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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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Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat is the kind of nonfiction book that reads like a novel. Centered around the life of Joe Rantz—a farmboy from the Pacific Northwest who was literally abandoned as a child—and set during the Great Depression, The Boys in the Boat is a character-driven story with a natural crescendo that will have you racing to the finish. In 1936, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team raced its way to the Berlin Olympics for an opportunity to challenge the greatest in the world. How this team, largely composed of rowers from “foggy coastal villages, damp dairy farms, and smoky lumber towns all over the state,” managed to work together and sacrifice toward their goal of defeating Hitler’s feared racers is half the story. The other half is equally fascinating, as Brown seamlessly weaves in the story of crew itself. This is fast-paced and emotional nonfiction about determination, bonds built by teamwork, and what it takes to achieve glory. —Chris Schluep--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* If Jesse Owens is rightfully the most famous American athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, repudiating Adolf Hitler’s notion of white supremacy by winning gold in four events, the gold-medal-winning effort by the eight-man rowing team from the University of Washington remains a remarkable story. It encompasses the convergence of transcendent British boatmaker George Pocock; the quiet yet deadly effective UW men’s varsity coach, Al Ulbrickson; and an unlikely gaggle of young rowers who would shine as freshmen, then grow up together, a rough-and-tumble bunch, writes Brown, not very worldly, but earnest and used to hard work. Brown (Under a Flaming Sky, 2006) takes enough time to profile the principals in this story while using the 1936 games and Hitler’s heavy financial and political investment in them to pull the narrative along. In doing so, he 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. --Alan Moores --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
The story is told primarily through Joe, whose self-determination enabled him to overcome abandonment by his family at a young age. We learn less of the other boys in the boat, most of them had also known hardship. A constellation of colorful characters surround the boys - coaches, a boat builder, sports writers, and civic supporters from Seattle plus the whole State of Washington.
As we follow the boys in the boat we learn a lot about their times. We learn about the controversy surrounding the 1936 Olympics, during which escalating Nazi atrocities were hidden behind a cosmetic veil. We learn about the impact of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl on just about everyone, not just the boys in the boat and their Seattle community. We learn about the impact of California and Washington rowing programs on a previously genteel Eastern support.
Brown's lively prose holds us in fascinated suspense throughout. While we start the book knowing how it will end, it is absolutely never clear at any moment how the boys in the boat will get there. The reader's only regret is sometimes wishing to know more details surrounding the many incidents along the way.
Such a powerful story about genuine people living extraordinarily. I learned about lasting love, the essence of a team, the benefit of selflessness and of the limitless boundaries upon achievement.
I think every young person, leader, coach and literate human should read this. I have read excerpts to my husband and teen boys.
It's the kind of book that affects how you see life and yourself.
I dream now of becoming a coxswain. (Not really but it's fun to imagine.)
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.
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Great Depression, the "dust bowl", the rise of nazi Germany, the art and skills of rowing into the life of Joe...Read more