Summary and book reviews of The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat

Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2013, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2014, 416 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

For readers of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled  by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.

Prologue

In a sport like this—hard work, not much glory, but still popular in every century—well, there must be some beauty which ordinary men can't see, but extraordinary men do. —George Yeoman Pocock

This book was born on a cold, drizzly, late spring day when I clambered over the split-rail cedar fence that surrounds my pasture and made my way through wet woods to the modest frame house where Joe Rantz lay dying.

I knew only two things about Joe when I knocked on his daughter Judy's door that day. I knew that in his midseventies he had single-handedly hauled a number of cedar logs down a mountain, then hand-split the rails and cut the posts and installed all 2,224 linear feet of the pasture fence I had just climbed over—a task so herculean I shake my head in wonderment whenever I think about it. And I knew that he had been one of nine young men from the state of Washington—farm boys, fishermen, and loggers—who shocked both the rowing world and...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The Boys in the Boat tells the mesmerizing tale of Joe Rantz and the 1936 Olympic eight-oar crew from the University of Washington. But it is much more than a story of athletic endeavor. It's about a child abandoned by indifferent parents, Americans' struggle to survive during the Great Depression, a young man's love of a young woman, and the amazing physical and psychological demands of rowing. It's about loss and redemption. It has drama and pathos and moral scope. And it culminates on an extraordinary international stage in Berlin in 1936, with Adolf Hitler looking on.

With incredible attention to detail and poetic insight into the sport of rowing, author Daniel James Brown follows crew member Joe Rantz from his ...
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  • award image

    Indie Booksellers’ Choice Awards
    2014

Reviews

Media Reviews

The Seattle Times

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. Few of these young men had ever left Washington state, much less the United States, when they left New York on the steamship Manhattan to represent their country in Berlin.

Publishers Weekly

Brown lays on the aura of embattled national aspiration good and thick, but he makes his heroes' struggle as fascinating as the best Olympic sagas.

Library Journal

Those who enjoy reading about Olympic history or amateur or collegiate sports will savor Brown's superb book

Booklist

Starred Review. A book that informs as it inspires.

The Guardian

I was impressed with Brown's research, imagining the countless interviews, the exhumation of journals and logs, and the patient review of long-defunct newspaper articles and photographs it must have involved. The Boys in the Boat is, then, an often inspiring feat of narrative non-fiction, though it could never be as thrilling as the victory of those nine boys from Washington state on a windy day in Berlin once upon a very dark time.

Author Blurb Laurence Bergreen, author of Columbus and Over the Edge of the World
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.

Author Blurb Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La and Frozen in Time
A triumph of great writing matched with a magnificent story. Daniel James Brown strokes the keyboard like a master oarsman, blending power and grace to propel readers toward a heart-pounding finish. In Joe Rantz and his crewmates, Brown has rediscovered true American heroes who remind us that pulling together is the surest path to glory.

Author Blurb James Bradley, author of Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys
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.

Author Blurb David Laskin, author of The Children's Blizzard  and  The Long Way Home
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 Boats in the Boat has it all and Brown does full justice to his terrific material.  This is Chariots of Fire with oars.

Author Blurb Laurence Bergreen, author of Columbus and Over the Edge of the World
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.

Author Blurb Luke McGee, USA Rowing Men's National Team Coach
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!

Author Blurb Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea
The Boys in the Boat is not only a great and inspiring true story; it is a fascinating work of history.

Reader Reviews

Debra

Exceptional
This is an an amazing story about an amazing group of young men. The author wove in the history of the times with the personal story of the lead character. I learned a great deal about rowing and the Olympics. A must read!

Rochelle Ginsburg

A Book for All Reasons
If you are a junior or senior, male or female, sports enthusiast or history buff, a lover of ideas or action, or if you thrive on suspense, this book will capture your mind as well as your heart. Daniel Brown literally puts you into the time and the...   Read More

jillcarmel

Boys in the Boat
Our book club meets at the library and we read Unbroken about a year ago so I wasn't sure about another book if it was the same. I'm glad the club picked it or I would have missed out on another really good book. I was impressed with not just the ...   Read More

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