Customer Reviews: The Amateurs: The Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal
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on March 7, 2002
With the Summer Olympics coming up, this book should be read and savored for its extraordinary writing quality and insights.
As a college oarsman (single sculls, then coxswain, bow and stroke of an eight), as a persnickety reader since childhood and as a writer of 20+ books, I approached the work of non-rower Halberstam with skepticism, reluctance to be touched by him. Was I wrong!
Rowing is one of the most unusual and difficult sports, and it seems remote to outsider, almost mechanized. Insiders know the real world under that surface: the loneliness of training, the necessity for precise skills and relentless focus, the gut-wrenching pre-race [jitters] and fear that vanishes at each start, the sense of being asked to perform brutal acts on one's own body, the appalling effort (especially for stroke) of trying to stage an attack or recover from being in arrears, the ectasy and elation of winning, the soul-searing agony of losing with its message of inadequacy, of being bested by a superior human or group of humans, the need to get back and try harder, to push the body further and further into pain.
Halberstam captured it all, and went deeper, into the minds and hearts of some of the greatest oars the U.S. has produced, to bring back a masterpiece of reporting. He managed to show the idiosyncratic nature of dedicated single-scull oarsmen, and the way these loners look at their lives and chosen sport.
As a rower, I was consumed by this book. As a critical reader, I was entirely satisfied. As a writer, I was envious of Halberstam's skills. My only regret is that rowing is not perceived as the great participant and spectator sport that it is, and that too few of us have the chance to enjoy it in either sense.
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on November 14, 1998
This is easily the best "sports" book I have ever read. On the recommendation of a close friend and former Harvard rower, I dove into this book thinking only that I would know a few stories about a sport burried in the agate type of a few sports pages. I was wrong. As a competitive marathon runner, I related to everyone in this book. I know what Tiff Wood goes through every morning with his training. I understand why he does what he does to the dismay of family, friends, and teachers. Why would someone with an Ivy League education waste all that to row in relative obscurity? Why place money, family, and the other trappings of "normal" American life on hold? Because. Because some people aspire to things a little more than measly paper. Because some want to accomplish things. Because some haven't given up on dreams.
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on December 31, 1997
When I first started rowing in 1987 I happened across a copy of the Amateurs at a local bookstore. thrilled with the fact I found a book on my new sport and written by one of our best journalists I devoured it in a scant five hours. Even though I was a novice to the sport I found that Habelstram captured the pain, fears, joys, and dissapointments of boat racing perfectly. Later as a coach I would reccomend this book to my rowers so they could see that the feelings they were experiencing are not unique to them, but also shared by even the elite scullers that Halberstram observed. I also reccomended this book to the parents of my rowers so they could better understand the level of commitment it takes to row . Halberstram has done a rare thing, he has written about a subject so precisley that it will not be scoffed at by those who row, and those who do not row will not be lost in the explanation of technique and rowing history.
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on December 4, 1999
It is incredible that David Halberstam, a non-rower and outsider to the cliquish or solitary types found in boathouses, was able to write such a penetrating and accurate picture of the amateurs in this book.
His descriptions of the feeling of rowing, of ``swing,'' and of the bizarre politics of single sculling are right on the money. They are recognizable to long-time rowers and comprehensible to those who have never rowed before. His character depictions are at times almost frighteningly dead-on.
To put it succinctly, Halberstam gets everything right in this book. If you are a rower or any other sort of athlete, or if you want to read a masterfully told story of competition, read this book.
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on January 20, 2005
For someone who's not a rower, Halberstam gets most of this right - the technique, the atmosphere, the obsessiveness (which is common to all levels of rowing, just intensified among Olympians). In some ways the selection for the '84 Olympics was a crux point in the US rowing system, and Halberstam shows just why. If you want to get a view into a sport most people ignore, written by a top author, this is a good place to do it - same if you just want a peek in the mind of world-class athletes. If you want to really learn about the 84' Olympics selection camp, I'd recommend reading this in combination with Brad Lewis' "Assault at Lake Casitas", for a another viewpoint from one of the main actors (and the '84 doubles gold medalist).

Incidentally, the movie Rowing Through was based on The Amateurs. It's quite divergent from the book, but not too bad if you can ignore a good bit of gratuitous sex and some hardly-Olympic-caliber rowing in the scenes on the water.
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on March 26, 2003
Someone recommended this book to me one day during the Olympics. I read it straight through at one setting. It is the story of a lonely sport, rowing, and the men who endure incredible pain and sacrifice just for the chance of competition. These are not men who party at night, sleep late and wave to the cameras. No, they are dedicated, serious students who have been called to wield an oar.
The author shares a trait with Paul Johnson and Daniel Boorstin- that is the art of intertwining personal tales within the plot of his story in such a way that both complement each other. If you want a good beach book, this is the one.
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on January 24, 2014
I have read many of Halberstams books and have found them all to be well written. I guess I'm just not a sculling aficionado , for I found this book so one dimensional and boring. I didn't know anything about horses and racing whe I read Hillenbrands book on Seabiscuit. But her writing got me so "into" that world I couldn't stop reading. I expected the same from Halberstam and this book.
Sorry, not even close. Page after page describing each athlete and all the adjectives were the same - distant, aggressive, rude, closed off,competitive, friendless,suspicious,angry- lots of anger. By the time the boys were selected for the Olympics, I didn't even care anymore.
Sorry, this book didn't even come close for me. Not one of Halberstam's best.
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on September 2, 1998
Halberstam poignantly captures the beauty, grace, intensity, zen and agony of the sport. I gave the book to my girlfriend to read so she'd understand why I get up before dawn in rain, snow or perfect calm to sit on my bottom in a boat and go backwards. It's also a fabulous portrait of amateur athletes, especially Olympic athletes, who push themselves to their limits not because they seek wealth, or glory or fame, but because they seek excellence. Fans of sports, biography and great writing will love this book.
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on June 9, 2014
I picked up this book after reading and loving Daniel Pink's book Drive about motivation and rewards. The Amateurs was one of the titles listed in Pink's book to read for more about intrinsic motivation. Rowing is not an attention-grabbing sport, especially in 1984 when the story takes place between athletes vying for the Olympic team. Overall this was a great story with considerable drama as the book winds down. Early chapters tended to get a bit tedious while learning the main characters but it came together in the second half of the book. Highly recommended for sports fans who long for the purer days of competition and drive to excel that seem lacking with today's athletes so often.
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on October 1, 2014
A well written account of young men in quest of a Olympic medal in the 1984 Olympics. The challenge that they faced was to beat out the others seeking to represent the USA in rowing single sculls. While the winner of the competition fails to medal in Olympic finals (he comes in 4th), one of the others ends up with a gold medal in the two-man boats. An intriguing story of the trials and tribulations of these men as they struggle with both physical and mental anguish in their pursuit.

A more recent book on rowing, The Boys in the Boat, written about the Washington 8 man-crew heading to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, has both the drama of the rowing but also several other parallel sub plots. It is a well written and compelling story whether you are interested in the sport of rowing or just like great books.
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