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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (2013)

by Daniel James Brown

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,2232602,020 (4.32)1 / 332
History. Sports & Recreations. Nonfiction. HTML:The #1 New York Times??bestselling story about American Olympic triumph in Nazi Germany and now the inspiration for the PBS documentary "The Boys of '36"
For readers of Unbroken, out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times??the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.
It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington's eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys' own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man's personal quest.
From the Trade Paperback edition
… (more)
  1. 61
    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. 01
    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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 Book talk: CooperB5: Boys in The Boat2 unread / 22wonderY, September 2016

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Showing 1-5 of 256 (next | show all)
In this literary historical narrative, Daniel James Brown tells the story of nine young men who became national heroes during the Great Depression. They were members of the University of Washington's eight-oared rowing crew (and the coxswain) who represented the USA at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. These student athletes all came from working class backgrounds and they all had to struggle to make their way academically into college as well as spending countless hours practicing on Lake Washington.

Brown offers a background history of all 9 members of the University of Washington crew, but focuses most deeply on Joe Rantz, the poorest of the boys. Rantz was forced to live on his own by his father and step-mother at the age of 15 and carries the feeling of abandonment to the University of Washington where he's bullied for being poor. Through the crew he finds acceptance and a sense of purpose. The book also talks about the life and career of the team's no-nonsense coach Al Ulbrickson, who had been a student rower at Washington less than a decade earlier. The poetic English boat builder George Yeomans Pocock also plays a big part in the story. Working in the loft of the Washington shell house, Pocock built wooden racing shells that were renown throughout the country, and served as a mentor for young athletes like Rantz,

Starting in 1933, Rantz's freshman year, Brown details Ulbrickson's plans to form a crew that could compete in the 1936 Olympics. Collegiate rowing at the time was an extremely popular spectator sport with national radio coverage. Despite all the time they spent practicing, there were only two major annual competitions on Washington's calendar. The first was a race against their archrivals at University of California. The other was a race on the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie, New York against several elite Eastern universities. Washington and Cal had only begun challenging the Eastern schools' supremacy in the 1920s. In 1936, the Washington crew teams (including JV and Freshmen) swept all of these events before also winning at the US Olympic Trials for the right to represent the country in Berlin.

Throughout the book, Brown offers the parallel story of Aldolf Hitler planning to use the games to show the world that Nazi Germany was a powerful - but -benign - nation. This included deceiving the US Olympic Committee about the true severity of discrimination against German Jews when the USOC was under pressure from protestors to boycott the games in Berlin. The final chapters detail the experience of the Washington crew in Germany, including the dramatic final race. The fact that we know the team will win gold should make it anticlimatic, but since the Washington team had a habit of coming from behind to win races (while facing challenges like a deliriously sick member of the crew) makes the race descriptions exciting. Even if you know nothing about rowing, Brown describes the tactics and terminology so well that the reader is well-versed in it by the Olympic races. ( )
  Othemts | Feb 24, 2024 |
History
  BooksInMirror | Feb 19, 2024 |
A deep, intimate look at the men who rowed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It wasn't a miracle - it was tenacity and trust between the rowers that made the seemingly impossible a reality. ( )
  ohheybrian | Feb 13, 2024 |
In 1936, nine working-class boys from the University of Washington went to the Berlin Olympics in a quest for the gold medal. Their sport: rowing, a sport of which George Yeoman Pocock said, "That is the formula for endurance and success: rowing with the heart and the head as well as physical strength." It is an emotional, mental, and physical sport which, in this particular case, asks that nine human beings be in perfect tune with each other.

Author Daniel James Brown does an excellent job of putting his story into the context of the world stage, a time in which Hitler was determined to become master of the world-- and also a time when the world was still in the grip of the Depression.

At the heart of The Boys in the Boat is Joe Rantz of the University of Washington rowing team. At the age of ten, he was abandoned by his parents. Joe's father was willing to follow the lead of his second wife, a woman who decided that there were too many mouths to feed and that this child had to go. At one point, she told him, "Make your own life, Joe. Stay out of ours." Brown builds his story from the boys' journals and vivid memories, and it's a true Cinderella story. These boys were competing in an elite sport normally thought of as belonging to the privileged rich of the East Coast.

Often compared to Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, I found The Boys in the Boat more in tune with another of her books, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, with its emphasis on sport, the Depression, and a fascinating cast. As much as I savored the stories of the boys on the University of Washington rowing team, I also appreciated the in-depth look at the sport of rowing itself. I never knew how popular it was in the 1930s or how demanding it was.

If you're in the mood for a thrilling, eye-opening, often heart-wrenching, slice of history, I highly recommend The Boys in the Boat. ( )
  cathyskye | Feb 10, 2024 |
While this is a book about the USA Olympic nine man rowing team, it is also a book about 1930's America and the many challenges and disasters its people faced. The Great Depression the Dust Bowel, labour unrest, poverty, rise of dictators in Europe are all covered in depth.

Each character, whether rower, or parent are examined biographically. One learns much about competative rowing, maybe more than one wants to know, but this reader it interesting and my admiration for the sport is greatly increased after reading about the workouts in snow and sleet during November. The main theme is ow those nine working class young men over came many obstacles including poverty, class prejudice, academic stress, and the tough physical demands of the sport.

The trip to the 1936 Olympics to face Hitler's new Germany is well documented. How Hitler tried to fool the world as to what he was doing in the new Germany by using propaganda and showing only what he and his cronies wanted the world to see is explained. ( )
  lamour | Jan 29, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 256 (next | show all)
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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brown, Daniel Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Martin, GrégoryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
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.
-- George Yeoman Pocock
οιχαδε τ' εγθεμεναι χαι νσστιμον ημαο ιδεσαι . . .
ηδη γαο μαλα πολλα παθον χαι πολλα μογησα
χνμασι . . .
(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
Dedication
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
First words
(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.
[Epilogue] All over Seattle--in cozy restaurants downtown, in smoky neighborhood bars in Wallingford, in clattering coffee shops out in Ballard, in grocery store lines from Everett to Tacoma--people just couldn't stop talking about it.
Quotations
Competitive rowing is an undertaking of extraordinary beauty preceded by brutal punishment.
One of the first admonitions of a good rowing coach, after the fundamentals are over, is “pull your own weight,” and the young oarsman does just that when he finds out that the boat goes better when he does. There is certainly a social implication here. -George Yeoman Pocock
There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can't sustain it. It's called “swing.” It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. . . . Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that's what a good swing feels like.
...he found that shaping cedar resonated with him in an elusive but elemental way--it satisfied him down in his core, and gave him peace...He liked the way that the wood murmured to him before it parted, almost as if it was alive, and when it finally gave way under his hands he liked the way it invariably revealed itself in lovely and unpredictable patterns of color--streaks of orange and burgundy and cream. At the same moment, as the wood opened up, it always perfumed the air...There seemed to Joe to be some kind of connection between what he was doing here among a pile of freshly split shakes, what Pocock was doing in his shop, and what he was trying to do himself in the racing shells Pocock built--something about the deliberate application of strength, the careful coordination of mind and muscle, the sudden unfolding of mystery and beauty. (p.127)
to Pocock, this unflagging resilience--this readiness to bounce back, to keep coming, to persist in the face of resistance--was the magic in cedar, the unseen force that imparted life to the shell. (p.139)
Last words
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Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine with the Young Readers Adaptation.
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History. Sports & Recreations. Nonfiction. HTML:The #1 New York Times??bestselling story about American Olympic triumph in Nazi Germany and now the inspiration for the PBS documentary "The Boys of '36"
For readers of Unbroken, out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times??the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.
It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington's eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys' own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man's personal quest.
From the Trade Paperback edition

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Brown quotes so extensively from George Pocock's diaries and letters, that I consider Pocock to be a contributor to the book. His wisdom helps to make this one memorable and deeply moving.
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