The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics
by Daniel James Brown
I was recommended this non-fiction by a friend and then my book club decided to read it as well. So, I was doubly interested in reading it. I’ve been slowly becoming more interested in non-fiction, and this one sounded particularly fascinating. It combined biography, history, sports and art. Brown fleshes out the stories of the boys (and some of their families), their coach and the shell builder. This made the story personable and I felt like I really knew about the “players” in the story. Then there was all the history. Brown details American history about the depression, American sports and college rivalries. He also expounds and talks about the history of crew as a sport as well as includes history about the Olympics and Germany, specifically about Hitler. Brown giftedly describes the sport of crew. My favorite parts of the book were the races. I felt like I was right there watching the race, holding my breath, anxious for the outcome. Brown expertly recounts multiple races, making them come to life again! One of the things I didn’t realize was how much of crew is an art. There’s the actual rowing and blending as a team, but there is also the shell they race in and the building of it that is a real art. I really enjoyed how this book encompassed both the specific story about the crew boys who went to the Olympics and the broad history of America and Germany and the background of the boys. It made the whole book vivid and engaging. I came away having learned so much. One of the most powerful takeaways was the trust that the boys needed to build with each other in order to be successful. They needed to completely rely on each other and work as a team, versus individuals. The boys were able to this, which is what lead to their success and their ability to achieve “swing” (that evasive perfection that only few crews can find where they are all in perfect synchronicity). It was amazing to learn about these boys, who came from humble backgrounds (often poor and having lived very difficult lives), were able to overcome the odds and not only make it to the 1936 Olympics, but also win gold (again, against odds such as the worst lane and a sick stroke).
Summing it up: Brown is an engaging writer, and made this story come to life. I highly recommend it!