Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

First Line: This book was born on a cold, drizzly, late spring day when I clambered over the split-rail cedar fence that surrounds my pasture and made my way through wet woods to the modest frame house where Joe Rantz lay dying.
In 1936, nine working-class boys from the University of Washington went to the Berlin Olympics in a quest for the gold medal. Their sport: rowing, a sport of which George Yeoman Pocock said, "That is the formula for endurance and success: rowing with the heart and the head as well as physical strength." It is an emotional, mental, and physical sport which, in this particular case, asks that nine human beings be in perfect tune with each other.

Author Daniel James Brown does an excellent job of putting his story into the context of the world stage, a time in which Hitler was determined to become master of the world-- and also a time when the world was still in the grip of the Depression.

At the heart of The Boys in the Boat is Joe Rantz of the University of Washington rowing team. At the age of ten, he was abandoned by his parents. Joe's father was willing to follow the lead of his second wife, a woman who decided that there were too many mouths to feed and that this child had to go. At one point, she told him, "Make your own life, Joe. Stay out of ours." Brown builds his story from the boys' journals and vivid memories, and it's a true Cinderella story. These boys were competing in an elite sport normally thought of as belonging to the privileged rich of the East Coast. 

Often compared to Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, I found The Boys in the Boat more in tune with another of her books, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, with its emphasis on sport, the Depression, and a fascinating cast. As much as I savored the stories of the boys on the University of Washington rowing team, I also appreciated the in-depth look at the sport of rowing itself. I never knew how popular it was in the 1930s or how demanding it was.
If you're in the mood for a thrilling, eye-opening, often heart-wrenching, slice of history, I highly recommend The Boys in the Boat.  

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
eISBN: 9781101622742
Penguin Books © 2013
eBook, 417 pages
Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


  1. It does sound like a powerful story, Cathy, and actually did remind me of Seabiscuit. I know there's a film coming out (or is it out now?) about the story, too. I don't usually go for a lot of sports, but some stories transcend that.

    1. Yes, they do. And in this case, what Joe Rantz had to overcome was truly phenomenal.

  2. My husband bought and read this book a few years ago, but I never did. It's not really my thing, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Whenever I saw rowing on TV when I was young, I thought I'd probably do quite well in it, but the small farm towns of central Illinois aren't exactly bastions of rowing! LOL

  3. I enjoy watching the rowing when it gets shown during the Olympics. I'll have to remember this for some companion reading then.

  4. This is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years. At one point you couldn't get a copy from the library there were so many holds on it. Now I'm looking forward to watching the movie. :D


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