The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a New York Times bestseller by Daniel James Brown that was published in 2013.

Summary

The Boys in the Boat tells the story of the University of Washington’s 8-man rowing team that shocked the world by winning the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

In an age when Americans enjoy dozens of cable sports channels, when professional athletes often command annual salaries in the tens of millions of dollars, and when the entire nation all but shuts down for a virtual national holiday on Super Bowl Sunday, it’s hard to fully appreciate how important the rising prominence of the University of Washington’s crew was to the people of Seattle in 1935.

They were the poor sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers coming into adulthood during the Great Depression. Rowing was thought of as a prestigious sport for upper class boys on the East Coast. Through exhaustive hard work, determination, and team work, the UW rowing team overcame some impressively tough obstacles to become not just American, but world, champions.

The US Olympic rowing team in 1936
The US Olympic rowing team in 1936

Review

I went into this book as someone who knew nothing about rowing, wasn’t a sports person, and preferred fiction to non-fiction. The fact that I really enjoyed this book should tell you something about how compelling The Boys in the Boat is.

It was maddeningly difficult, as if eight man standing on a floating log that threatened to roll over whenever they moved had to hit eight golf balls at exactly the same moment, with exactly the same amount of force, directing the ball to exactly the same point on a green, and doing so over and over, every two or three seconds.

There is so much detail in this story, coming directly from the rowers, their families, diaries, video footage, and other records. Although the book focuses primarily on one rower, Joe Rantz, it also tells about his dysfunctional family, teammates, coaches, the man who crafted the rowing shells, and the time period (the Great Depression, Hitler, the Dust Bowl, etc.).

Even if you don’t think this is the type of book for you, I encourage you to read it.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Rowing (obviously)
  • Pacific Northwest history (1930’s)
  • Rooting for the underdog
  • The rise of Nazi Germany
  • The Great Depression

Book trailer