The Boys in the Boat

A beautiful day for reading outside

Daniel James Brown
Published 6th June 2013
Borrowed from my uncle.

I have never had any interest in rowing. But my uncle, whose recommendation I read this off, was a rower and is now a rowing coach. I can easily see why the story of the rowing crew from Washington, nine working class boys trying to work and study and live in the 1930s, whose big ambitions took them to Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin appealed to my uncle. I didn’t expect it to have such an affect on me.

The Boys In The Boat follows the life of Joe Rantz, an oarsmen for the University of Washington’s rowing crew. It tells of his hardships as a child, his mother dying, his father abandoning him, how hard he worked to get himself to school and eventually university. But this is not only his story, though he was the one who inspired the author to write it. This story is also of the crew that Joe rowed with, boys who had never rowed before in their lives – coxswain Bobby Moch and oarsmen Don Hume, George Hunt, Stub McMillin, Johnny White, Gordy Adam, Chuck Day and Roger Morris and of their coach, Al Ulbrickson as well as race shell builder George Pocock. It is also the story of Hitler’s Berlin Olympics of 1936, right before the start of World War 2. This book, as well as a riveting read, is an important piece of history.

There is so much rich history in the pages of this book, from the Depression sweeping America, the rivalry between the universities of Washington and California (Berkley), all the way to the Olympics where Germany essentially covered up all their signs for impending war and showed a completely different face to placate the rest of the world. It is actually disturbing to read how systematically they put away their propaganda, swept the city of gypsies and homeless people and invited the rest of the world to see them the way they wanted to be seen, knowing as I do what was to come next.

It’s not just about the history. The Boys in the Boat is written in narrative form of how Washington crew was picked and what they achieved over the other varsity teams in able to represent America. It is the story of working class boys from poor backgrounds who have a lot of guts and spirit and determination. I cried as I read their story, I got emotional when it came down to those last few seconds in each of those big races. I felt their bond, their connection, the wonders of their teamwork and what it can achieve. It just really touched me.

I never expected to enjoy this book as much as I did and feel the connection with it that I did. Now I have a new understanding of rowing, and while I’m a history buff this was a part of the leadup of World War 2 I didn’t know about before. I just feel so enriched by the experience from reading this book, and I can’t wait to talk to my uncle about it and maybe share in something that he is so passionate about.


Overall rating? 4.5 stars


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