January 30, 2017
The Boys in the Boat
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Nonfiction - Nautical
2013 Penguin Audio
Read by Edward Herrmann
Finished on September 19, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)
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.
This really should have been a 5-star book for me, what with the perfect ingredients of boats and the Pacific Northwest setting. I love being on and around the water and have spent a bit of time on Lake Union in Seattle. 10 years ago, I sat on the aft deck of my dad and stepmom's boat, watching several groups of rowers make their way back and forth across the lake. I was quite envious! I've never rowed in a scull, but I owned a kayak for a few years and enjoyed paddling around on a local lake. I've always thought rowing would be a great way to be out on the water, not to mention the great workout.
So when I first learned about Brown's book, I was intrigued. Hearing that the book reads like a novel made it even more appealing. I started out with the print edition, but couldn't get interested, so I moved on to the audio. I thought the book started off a little slow, but I stuck with it, hoping things would pick up as the Olympics drew closer. I was interested in the sections that dealt with Germany and the preparations for the Olympics, but otherwise, the details about the rowing and the boys' lives became tedious to listen to. Edward Hermann did a fine job with the narration, but I found my mind wandering and really had to force myself to pay attention.
It took me almost three weeks to listen to 14 1/2 hours of narration and I have to say, I was glad to be finished. It's certainly not a bad book, but it wasn't what I was expecting. I thought I was in the minority, but my husband (who loves everything nautical and preferably nonfiction) didn't even finish reading it, so I don't feel too badly for giving it such a low rating.