
Will Hoyer
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm not much for long reviews but I was a little disappointed in this, maybe because I had recently read The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, which I found to be a much more interesting and detailed look at the sport and the back stories of the rowers. Perhaps I'm being overly harsh on this because I'm comparing The Amateurs to that. Both are great looks at a sport which I think I would have loved had I gotten into when I was young.
Karin
Aug 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Like so many, I read this book shortly after having read Boys in the Boat. It is the "other-side-of-the-coin" book to the romantic depiction of rowing described in BITB. Gone is the drama (in the 1930s, stories of rowers made the front pages of newspapers all over the world, and people cared about the sport... by contrast in the 1980s, rowing has become a little-known amateur sport barely hitting the radar of any sports enthusiast in this country), the camaraderie (these are the loners... the sc ...more
Aaron
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A rower is a rower for life

I really couldn't put this down. It is so well written as you grow to know these men, rowers and relate them back to yourself. My life experience as a rower was eerily similar and I found myself nodding and laughing out loud throughout, even though I never reached such heights. This level of commitment to things so internally driven at such high cost, has been something that I've always struggled to explain to others and that the world largely fails to understand. This
...more
UMass Dad in SLC
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think rowers are nuts. I personally am not a rower but my son is. He once rowed 26.2 miles on an erg nonstop. And all for what? Because a group on his team challenged themselves to. There was no money it in, no awards, just the simple satisfaction of having completed something crazy hard. Kudos to those who train day after day yet their accomplishments typically are unheralded.
Tubs
Mar 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
okay, i'm going to divide the book into three parts, but first, here's
what i had, going into this book:

the dad of the family i nanny for (let's call him dad 1) went to yale for undergrad and harvard business school after that. he's about ten years older than (or ahead of) most of the characters in this book. he has a friend in town (dad 2), the father of his sons' former classmate, and he (dad 1) has said that this guy (dad 2) is the only guy in town he can "intellectually relate to," or "the
...more
Jack
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
A captivating story about a small tribe of obsessive competitors. Halberstam (of journalistic fame with chops for hard hitting reporting on the Vietnam war) writes what seems to be a passion piece on this weird little tribe of mostly east coast ivy league graduates in whom a rare overlap of genetic blessings (mad VO2 max's), unmatched drive and competitive spirit, and a cultish purist ethic.

The striking thing about these world class rowers is that 1 - they are so dedicated to a sport that causes
...more
Patrick  O'Rourke
Feb 22, 2017 rated it liked it
A strange book in some ways. Halberstam writes brilliantly about a non-event; America's rowing in the 1984 Olympics, which the Eastern block boycotted. He seems intent on focusing on the effort to get to the Olympics and the sacrifices that the sport, which can easily be viewed as elitist, demands of its participants.
Jackie
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Though I read this fresh off of Olympic fever, this story would be a solid read anytime. Halberstam frames a story about pure amateur sport and what drives people to seek physical dominance without the lure of monetary gain around the 1984 US Olympic rowing team.

Rowing was an exceptional choice, as I doubt any of us can name any truly great rowers, proving just how little fame was to be gained in pursuing the sport. How many Nike athletes or Wheaties box cover stars ever sculled? Nobody's think
...more
Benjaminxjackson
This book gave an interesting look into the motivations of Olympians who compete in a sport that does not lead to money and fame. The world of rowers sounds very insular, but Halberstam made it possible to look inside of their minds.

The taciturn nature of rowers became evident to me when I asked a friend of the family about his experiences, and he wouldn't say much about them, even at the lower level at which he rowed.

Returning to the book, what came through was the level of commitment the rowe
...more
Dulguun
Apr 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I finished the book within 2 evenings. It is such an extraordinary book that illustrates what rowing really is. When you row the feeling of pain is so overwhelming that it is even beyond the name of pain is given. In the book, it says:

"During their college years the oarsmen put in terribly long hours, often showing up at the boathouse at 6:00am for preclass practices. Both physically and psychologically, they were separated from their classmates. Events that seemed earth-shattering to them-for e
...more
Paul
Nov 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For several years, I spent two to three hours a week on an indoor rowing machine, so this book about the formation of the 1984 U.S. men’s sculling team piqued my interest.

The jacket blurb on my paperback copy says that “The focus of David Halberstam’s fierce and penetrating account is the 1984 Olympic single-scull trials.” Thankfully, that’s inaccurate. The trials occur just over half-way through the narrative, which follows the story all the way through to the Olympics themselves.

Having some ex
...more
Kevin O'brien
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good, quick read. If you have friends or family involved in rowing this book gives a great perspective on the quest to be the best and the sacrifices required to get there.
Robin Schoenthaler
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
Quite the insider look at (mostly) Ivy Leaguer scholar/athletes pushing themselves beyond belief to get onto Olympic rowing teams. It is not a world with which I have any familiarity, so it was at times (jarringly) eye-opening (eg the moment when one of them ponders whether he should marry a woman who is also athletic and gorgeous and brilliant so they can combine their gene pools). Also some good background stories about families and what it took to get where they got.

But in the end I didn't fe
...more
Wouter Verster
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Halberstam is certainly an accomplished journalist. I just re-read this book after some twenty five years. Very well written and it deals with all elements that come with practicing this wonderful sport, the doubts about technique, the constant quest for improvement, the ambition, jealousness, clash of characters, managing expectations. It just all comes together in the beautifully written book. The chapters are written in such a way that the end of each chapter holds a cliff hanger, wanting you ...more
Piyush Chaurasia
Aug 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
The sports of rowing - which historically is absent from the media coverage, gets a center stage in this masterpiece. The story is about a group of rowers with different backgrounds, geographical locations, culture and style, united by same goal of getting into the USA team for 1984 Olympics. Book essentially covers all the aspects right from the family background to the contemporary reasons for each rower to be where they are presently. A fresh perspective away from the big money sports. The cl ...more
Chris
Jan 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book; read it straight through without putting it down. I was surprised that a friend (and a rower, nonetheless), wasn't as excited about this book as I was. Then I realized that I identified with the characters in this book, and their relentless (probably skewed and misguided) pursuit of an athletic goal. Since we usually like to read things that reflect our points of view, I think it's clear why I liked this so much. Still, Halberstam's sportswriting, as always, is limpid ...more
Kate Craig
Feb 16, 2014 rated it liked it
The book doesn't flow well and Halberstam's sentences are sometimes poorly constructed. However, the content was intriguing. I enjoyed reading about the history of the different scullers that vied to compete in the 1984 Olympics. These men put everything on the line, love, careers, families, to train at camp and then compete in a race that would deal their fate in the history books forever. In spite of the poor writing, it's definitely worth the read, especially if you have a soft spot in your h ...more
Sbrum
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
David Halberstam at his lucid best. The present day true amateur athletes, those without financial support from either sponsors, national organizations, or endorsements, rarely exist. David takes us back a few decades to a sport, crew, where only "amateurs" resided. He recounts the rowers' challenge of training and providing existential finances for themselves. They trained for love of sport, competitive desire, and the goal of winning. A wonderful study of athletic psyche' in a sport of true am ...more
Jup
Aug 19, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh my. This is the longest short book I have ever read. How is it possible to make the story of world class athletes competing for placement on an Olympic racing team so mind numbingly boring?? By the time the author finally wound his meandering way to the olympics, I truly didn't care who ended up on the team and who won. I didn't care what happened to them after the race. I hope I never have to hear another word about the rowers, their families or their coaches. Skip this one and read the labe ...more
Tom
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
You may wonder why an author of Halberstam's caliber would take the time to knock off a couple hundred pages about a handful of rowers hoping to qualify for the 1984 Olympics, especially since he wrote this about 30 years before "The Boys in the Boat" raised awareness of the sport. After reading a few pages I stopped wondering and just enjoyed the reading. It is a terrific story, hard to put down.
Meredith
Oct 13, 2014 rated it liked it
I preferred Brad Lewis's autobio "Assault on Lake Casitas" due to its writing style and deeply personal voice. But in terms of showing a less biased view of events, this is a good book. The raw politics among the young men of the 1984 U.S. Men's Olympic sculling team makes for interesting reading, and The Amateurs provides an even treatment of each athlete and his background, although I didn't feel quite immersed in the story or inspired as I have been by other books on competitive rowing.
Patrick
Nov 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Great book. As a collegite runner, I readily identified with competing in a lonely sport with no hope for financial gain. Halberstam is amazing at accurately capturing the inner motivations of the atheletes. His writing style is dry, but somehow you really care about each of the athletes and how they fair. I kept reading, page after page, to find out how they did. I could care less about rowing, but highly recommend this book.
Scott
Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Yet another excellent book about rowing. The tight prose is expressive and captures quite powerfully the diversity of the personalities, abilities, pettiness, psychology, emotion, and power that each oarsman brings to a boat. I found Halberstam's concise description of the sport to be illuminating, especially where he points out how difficult and nearly impossible it is to compare the feats of rowers over the years.
Koz
Dec 28, 2007 rated it liked it
An insightful look into the world of rowing, with a particular focus on the strange obsession that seems to come over rowers of all levels of expertise. I rowed in high school and my first reaction every time I see a body of water is still, "Would that make for good rowing?" Not as exciting as Brad Alan Lewis' "Assault on Lake Casitas" as far as narratives about the 1984 Olympics go, but a good read nonetheless.
Sarah
Aug 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: athletes, or anyone interested in a good character study
This is the book I hope to write someday.

I had no interest in rowing (and little interest in reading about sports) before picking up this book. I decided to read it to help me prepare to write my own article about rowing. Even as someone with little interest in the topic, I was immediately taken with the story and mainly with the in-depth way Halberstam brought his "characters" alive. This is the book that recently resparked my interest in creative non-fiction.
Matthew Dixon
Sep 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Halberstam's skill as a writer and documentarian never ceases to amaze. Though many of his books ostensibly revolve around sports (in this case rowing), they are always about so much more - about people and friendship and human nature. In 200 pages, he paints indelible portraits of a group of people who put themselves through incredible hardships with no notion of material gain to become great rowers because something inside of them impels them. Told with grace, style and wit.
Nate
Feb 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Olympic rowing (crew) is not a sport we see featured on Sportscenter. It was fascinating to read about the dedication these athletes put into a sport for which they don't get paid, don't become famous. They are doing it solely for the love of sport. Also I was amazed by the physicality of the sport, if I remember right they would have work-outs in which they would burn 5000 Calories at a time. Plus, anything Halberstam wrote about sports is worth reading.
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David Halberstam (April 10, 1934–April 23, 2007) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author known for his early work on the Vietnam War and his later sports journalism.

Halberstam graduated from Harvard University with a degree in journalism in 1955 and started his career writing for the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Mississippi. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, writing for
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