A nonfiction account of how a scrappy crew team from the University of Washington clawed its way to victory in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
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I just knew that I would love this book about the 1936 American crew team from the University of Washington that clawed its way to Olympic gold, but for some reason I put off reading it. Let me tell you: I’m so glad I grabbed the audiobook. It’s wonderfully narrated by the late Edward Herrmann (Richard from Gilmore Girls–which I also happen to be rewatching now for the millionth time).
The efforts of the scrappy but inexperienced rowers, coaches, and their boat builder mentor are inspiring and fascinating. The historical context only adds to it; you’ll definitely want to find the propaganda film of the Olympic race put out by Hitler’s favorite filmmaker after you finish the book.
Along with the story of the team, this book goes deep into the intricacies and highs and lows of the sport of rowing, including the physical and mental demands (arguably greater than any other sport I’ve done, including swimming). As a former college rower (though only for a year–I was sidelined by a bout of mono), it brought me back to the frigid early winter mornings, running through the streets of Minneapolis and gliding across the Mississippi River. I loved every detail.
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.