"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. Read more...
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More About The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James BrownOverviewFor 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
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"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."
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-04-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Doughty rowers heave against hard times and Nazis in this rousing sports adventure. Brown (Under a Flaming Sky) follows the exploits of the University of Washington’s eight-man crew, whose national dynasty culminated in a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Brown tells it as an all-American story of humble working-class boys squaring off against a series of increasingly odious class and political foes: their West Coast rivals at Berkeley; the East Coast snobs at the Poughkeepsie championship regatta; and ultimately the German team, backed by Goebbels and his sinisterly choreographed Olympic propaganda. The narrative’s affecting center is Joe Rantz, a young every-oarsman who wrestles with the psychic wounds inflicted on him by poverty and abandonment during the Great Depression. For this nautical version of Chariots of Fire, Brown crafts an evocative, cinematic prose (“their white blades flashed above the water like the wings of sea birds flying in formation”) studded with engrossing explanations of rowing technique and strategy, exciting come-from-behind race scenes, and the requisite hymns to “mystic bands of trust and affection” forged on the water. Brown lays on the aura of embattled national aspiration good and thick, but he makes his heroes’ struggle as fascinating as the best Olympic sagas. Photos. Agent: Dorian Karchman, WME. (June 4)BookPage Reviews
Rowing for home
Joe Rantz ended up in one of the finest eight-man crews ever to make it to the Olympics largely because he needed a janitor’s job to pay for college. After a poverty-stricken, affection-deprived boyhood, he was trying desperately to earn enough money to get through the University of Washington. Earning a spot on the rowing team guaranteed a part-time campus job. So in 1933, he tried out for crew, and in 1936, he and his boatmates won gold in Berlin.
Author Daniel James Brown had the good luck to encounter Rantz at the end of his long life. Brown’s interviews with Rantz and, after his death, with his daughter, form the heart of The Boys in the Boat, an inspirational yarn that joins books like Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time as a reminder of how bad it can get and how tough ordinary Americans can be.
The 1936 University of Washington crew that beat the Italians and Germans at Hitler’s Olympics was no rich-boy endeavor. Big, strong young men coming of age during the Great Depression, most of them had worked in logging camps, farms, even building the Grand Coulee Dam. Theirs was the Seabiscuit of rowing shells, at a time when rowing’s popularity as a spectator sport was sky-high.
The boys rowed for two men who became legends: head coach Al Ulbrickson and freshman coach Tom Bolles. They worked in tandem with George Pocock, an extraordinary Englishman who revolutionized shell-building and rowing technique—and, along the way, gave Rantz the advice about trust and character that changed his life.
Brown weaves the crew’s rollercoaster of ups and downs with the parallel preparations in Germany, where the Nazis temporarily suspended their campaign of terror to convince the world that they weren’t so bad. But ultimately, Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film Olympia captured a different kind of triumph of the will, as the boat, guided by the flawless strategy of a coxswain of Jewish descent, came from behind to beat the teams they would be fighting on the battlefield in a few years.
Rantz had a particularly horrific childhood, marred not only by death and economic hardship, but also by a stepmother who literally threw him out of the house. When he joined the UW crew, he found a true home. “It was when he tried to talk about ‘the boat’ that his words began to falter and tears welled up in his bright eyes,” writes Brown. The “boys” are all gone now; what a sportswriter called their “poem of motion” lives on.