Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Author: Daniel James Brown
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: June 4, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You're a history buff.
 What's the Story?:

From "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."

My Two Cents:

Oh, I've really been enjoying non-fiction history books that tell really off-the-beaten path stories about things that I've never heard of before. This story was a fascinating story about the American rowing team who competed in the 1936 Olympics (remember that this was the Olympics where Hitler was already in power and world tensions were running high to say the very least).

I'm currently listening to Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken on audiobook and this book reminded me a lot of that book. Like Hillenbrand, Brown does a really fantastic job at bringing a historical event to life. In a lot of places "The Boys in the Boat" feels like a fictional story just because it flows so well.

I also loved that this book covers a lot of different events surrounding the American rowing team. We get to see how Germany is changing and gearing up during the lead up to the Olympics. The Berlin Olympics became a huge showcase for Nazi Germany. Oh, this book is so rich. History buffs like myself will absolutely love all of the detail in this book. I know that Brown pulled from things like journal entries and intimate documents and such but it was absolutely amazing how detailed Brown was able to get!

Overall, this is such a treat for history lovers!


1 comment:

  1. I read this book, and I also gave it four stars.

    Although its subtitle implies that THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is about the American eight-oar rowing crew in the 1936 Olympics, the book is more than that. It's mostly about what led to the formation of the crew.

    If THE BOYS IN THE BOAT was fiction, I wouldn't have enjoyed it. That's because the whole thing is so unlikely: Joe overcame such odds in his personal life. None of the boys came from money when they suddenly emerged from Seattle, a city few were familiar with then, to beat the prestigious Eastern schools (e.g., Yale and Harvard). The boat and the boys dealt with several disadvantages in Germany, both before and during their races, only to beat their competition. None of this story would be believable if I didn't know it was true.

    Throughout this book, juxtaposed against Joe's and the boys' story is Hitler's creation of the fictional Germany that he wanted to present to the world during the Olympics there. As he hides the real Germany, the US ignores him, and the boys and other athletes just work on getting there.

    When the story was over, I didn't want it to be over. So I read the endnotes. Did you do that, too?

    I won an ARC of this book from


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