Saturday, July 8, 2017

OT Book Review: The Boys in the Boat (1936 Olympics, rowing)

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel Brown (Viking, 2013, 416 pages, $28.95) (Young Reader’s Edition, 2015, 240 pages, $17.99, grades 4 and up)

How to Describe The Boys in the Boat. . . .

Inspiring, historical, stirring, masterful, a great story told by a great story-teller, New York Times bestseller for over a year – so you know it’s got to be good! Twenty thousand reviews on Amazon, 82% of which are 5-star.

The Original Dream Team

Take nine college boys in the Pacific Northwest at the University of Washington devoting their energy in all sorts of weather (even snow) to a sport that originated in upper-class England and which in the eastern US draws the children of doctors and lawyers and politicians at Yale and Harvard and Cornell.

Our UW collegians are, instead, the sons of lumbermen and fishermen and construction workers and they, themselves, pay their tuition by working in the forests and on the waters and by building Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia.

Perhaps That is Their Secret

Their hard-working upbringing makes them thirsty to accomplish more while their working background gives them the strength to accomplish it. They are used to fighting for what they want.


Yes, rowing. Rowing a shell – a boat that glides on the water with the rowers rowing backward in perfect unison.

Starting with 175 freshmen who try out for the crew team, the coaches whittle down the field to eventually the nine who travel to Hitler’s Berlin in 1936 (along with Jim Thorpe) and come back against all odds to win the gold.

They don’t hear the starting gun (they have a notoriously slow start anyway). They have an ill teammate. They are in the outside position which adds about two boat lengths they must make up – just think what they could have accomplished if more had been in their favor – or at least equitable.

Spoiler Alert

By now you know the boys in the boat win the gold at the Olympics but the story centers around how they do it, primarily through the story of one of the boys, Joe Rantz, who had possibly the most difficult upbringing. These boys lived through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression and still learned to trust one another and come together as a team to work as one well-oiled machine.

They continued to meet a couple of times a year for life and to row together as a group every ten years.

Two Stories in One

One story is about poor college kids in Seattle who together become one, a team in the true sense of the word. The other story takes us through the life of one of those boys, the most challenged one. Both stories interweave through the pages, alternating chapters until they meet and then bring us to the Olympics.

Two More Things. . . .
Young Readers Adaptation

You may have come to realize that one goal of the reviewers here at DogEvals, besides telling you about great dog books, is to interest you in reading. So many adults simply don’t have time for a long adult-sized book. We want you to start easy – with children’s books, to reel you back into a world of fantasy and fun and easy education. (Read our week of reviews of dog books for kids that might appeal to Mr. Trump who admits he is not a reader.)

Besides the original adult-sized 419-page version, The Boys in the Boat also comes in a shorter version, the Young Reader’s Adaptation for teens but also for adults who simply don’t have much time for reading.

And, PBS has come out with a documentary, The Boys of ’36, also on Netflix!

Whichever version fits you best, you will not be disappointed. As a matter of fact, we bet you will then spend (too much) time online, researching more about this Dream Team of the 1930s!

And, secondly, if you just happen to be a transplanted Husky (the mascot of the University of Washington), The Boys in the Boat will bring back memories. I was lucky: for me, memories abound. The rower followed in the book is from my hometown. I am familiar with the names Coach Ulbrickson and boatbuilder Pocock and now I know why the Conibear Crewhouse (where I actually lived and ate for a while) is named the Conibear Crewhouse.

For those who are familiar with rowing on the East Coast, you will skim through this book like your oars skim through the water. And, finally, others will learn about a sport they may not have known much about: if they are young enough, they may even try out for crew when they get to college!

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