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on May 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have never rowed. I have never read a rowing book that I can remember. If all stories about rowing were written like Daniel Brown's fabulous multi-level biography, I would read every one of them. This is a wonderful account, told with such detail and precision that I sometimes felt as if I were in this tale. Mr. Brown totally sucked me into his adventure. These young men who rowed for the USA in the 1936 Olympics faced huge obstacles. It was the Depression. Many were dirt-poor. They came from a small (then) and nondescript town of Seattle. They could not have had more difficult problems thrown their way. But by taking every sliver of hope, and mixing in superb craftsmanship (from George Pocock), excellent coaching (Al Ulbrickson), and these nine perfectly attuned young men learning together........the result was perfection. This is a true Team sport. I learned that. It is nice to learn something you never knew, but is common knowledge to an entire set of other people. If you want to read a great, true story of success, this will fit the bill in spades.....and you will understand rowing to boot.

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.
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on June 17, 2013
The prospect of reading a nonfiction book, particularly one based on history, appeals to me about as much as, say, taking the SAT again. Given the choice, I'll pick fiction every time. In addition, I have little interest in reading about sports or rowing. But reader recommendations and critics' reviews carry great weight with me, and "The Boys in the Boat" has some of the highest ratings I've ever seen, so I took a deep breath, and decided to read this book that I had originally intended as a gift. And wow, am I glad I did! This is one of the best books I've ever read.

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!
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on August 1, 2017
Fantastic book about a very fascinating topic. Not only it is a look into what people were going through during the Depression, it shows the different way that training was viewed back in that day. My current position has me working with a number of college athletes, so I recognize the amount of time and effort today's athletes put into their training and playing on top of the academic requirements placed on them. Back in the day, it was at a whole different level. These coaches were all about working and then working harder and doing it again. There are a number training regiments which have come down through the decades, but a coach that kept his rowers out on the water in the middle of a driving sleet storm would probably get in trouble now days. This is on top of spending summers hanging on the side of a cliff to work at dam building. Again, these guys are just at a whole different level. Great read, great topic.
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on October 21, 2014
"The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown is a nonfiction page turner. Set in depression era Seattle, Joe Rantz and his eight mates achieve greatness in rowing. First they rise from humble origins to eventually crew the varsity boat, then they beat California on Lake Washington, then they win the intercollegiate championship on the Hudson, then they win the Olympic trials in Princeton, and finally they win the gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. They found their "swing" rowing flawlessly as one.

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.
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on September 19, 2017
This is a heart-felt historical account that tracks the American 8-man rowing crew of the 1936 Olympics. The story combines the rugged and simple backgrounds of the University of Washington students with their quest for a spot on the University’s Varsity rowing team and a path to the Olympics. The strongest parts of this book capture the humility and hard-working ethics of a generation that grew up in the Depression. The setbacks and cruel heartache, challenges beyond individual control, set a poignant stage for all of their accomplishments. The book also interlaces historical news events. The news items are a key element, but at times are also a stilted distraction, and slow the book’s momentum. Taken together in all of its parts, the book does offer clear historical context and stirring personal studies, so works out to be an insightful read.
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on March 10, 2018
Daniel Brown’s the Boys in the Boat is the story of the underdog. It is the accomplishment of individuals, a team of working class beginners, and a country immersed in economic upheaval. Brown writes a true story of the University of Washington rowing team, improbable winner of the 1936 Olympic medal in Berlin. He approaches the task as journalist and historian, but the account reads like a page turning novel.

He examines the 1936 setting, both in Germany, and in the United States. He researches Hitler’s world and the rise of Nazi power in Europe. He shows how Hitler and his aides manipulated the Berlin Olympics as propaganda to demonstrate to the world Germans are a superior race. Even though the reader understands how that bad story ends, Brown, through use of plotting, builds suspense and interest, making that history a compelling read.

Brown describes the setting in the USA: The aftermath of The Great Depression. He makes the pain come alive through the sad story of Joe Rantz. When only a young child his mother died leaving a desperate father unable to care for Joe. When the father remarried, unable to stand up to his new wife, he deserts his son. Only a child Joe must learn to completely care for himself. His story is one of hurt, survival and victory.

Brown then educates the reader about rowing competition. He discusses Britain’s predominance in the sport, where rowers came from the upper class. He then takes the sport to America where the upper class continued to dominate east coast rowing. And finally, Brown brings his skill to showing the reader the rag tail crew from the University of Washington who came from working class and farm backgrounds and didn’t even have matching uniforms.

Brown interviews Joe Rantz as an old man, who was a member of the team. After Joe died Brown interviews Joe’s daughter Judy Willman who connected him with other members of the team, and their descendants. Using interviews and journals from the crew Brown shows the psychological growth the rowers needed to achieve to let go of ego, submerge self, and become a team. He reveals the love and support they gave each other which lasted well into their old age. The experience gave each energy and confidence to succeed in other areas of life.

The book is based on historical research well done. But the author does much more with the story than that. He is a writer with knowledge of presenting setting, character, and plotting skill. He brings history to life with empathy and insight.
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on August 9, 2017
I've read this book twice now (about a year and a half between readings) and I loved it as much the 2nd time as the first. Though I had never watched rowing, Brown brought it to life for me. Though rowing was the vessel for the story, this is truly a story about determination, heart, grit, and hard work. These boys grew up in the Depression and yet they found ways to reach their dreams. In the process, they found a family with one another--a type of bond that goes beyond what we normally think of as familial love. Even knowing the outcome, Brown presents the story of Joe and the other 8 boys in his boat (along with their coaches) in a way that made me feel as though I personally knew them. I laughed, I cried, and in the final contest, I found myself tensing up, willing them to overcome. This is a book about what America truly stands for. A great book that I would recommend to anyone.
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on April 26, 2017
Each year, our high school assigns a book that all students are required to read over the summer and then they have an assignment related to the book upon returning to school. This was the book chosen last year and I heard good things about it from my daughter and nieces and nephews so I thought I would give it a go.

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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on October 12, 2017
The Boys in the Boat is an exceptional book. It tells the story of the nine young men who competed for gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Even though the book title refers to "the boys", it really is the story about just one of those boys in particular, Joe Rantz. The book follows Joe's story from a young boy all the way through the Olympics, and along the way we meet an excellent cast of characters - his eight compatriots, family members, coaches, and even a few of the Nazi bad guys.

Brown does a great job of not only telling a great story, but infusing it with just the right amount of detail to give you a great picture of the various scenes. His descriptions of the racing venues, living quarters, even the weather, set the scene without belaboring the point.

In addition to the expected history lesson of the 1936 Olympic in Berlin and some of the surrounding controversy and politics, I was fascinated by the history of the sport of rowing, and learned a great deal of fascinating information. I did not know the the sport of rowing was a hugely popular spectator sport, often drawing crowds as large as 100,000 people! I gained a huge appreciation for the sport, the dedication and sacrifice required of its participants, and the craftsmanship that goes into the building of the boats themselves.

All of that would have warranted a good review. But the way all the history, personalities, political landscape, and lifelong dreams come together in the final race for gold at the end of the book is nothing short of riveting. I was glued to my seat reading the description of that climactic race; just as good as any thriller.

Finally, I loved the pictures that were peppered throughout the book, as well as the epilogue, which recounts the remainder of the life of each participant.

Great book.

I noticed Amazon and Goodreads have a slightly different meanings to their 5-point scale. I thought it was odd to have a different rating for the same book on two different sites, so I came up with my own scale below. For the record, it is fairly close to Amazon's scale, but allows me to be consistent between both sites.

5 - Fantastic. Life-altering. Maybe only 25 in a lifetime.
4 - Very good.
3 - Worth your time.
2 - Not very good.
1 - Atrocious
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on June 1, 2017
I bought and read this book because it was the selection of my book club. That said, it turned out to be one of my all-time favorites (and vastly better than any of the other selections this past year). It tells a poignant, true life story that makes the depression years of the 30s come alive as well as the concurrent rise of Nazism in Germany. Eventually these two stories and worlds collide in an amazing, totally unexpected way. The story is masterfully crafted and written in an almost poetic style. There is considerable information about the sport of rowing and the art of boat building, neither of which I would have expected to have an interest in before reading the book. I was so impressed with this book that I gave copies of it to several friends at Christmas. It is a book that will reside on my overcrowded book case for many years to come. I may well reread it in a few years so I can appreciate it all over again.
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