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Showing 1-10 of 17,631 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 19,925 reviews
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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VINE VOICEon April 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful and true story about the 1936 University of Washington varsity crew, eight young men who rowed into history. Daniel James Brown writes so well that history becomes personal, the distant past becomes immediate, and the now dead men and women are alive again in the mind of the reader. He describes the sport of rowing in great detail and with accuracy, no mean feat for someone who never rowed. His writing is comparable to David Halberstam, author of The Amateurs, in quality and in scope. In fact, Mr. Brown has surpassed him with this book. The author, who is unfortunate enough to share a name with Dan Brown of DaVinci Code infamy, does a thorough report on the men in the boat, their families, their coaches, the history of the 1930's, and the science of sport.

Many of the old luminaries of American rowing are in this story, the good, the bad, and the legendary, including Hiram Conibear, Tom Bolles, Al Ulbrickson and George Pocock. The story of the Pocock racing shell, which was still the best racing boat in the US when I started rowing, is detailed, along with the life story of George Pocock, his personality, and his contributions to Washington crews.

At times the author gets a bit over enthusiastic, and comes close to melodrama. Some of the rowing details were overwrought, particularly during the races. He describes the crews as "furiously hacking at the choppy water..." That doesn't describe the sport of rowing, except for raw beginners. Nevertheless, I only have minor complaints: it is a well written story.

This is a recommended read for anyone who has suffered through a season of rowing. It brought back all the anxiety of fighting for a seat in the boat, the hours of self doubt, the pain of training in bad weather, with bad combinations of rowers, and the joy of getting it right, feeling the boat fly. This is an inspirational story, one that will lift you up, and it is wonderful, not only because Brown is a great writer, but because it is true.
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on January 11, 2015
I am glad I stuck it out and finished this book, but at only 30% into it, I was having a hard time. This book is super well written and easy to read but very slow moving and way long. I love that the book details the hardships of making it onto the team as well as making it in school. I like how every few chapters it refers to where the Germans were in regards to the upcoming war. I most of all loved the quotes at the head of each chapter. These boys lived to row and it certainly came through in the telling of their story.
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The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is a book that is beautifully written as well as moving, haunting, frightening, uplifting, and thrilling. We listened to the audiobook version read by Edward Herrmann, and at 14 hours and 30 minutes, The Boys in the Boat kept us enthralled for a long car trip.

The Boys in the Boat is a story that might have gotten lost to history except for one small chance encounter: writer Daniel James Brown was asked by a neighbor to come talk to her father about a previous book that he had written. It turns out that her father was Joe Rantz, one of the boys on the University of Washington crew team who went to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. And over time, Rantz’s story came spilling out. This story is actually multi-layered. It is the story of Joe Rantz and his horrible childhood as a “throwaway boy.” It is a story of families struggling through the Great Depression. It is the story of the rise of Nazi Germany and the 1936 Olympics, which was planned as a propaganda showcase. It is the story of rowing—not just the beauty of rowing but the grueling physicality of the sport. It is a David and Goliath Story, of the University of Washington competing against the Ivy Leagues, and then the rest of the world. And it is a story of unlikely heroes, from the University of Washington Coaches, to boat-builder George Pocock, to the boys themselves. The “boys” would remain friends for the rest of their lives as their experience forged an unbroken bond among them. Only death would separate them.

Daniel James Brown excels in the area of describing the art and poetry of rowing. “The boys sat without talking, breathing heavily, exhaling plumes of white breath. Even now that they had stopped rowing, their breathing was synchronized, and for a brief, fragile moment it seemed to Joe as if all of them were part of a single thing, something alive with breath and spirit of its own.” Sometimes he uses the quotes of others to show us the beauty and spirituality of rowing. George Pocock wrote “It’s a great art, is rowing. It’s the finest art there is. It’s a symphony of motion. And when you’re rowing well, why it’s nearing perfection. And when you near perfection, you’re touching the Divine. It touches the you of yous. Which is your soul.”

How good was The Boys in the Boat? It was good enough that I bought copies for almost everyone on my Christmas list last year. It was good enough that I trolled the internet, looking for photos and videos of the University of Washington crew team and their races. And it was good enough that I just wanted to learn more about this amazing group of men. I found just about any article I could on Google about their exploits and what happened to them afterward. This hardscrabble group of boys became engineers, lawyers, doctors, and coaches. The Boys in the Boat is truly a wonderful story, and an American story. Thanks to Daniel James Brown, it is not one that will be lost to future generations.
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on June 23, 2015
One thing I don’t like about non-fiction is that I often know the outcome. Still, I loved the character portraits in this book, particularly that of its underdog main character, Joe Rantz. Repeatedly thrown out of the house by his stepmother during the Depression, Joe had to live by his wits, as he struggled just to survive. Finally, during his senior year of high school, his older brother invited him to come live with his family until graduation. Joe’s athletic prowess caught the attention of University of Washington rowing coach Al Ulbrickson. As one of many tall and muscular freshmen vying for a place on the rowing team, Joe had no experience whatsoever, but then neither did any of his competitors. Constantly ridiculed for his impoverished wardrobe, Joe battled his insecurities and fear of abandonment while learning to rely on the other men in the boat. The eight men on the team eventually forged a synergy that would serve them well when competing against the Ivy League schools in the East and their arch rival, the University of California Berkeley. My favorite character in the book is George Pocock, the venerated boatbuilder who learned his trade in England, immigrated to North America, and eventually became the supplier of sculls to most of the top rowing teams in the country. His gorgeous sculls were works of art, and his words of wisdom, for rowing and for life in general, appear at the beginning of every chapter. Joe credited Pocock with helping him develop the mental attitude that turned around his rowing career. Every good story needs some sort of adversity for the characters to overcome. In this case, not only did Joe overcome the misfortune of his family circumstances, but the rowing team battled wind, rain, currents, frigid temperatures, and illness in a sport that looks almost effortless when the rowers are in “the swing.” However, the author makes us feel how punishing the sport really is, especially when the coxswain asks for 10 big ones—10 mammoth strokes to try to catch up to and overtake an opponent. These guys gave all they had and then reached deep into their souls to give some more.
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on November 20, 2016
This book resided in my Kindle library, unread, until a friend recently recommended it to me. I was ready for a good non-fiction read and 'The Boys in the Boat' delivered on all counts. The story impacted me in unexpected ways, not the least of which was a renewed desire to be an intimate part of something bigger than myself. That realization crept up on me and came to fruition only as I read the final chapters. An amazing recount of mostly ordinary folks reaching beyond themselves to do extraordinary feats.
I also read this as a cautionary tale, not as a primary theme, but with the same unmistakable awareness I have with most every reading that includes Germany and its European neighbors in the decade of the 1930's. Especially in light of recent electoral events, it reaffirmed how careful and aware all of us must be not to risk losing the freedoms, as difficult as it may be, that keep us as a moral leader in a world currently at risk of falling into a similar superiority of race, ethnicity and character at the expense of the diversity that makes us strong. A lesson, again, of how easy it could be to fall for the myth of our own perceived superiority. Germany was in large part, as were its neighbors, good people. In their case they were led in a direction that seemed attractive yet led to the abuse of many civil rights and horrors and to their own demise. Awareness of the reality of 30's Europe will hopefully never be lost in our 21st century thinking.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good story from recent history that both instructs and inspires.
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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 July 2, 2015
So eloquent, so raw and moving.

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.)
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on August 24, 2015
Everyone should sit down and read or listen to this true story. Talk about courage, perseverance, and excitement....this book has it all. I've shared the book with several friends, and they all felt the same way. Gave it to my grandson for his birthday this month, am anxious to hear what his thoughts are when he's finished it. What an inspiring story, the life of one man, a team, a coach, and a boat maker. True stories are often the very best, I wish more were written.
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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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