My book club picked up “The Boys in the Boat” toward the end of last year. The book depicts the real-life story of the 1936 Olympic crew team and their journey to Berlin. Overall I’m not a huge fan of sports non-fiction, but to my delight this novel read more like historical fiction.
The book focuses most of its pages on Joe Rantz who rowed the number 7 seat in the Olympic boat. We read about Joe’s life growing up in Washington State during the onset of the Great Depression. Joe worked his butt off to be able to go to college and sought to join the crew team his freshman year at the University of Washington. Through the author’s vivid description of the conditioning crew teams are subjected to, I found a new found respect for rowers and their sport.
The novel also gave context to the 1936 Olympic games being planned Joseph Goebbles, Adolf Hitler’s propaganda man. It was fascinating to read about the pseudo-perfect “world” Hitler and Goebbles created to showcase Germany. The author spent many pages giving description of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Germany before WWII ever started.
The climax of the book is the final 2000 meter race of the 9-man crew teams at the Olympic games. Germany was the favorite to win. Italy and England were also competeing next to the University of Washington crew team made up of blue collar kids who were all too familiar with life’s defeats. The race’s finish was one for the record books and still is talked about today.
I would definitely recommend “The Boys in the Boat.” It was a fantastic piece characterizing the triumph of the human spirit and offered a history lesson as well.
“Harmony, balance, and rhythm. They’re the three things that stay with you your whole life. Without them civilization is out of whack. And that’s why an oarsman, when he goes out in life, he can fight it, he can handle life. That’s what he gets from rowing.”
― Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics