This was the second book I’ve read by Daniel James Brown, although I didn’t make the connection immediately. Once I realized he was also the author of one of my favorite books, The Indifferent Stars Above (reviewed here), I was excited to plunge into the book.
I was not disappointed with this well-researched story of how the young men of the University of Washington’s varsity eight-man rowing crew made history at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Brown bases the story on the improbability that the crew had any chance at all at greatness, but as it turned out they were likely the best crew ever assembled in Olympic history.
Much of the book revolves around on one of the crew members, Joe Rantz, who had already lived a challenging life before he entered the university. His mother had died and when his father remarried, the new wife didn’t want him around. Joe was forced to grow up and make his own way in the world long before most young people are required to do so.
Even though I knew the outcome of the epic race, I was still on the edge of my chair, so to speak. Also, I can’t say that I’ve ever witnessed a race, but Brown’s carefully-woven tale brought it alive – I almost felt like I was sitting in the boat with them.
As an American, I see it as a quintessential American story of courage and “we-can-do-it” attitude. After all, this was the so-called “Greatest Generation” who just a few years later helped rid the world of tyranny. In many ways, it reminded me of another Olympic miracle in 1980 – the “Miracle on Ice” when unexpectedly the U.S. hockey team defeated the Russians.
It’s well-worth your time to check it out, even if you’re not a fan of the sport. Brown includes historical context about Hitler’s rise and the clever ruse he perpetrated on the world for a short window of time in 1936 before he began his rampage across Europe within months following the Olympics. The Boys in the Boat will inspire you, or as one reviewer wrote, “it informs as it inspires.”
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.