Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Boys in the Boat

Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

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.(from Netgalley)

My Thoughts

We meet Joe Rantz and the other boys in the boat at the beginning of their freshman year at the University of Washington, 1933. We follow them through each year of rowing, leading up to the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi dominated Germany. Along the way, we learn so many things. The author provides significant detail regarding the art of rowing and the construction of the racing boats. He touches on important aspects of the time period - the great Dust Bowl, the Depression, the building of the Grand Coulee Dam. And sadly, the rising power of Adolph Hilter and Nazi Germany.

The author provides such an intimate look into Joe’s life that I felt like I knew him personally. My heart ached for Joe as he struggled to overcome his personal demons. But ultimately, as with the other boys, Joe persevered to achieve his goal.

I love books like this! It is such an inspiring and uplifting story. It is a testimony to hard work, teamwork, holding on to your dreams and never giving up. Even though I knew the end result, my heart still pounded while reading about each race the boys were in. And the final race at the Olympics - what a nail biter!

I’m always amazed when a writer can take a piece of history and turn it into a page turning, thoroughly entertaining, story. Bravo Mr. Brown, for a job well done. This is a story I will remember for a long, long time.

I am grateful to Penguin Group - Viking, via Netgalley, for giving me the opportunity to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

Publish date: June 4, 2013.

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