April 23, 2021

The Boys In the Boat: Non-Fiction Depiction of the 1936 Olympic Rowing Team

I generally take little interest in sports so a neighbor’s book recommendation fell initially on my deaf ears. She assured me that “The Boys In the Boat,” a non-fiction work was much more than just about rowing.

Daniel James Brown, the author could make anything interesting, but give him a story like this and the reader is turning pages like a fiction thriller. We have an inkling of how the book ends, but the journey is absolutely riveting.

Brown starts with the micro introducing us to one of the boys in the University of Washington’s “boat,” Joe Rantz. He widens the scope describing the other team members and their family backgrounds, the coaches, the rivals and even the philosophical boat-builder. Brown engrosses the reader with the science of team sports and rowing in particular. He gets us to see these characters living through the Depression, the Dust Bowl and the ramp-up to World War II. He zooms out to Nazi Germany, the setting of the 1936 Olympic Games with sketches of Hitler, Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl who filmed the historic games.

Every race these young men enter from California to Poughkeepsie to Grunau, Germany enthralls us because Brown has painted the physical and emotional rigors that grip each of these athletes.

This is one of the best non-fiction books I have read recently, on par with “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken” both by Lauren Hillenbrand. Coincidentally, there is a brief mention of
“Unbroken’s” Louis Zamperini since he also participated in the 1936 Olympics.

Actor/director Kenneth Branagh has purchased the film rights to “The Boys In the Boat,”
which fills me with anticipation. Don’t disappoint me, Ken.

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