Off the top of my head, here’s a quick list of things I don’t care about at all or don’t want to know any more about than I already do:
The Great Depression
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown is a book about the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal and I loved every word of it. This isn’t a new book, it came out a couple of years ago, but I somehow missed it. My friend Candace picked it for our wine book club and, in fact, everyone loved it. This doesn’t always happen. We also have a moratorium on World War II books in our group because we had a string of them a few years ago which left us all exhausted. Though this was WWII-adjacent, it squeaked through.
The heart of the story focuses on one rower, Joe Rantz, a desperately poor boy with the world’s worst family, who is trying to make a better life for himself. We follow Joe, and the other rowers, through their college careers as underdog sportsmen against fierce rivals all the way to the Olympics. The unlikeliness of their success is remarkable, and Brown’s writing left me dazzled. I found myself holding my breath during racing scenes. I can’t remember the last book I read (maybe Unbroken) where I felt so part of the story. Someone has to make a movie out of this story, you cannot help picturing every scene with vivid detail. Yes! Rowing! I know!
The book flashes between the American college rowing community and a Germany preparing for the Olympic Games by trying to whitewash all signs of impending evil to the outside world. The detail is astonishing, Brown draws on the boy’s journals, and interviews with primary sources and their families. This is non-fiction that reads like a novel, and not a very realistic novel, and the last chapter left me literally sobbing. And to be clear, it is not at all sad, but I was so invested and involved in each boy’s life, and the lives of the coaches and the boat maker, that the detail of how they lived the rest of their lives was wonderful.
Grade – A