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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and…

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the… (2013)

by Daniel James Brown

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  1. 31
    Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (terran)
    terran: Both books deal with participants in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and with personal stories of individuals growing up in that time period. Both are incredible true stories that read like fiction.
  2. 00
    Bucking the Sun by Ivan Doig (terran)
    terran: Even though Doig's book is fiction, it deals with people struggling to make a living during the Great Depression. Both books deal with the construction of massive public works that employed thousands. (Hoover Dam and Fort Peck Dam)

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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown, is a chronicle of the University of Washington's nine-man crew-with-coxswain's enormous success during the Great Depression. It is this portrait of the Depression era, with its economic and climatic horrors that the author sets against youthful dreams, focusing on the improbable and riveting life of Joe Rantz, and the many hardships he faced. When he entered the University of Washington as a freshman, he had already overcome enormous odds, among them extreme poverty, a dysvunctional family, the early death of his mother, and being virtually abandoned by his father, Harry, when he was a young teenager. His journey to adulthood by itself is a truly amazing story and it makes him an ideal hero. Brown learned the details of Rantz's brilliant rowing career from the athlete himself. But this story was not just about him; it was always about the boat: nine rangy boys – sons of farmers, fishermen, and loggers – who managed to coalesce into a rowing team that would march confidently into the 1936 Olympics under the hawkish eyes of Hitler, emerging victorious over rival crews from Germany and Italy.
The story includes the lore of rowing, which has a rich history in America, reaching back to the mid-19th century, when elite universities began to assemble teams. The Harvard-Yale race in 1852 was, Brown informs us, "the first American intercollegiate athletic event of any kind". He also provides vivid portraits of the coaches, such as Tom Bolles, who assisted his former teammate, Al Ulbrickson, at Washington. (In the background of this narrative lurks Ky Ebright, a former Washingtonian who took over the University of California at Berkeley team – Washington's major rival on the west coast.)

Standing behind the coaches is George Pocock, an English boat-builder who learned the art of building wooden shells for racing from his father. He is the "quiet master" throughout, on the sidelines, ever inventive, full of wise words. His comments, in fact, serve as epigraphs to each chapter. Pocock says, for instance: "Good thoughts have much to do with good rowing. It isn't enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison; their hearts and minds must also work as one." "One of the fundamental challenges in rowing," he writes, "is that when any one member of a crew goes into a slump the entire crew goes with him." Such slumps occur, and Brown dramatizes them well, arranging the facts in ways that create a narrative suspense that never eases till the end. As the Washington crew races in Seattle and Poughkeepsie, New York for the American title or, finally, in Nazi Germany for the Gold Medal, one roots for the good guys.

At the penultimate point in the story the suspense is enhanced by further setbacks when two of the American rowers fell desperately ill before the race, though they persevered at the insistence of their coach. Also, as if to increase the tension, the American team was given the worst lane, putting them in the path of severe crosswinds. Throughout the race, the crowd cheered wildly for Germany, as they would. All omens seemed to be against the boys in the boat, but they prevailed, coming from behind, beating Italy by eight feet, leaving the German crew in third place.

I was impressed with Brown's research, what must have been countless interviews, the exhumation of journals and logs, and the patient review of long-defunct newspaper articles and photographs that was required. The Boys in the Boat is, then, a thrilling read, filled with suspense that brings you close to the events on that day in 1936 when those nine boys from Washington state reached their improbable victory. I believe this book would be of interest to anyone interested in the history of sports, collegiate competition, Seattle and the Northwest, America during the 1930s, and the rise of Fascism in Germany. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jul 10, 2015 |
About the only thing that most of us remember about the Berlin 1936 Olympics games today is the amazing performance that track star Jesse Owens, much to Adolph Hitler's chagrin, turned in for the United States. Now, Daniel James Brown has written a book, The Boys in the Boat that might just change that - at least for a while. Brown's book is subtitled: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Games. It has been almost eighty years since these young rowers won gold and their story is understandably a largely forgotten one. Well, it is time to fix that.

By the time they arrived in Berlin, the men, all of them University of Washington students, had already accomplished more than they ever had a right to dream of accomplishing. The 1930s was still a time when rowing was considered to be a rich man's sport, a sport firmly established on the East Coast and dominated by the elite universities there. Rowers were most often sons of the upper classes. Their fathers were doctors, lawyers, politicians, and multi-millionaires. No way should a rowing team from the West, one composed of the sons of farmers, loggers, shipbuilders, and other blue-collar workers be able to compete consistently with the boys of the East.

Coaches at the University of Washington and at the University of California were determined to change both the perception of their skill levels and the results of direct competition with their East Coast rivals. As the 1936 Olympics approached, they had accomplished both goals in spades. Not only did they start dominating the East Coast competitions, they so thoroughly dominated them that they convinced that region's sports writers that they would continue to do so for years to come.

The University of Washington and the University of California were lucky to have each other. Their head coaches were intimately familiar with each other's reputation, style, and tactics and the competitive rivalry that developed between their rowing teams was good for both schools. In fact, if they had not had each other, neither school is likely to have accomplished what it did. The schools were also very lucky that both had a head coach destined to make the National Rowing Hall of Fame: Washington's Al Ulbrickson and California's "Ky" Ebright. And, as it turned out, rowing coaches across the U.S (and, eventually, elsewhere) were lucky to have George Yeoman Pocock, builder of the fastest racing boats in the world, come along when he did.

Pocock, a Brit who found his way from Canada to the University of Washington campus, was far more than just a boat builder. Even though he provided his boats to other schools and racing teams, Pocock became Coach Ulbrickson's right hand man, someone whose observations and suggestions the coach depended upon and of which he took full advantage. What happened at the 1936 games almost certainly would not have happened without Pocock's help.

In The Boys in the Boat, the author, with particular help from the daughter of rower Joe Rantz, delves deeply into the personalities and make-up of the members of the medal-winning team. At times, in fact, the novel is so personal and so well researched that it reads more like a novel than a nonfiction sporting history. It is an unforgettable piece of writing that I recommend to readers of all types. You most certainly do not have to be a sports fan or someone who reads little other than history to enjoy The Boys in the Boat. Please don't miss this one. ( )
  SamSattler | Jun 22, 2015 |
I love it when I pick up a book because I "should" reedit and fall in love with it because of the author,s power to make non-fiction read like fiction. And so it was with about the University of Washington's crew team who battled great odds to win at the 1936 Berlin Olympics--Hitler's Olympics. ( )
  brangwinn | Jun 21, 2015 |
This book has absolute RAVE reviews on Amazon, and coming off of Isaac's Storm -- a phenomenal non-fiction book -- I was excited about the prospect of this. I have zero interest in rowing, but gave it a go, and unfortunately I had to give up about 3/5 of the way through. Too many factoids and people cluttering up the narrative. ( )
  amandacb | Jun 16, 2015 |
This was a startlingly good book! I'm not really interested in sports, and probably wouldn't have picked this up if it weren't set in Seattle, where I live. Once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. You know from reading the cover that this is about the crew team that won a gold medal at the Olympics, but Brown still manages to create incredible suspension and keep the reader really interested.

It helps that this is one of those too-good-to-be-true stories, full of many classic elements: underdogs beating the odds, people learning to love and trust each other before they can succeed, working class boys out-doing East Coast old money at their own game, not to mention Good Old American hard work and perseverance defeating the Evil Nazis in their own back yard, all against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the tension of the build-up to World War Two.

The local color really helped, too - I am familiar with most of the places in Washington where the action takes place, so that probably helped me enjoy the book more than I would have otherwise. ( )
  Gwendydd | Jun 3, 2015 |
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In “The Boys on the Boat,” Daniel James Brown tells the astonishing story of the UW’s 1936 eight-oar varsity crew and its rise from obscurity to fame, drawing on interviews with the surviving members of the team and their diaries, journals and photographs. A writer and former writing teacher at Stanford and San Diego, Brown lives outside of Seattle, where one of his elderly neighbors harbored a history Brown never imagined: he was Joe Rantz, one of the members of the iconic UW 1936 crew.
[Daniel James] Brown's book juxtaposes the coming together of the Washington crew team against the Nazis' preparations for the [1936 Berlin Olympic] Games, weaving together a history that feels both intimately personal and weighty in its larger historical implications. This book has already been bought for cinematic development, and it's easy to see why: When Brown, a Seattle-based nonfiction writer, describes a race, you feel the splash as the oars slice the water, the burning in the young men's muscles and the incredible drive that propelled these rowers to glory.
added by sgump | editSmithsonian, Chloë Schama (Jun 1, 2013)
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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 you. Which is your soul. - George Yeoman Pocock
(But I desire and I long every day to go home and to look upon the day of my return . . . for already I have suffered and labored at so many things on the waves.) - Homer
For Gordon Adam Chuck Day Don Hume George "Shorty" Hunt Jim "Stub" McMillin Bob Moch Roger Morris Joe Rantz John White Jr. and all those other bright, shining boys of the 1930s - our fathers, our grandfathers, our uncles, our old friends
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(Prologue) 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.
Monday, October 9, 1933, began as a gray day in Seattle.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067002581X, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:00 -0400)

Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washingtons 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.

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