Archive | 10:49 AM

Book Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (5/5)

3 Dec

I was excited when my book club picked this one. I’ve heard a lot about it over the years and it sounded like one I’d like a lot. When it came down to the wire and if I’d finish it or not in time for my book club, I wished it was a little shorter. But I loved every minute of it.

Cover image via Amazon

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

Summary from Amazon:

It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.

As an atelete, I love stories about athletic achievement, even if it’s in a sport I don’t practice. I enjoyed reading about rowing, a sport I don’t know much about. I was able to find parallels to swimming and triathlon that helped me understand what the men were going through. I loved the details about setbacks and races, things that many sports have in common. I think a lot of the themes in this book were universal for sports and I enjoyed it a lot.

Joe was a great focus character for this book. Not only did he have to overcome the physical challenges of being an elite athlete, he had to overcome socioeconomic barriers to get to where he was. I was fascinated by the descriptions of how he reacted to the teasing his teammates gave him and how he overcame the poverty he was faced with. Every time I was shocked at the way his father and step-mother left him alone, I had to remind myself that this was a different time and a boy of his age had different ways to fend for himself that a boy today wouldn’t have. I was amazed at the resourcefulness of Joe and also jealous that he could raise enough money for a year of college in the summer!

Joyce was a favorite character of mine. I always enjoyed when she’d come up. She was such a genuine and caring person. She was brave to stick with Joe while he was going through so much and her support helped him stay motivated. I was impressed by how she moved to Seattle and worked to be near Joe. I was glad to hear she graduated herself. The way she interacted with Joe’s siblings was very sweet and made me realize she was going to be a good partner for someone with a heart as big as Joe.

I related a lot to the training side of this story. I was a competitive swimmer for 8 years and I’ve been doing triathlon for the past six years. Early mornings and sore muscles are part of my life as well so I could understand the grueling training regimines the boys were going through.

Daniel James Brown
Image via Amazon

The descriptions of the races were incredible in this book. I loved that a race could be an entire chapter. There are so many little moments that make up a race and it was great to hear it all given it’s due.

There wasn’t a part of this book I disliked. I thought it was all relevant and all came together to tell the story of the team and how hard they had to fight and how much they labored to get to where they were. I found it inspiring.

The audiobook was narrated by Edward Herrmann and I thought he did a wonderful job. He gave weight to the heavy moments and was lighthearted during happy times. He didn’t try to do voices which I thought was best for a nonfiction book like this. I see he’s done some Stegner novels as well so I might have to check him out again.

The boys from Washington were underdogs and everyone loves an underdog story. Their win was the result of a shift in Washington that prioritized rowing and made them believe they could do what many thought was impossible. They proved that Western rowers could be dominant and that the small state of Washington should be on the map. It’s crazy  now to think of Seattle as a small town with a small school.

Writer’s Takeaway: I enjoyed the back-and-forth that Brown had with the boys in Washington and developments in Berlin. It would have been difficult to read the story of the Olympics and not think about Berlin on the brink of WWII. Hearing about the propaganda and playacting that the Nazis did to prepare for a stage made it fascinating to hear about these boys going to Germany and seeing what they did. It helps you understand why people didn’t believe the stories coming out of Germany and why the world was slow to react to Hitler. It was a great balance for the book.

A really enjoyable read for those who like history or athletics. Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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