The Boys in the Boat


A book about crew racing? You mean those ivy league guys rowing in a thin boat? Do I really want to read a book about that?


Daniel James Brown shows the answer to the last question is ‘yes.’ His Boys in the Boat, is not only a compelling story about the sport, written with impeccable literary style, it is also a story about hard-scrabble life during the depression. Like Erik Larson’s The Devil and the White City, Brown layers one story onto another occurring during the same era. In Boys in the Boat, the story of the rise of an unlikely rowing team in Washington state is set against the rise of the Nazi’s in Germany, ultimately aligning at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.


Much of Brown’s research in this real-life story came from interviews with Joe Rantz and his family. Rantz is the star of the story, and you may read half of the book before you learn much about his teammates. So, there is a little imbalance in the book's development. Not that Rantz’s story is not interesting. It is very much so. His father and stepmother desert the kid when Joe was twelve, and he had to make his own way. Yet, Joe was determined and worked hard to put himself through the University of Washington, where he crewed.


Brown does a fine job of crafting descriptions of the boat, the races, and the pain of each young man giving it his all, but you may want to skip ahead in places. Although well crafted, there is only so much you can say about the sport. I found the side stories, like Rantz working one summer on the Grand Coulee Dam enriching the book.


Overall, it’s a delightful story, written well. I recommend it.




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Jackson Coppley