Staff Review: The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown by Julie

About the book: “Out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times – the improbable, intimate account of nine working-class boys from the American West who at the 1936 Olympics showed the world what true grit really meant.”

I loved this book. I didn’t really expect to, though it came with some pretty reliable recommendations, because I knew very little about competitive rowing and didn’t think I cared to know a lot more. Wrong. Turns out rowing, or at least eight-oar crew, is a pretty amazing team sport, with the emphasis being on team. And you do learn a lot about it. But what I really loved was the summoning-up of Dust Bowl era America this writer was able to achieve, and the way he showed that, sometimes, finding a way to survive terrible hardship can forge people’s characters in ways which allow them to do extraordinary things. It is no coincidence that the boys in the boat were of the same generation which fought, and won, World War II.

If you’ve read Seabiscuit (and, if you haven’t, you really should), you’ll find a lot familiar here. The timeframe is the same, and, in fact, the plucky little racehorse is mentioned several times. The two stories share a structure in which several key elements come together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. And the theme of hardscrabble beginnings creating strength and almost unstoppable determination is definitely common to both books.

Seabiscuit’s focus was purely national, though. Since the Olympics are on an international stage, The Boys In The Boat gives the reader a broader picture. While the author tells the story of the University of Washington team striving for the chance to represent their country at the Olympics, he also shows the preparations going on in Germany at the time – the Nazis striving to make the most of their chance to show the world a sanitized and shining face, and to swing the world’s opinion in their favor long enough to allow them prepare for war.

If you like sports, history, and/or a good story well-told, you might want to try The Boys In The Boat.

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