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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics Paperback – May 27, 2014
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“For those who like adventure stories straight-up, THE BOYS IN THE BOAT… is this year’s closest approximation of Unbroken….It’s about the University of Washington’s crew team: “Nine working-class boys from the American West who at the 1936 Olympics showed the world what true grit really meant.” —New York Times
“If you imagined a great regatta of books about rowing, then Brown’s BOYS IN THE BOAT certainly makes the final heat….”—Boston Globe
“The astonishing story of the UW’s 1936 eight-oar varsity crew and its rise from obscurity to fame,…The individual stories of these young men are almost as compelling as the rise of the team itself. Brown excels at weaving those stories with the larger narrative, all culminating in the 1936 Olympic Games…A story this breathtaking demands an equally compelling author, and Brown does not disappoint. The narrative rises inexorably, with the final 50 pages blurring by with white-knuckled suspense as these all-American underdogs pull off the unimaginable.”—The Seattle Times
“Cogent history…, and a surprisingly suspenseful tale of triumph.”—USA Today
“This riveting tale of beating the odds (and the Germans) at the 1936 Olympics is a rousing story of American can-do-ism. It’s also a portrait of the nine boys who first rowed together for the University of Washington, and of the one in particular who made the sport his family and his home.” —Parade
“This riveting and inspiring saga evokes that of Seabiscuit…Readers need neither background nor interest in competitive rowing to be captivated by this remarkable and beautifully crafted history. Written with the drama of a compelling novel, it's a quintessentially American story that burnishes the esteem in which we embrace what has come to be known as the Greatest Generation.”—Associated Press
“A stirring tale of nine Depression-era athletes beating the odds and their inner demons to compete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You can Google the result and spoil the sport, but that won’t dull the many pleasures in Daniel James Brown’s colorful, highly readable celebration of a grueling collegiate challenge.”—Bloomberg News
“Brown’s book juxtaposes the coming together of the Washington crew team against the Nazis’ preparations for the Games, weaving together a history that feels both intimately personal and weighty in its larger historical implications. This book has already been bought for cinematic development, and it’s easy to see why: When Brown, a Seattle-based nonfiction writer, describes a race, you feel the splash as the oars slice the water, the burning in the young men’s muscles and the incredible drive that propelled these rowers to glory.” —Smithsonian Magazine
“Those who enjoy reading about Olympic history or amateur or collegiate sports will savor Brown’s superb book…”
—Library Journal (Starred)
“[Brown] offers a vivid picture of the socioeconomic landscape of 1930s America (brutal), the relentlessly demanding effort required of an Olympic-level rower, the exquisite brainpower and materials that go into making a first-rate boat, and the wiles of a coach who somehow found a way to, first beat archrival University of California, then conquer a national field of qualifiers, and finally, defeat the best rowing teams in the world. A book that informs as it inspires.”
“An evocative, cinematic prose… [Brown] makes his heroes’ struggle as fascinating as the best Olympic sagas.”
“The story deserves a more visible place in history, and Brown has brought it to light in a way that will appeal to readers regardless of their knowledge of our interest in rowing or wooden boats. It’s a story about universal human values: striving for excellence and the triumph of teamwork.”—WoodenBoat Magazine
“Every sport needs its laureate. With THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, crew has found its voice in Daniel James Brown, who tells a thrilling, heart-thumping tale of a most remarkable band of rowing brothers who upstaged Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. Well-told history, packed with suspense and a likable bunch of underdogs at the heart of an improbable triumph.”—Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Time
“For years I’ve stared and wondered about the old wooden boat resting on the top rack of the UW boathouse. I knew the names of the men that rowed it but never really knew who they were. After reading this book, I feel like I got to relive their journey and witness what it was truly like earning a seat in that Pocock shell. The passion and determination showed by Joe and the rest of the boys in the boat are what every rower aspires to. I will never look at that wooden boat the same again.”—Mary Whipple, Olympic gold medal–winning coxswain, women’s eight-oared crew, 2008 and 2012
“THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is not only a great and inspiring true story; it is a fascinating work of history.”
—Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea
“In 1936 nine working-class American boys burst from their small towns into the international limelight, unexpectedly wiping the smile off Adolph Hitler’s face by beating his vaunted German team to capture the Olympic gold medal. Daniel James Brown has written a robust, emotional snapshot of an era, a book you will recommend to your best friends.”
—James Bradley, author of Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys
“THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is an exciting blend of history and Olympic sport. I was drawn in as much by the personal stories as I was by the Olympic glory. A must read for anyone looking to be inspired!”
—Luke Mcgee, USA Rowing Men’s National Team Coach
“I really can’t rave enough about this book. Daniel James Brown has not only captured the hearts and souls of the University of Washington rowers who raced in the 1936 Olympics, he has conjured up an era of history. Brown’s evocation of Seattle in the Depression years is dazzling, his limning of character, especially the hardscrabble hero Joe Rantz, is novelistic, his narration of the boat races and the sinister-exalted atmosphere of Berlin in 1936 is cinematic. I read the last fifty pages with white knuckles, and the last twenty-five with tears in my eyes. History, sports, human interest, weather, suspense, design, physics, oppression and inspiration—THE BOYS IN THE BOAT has it all and Brown does full justice to his terrific material. This is Chariots of Fire with oars.”
—David Laskin, author of The Children’s Blizzard and The Long Way Home
“A lovingly crafted saga of sweat and idealism that raised goosebumps from the first page. I was enthralled by the story’s play of light and shadow, of mortality and immortality, and its multidimensional recreation of the pursuit of excellence. This meditation on human frailty and possibility sneaks up on you until it rushes past with the speed of an eight-oared boat.” —Laurence Bergreen, author of Columbus and Over the Edge of the World
“Daniel Brown’s book tells the dramatic story of the crew that set the stage for Seattle emerging as a world-class city. Their lives define the tradition that is still University of Washington rowing today.”
—Bob Ernst, director of rowing, University of Washington
About the Author
Daniel James Brown is the author of two previous nonfiction books, The Indifferent Stars Above and Under a Flaming Sky, which was a finalist for a Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He has taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University. He lives outside Seattle.
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The research is mostly based on primary resources, including interviews with some members who were still living as the book was pulled together. Family members did supply additional information to make this undertaking feel solid and well thought out.
Concepts from Daniel Brown to consider that are mixed into the story to teach all of us: 1) One of the fundamental challenges in rowing is that when any one member of a crew goes into a slump the entire crew goes with him. 2) There are certain laws of physics by which all crew coaches live and die. The speed of a racing shell is determined primarily by two factors: the power produced by the combined strokes of the oars, and the stroke rate, the number of strokes the crew takes each minute. 3) To defeat an adversary who was your equal, maybe even your superior, it wasn't necessarily enough just to give your all from start to finish. You had to master your opponent mentally. When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something he did not- that down in your core you still had something in reserve, something you had not yet shown. 4) The things that held them together--trust in one another, mutual respect, humility, fair play, watching out for one another--those were also part of what America meant to all of them. There are other great ideas to ponder in this epic almost 400 page, could-not-put-down story.
I am not giving away anything by telling you that they DO win Gold at the 1936 Olympics. It is HOW they did it that is so darn exciting. Even knowing the end result does not diminish this bigger than life adventure. This is a must read, period.
Daniel James Brown has beautifully crafted a nonfiction book with all the elements that make a great novel: gripping plot, unforgettable characters, dramatic conflict, and heart-pounding suspense. Injecting suspense into a story where the outcome is known is quite a trick, but Brown accomplishes it superlatively.
We meet the nine boys as college freshmen at the University of Washington in 1933. In the middle of the Great Depression, most of them are valiantly trying to stay afloat financially in order to stay in school. None had ever rowed anything larger than a rowboat; the main incentive in trying out for crew was the possibility of a part-time campus job if they made the team - no athletic scholarships here. The story follows one boy in particular, Joe Rantz, whose childhood deprivations rival those of Oliver Twist and who had to resort to some enterprising artful dodging of his own just to stay alive. The nine boys, their brilliant but frustrated coach Al Ulbrickson, and their team guru, renowned boat builder George Pocock, overcome obstacle after obstacle in their quest to represent the U.S. and win gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As the best storytellers do, the author kept me continually on the edge of my seat; just as soon as one incredibly hard challenge- miserable training weather, economic hardships, wily opponents, devious Nazis - is surmounted, another even more daunting one is thrown in their path.
Seamlessly juxtaposed with the crew cliffhanger is the story of Hitler's engineering of the 1936 Olympics as a showcase for Nazi Germany, removing all traces of anti-Semitism and presenting Berlin as squeaky-clean and as wholesome as Disneyland.
Many light moments are interspersed with the strife and drama. My favorite is an incredible adventure the boys had when they took the coach's launch out onto the Hudson River on an evening before the national championship Poughkeepsie Regatta. I won't spoil it for you here, but what happened to them then could never happen now; it's one of the many unforgettable anecdotes in this book.
In fact, many of the elements in this story are incredible. If this had been a work of fiction, I might have found fault with the author for exaggerating at times in order to emphasize a plot point. But in fact, Daniel James Brown did meticulous and exhaustive research, and the events portrayed here are no author's fabrication - it all really happened! Brown's skill in relating this true story to make it seem as if you're reading an enthralling novel, is what elevates "The Boys in the Boat" to the extraordinary level. Don't miss this remarkable, inspiring book!
I must say that it started out a bit slowly as a lot of the foundation was being laid and it didn't pull me in immediately like some books do but I stuck with it and I was glad that I did. By the time I was about a third of the way through, I was totally sucked in. It is a book that really has something for everyone -- compelling history (Nazi Germany, 1936 Olympics, the Depression era), athletic training and competition (who knew that the sport of rowing could be so fascinating), and compelling stories of individuals that overcame insurmountable odds. I was truly disappointed to see this book end.