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Eclipsing Cliches   Leave a comment

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The Boys in the Boat isn’t compelling as a title until considering the subtitle: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. That, believe it or not, provides just the amount of spark to pick up the book. Once in hand,  Daniel James Brown’s account is riveting. Sure there are a few spots where it catches a crab, in rowing vernacular where an oar doesn’t completely come out of the water and slows the pace of the shell (boat). Fortunately, Brown keeps a mostly steady tempo.

The narrative follows the unlikely evolution of nine young men who find their way to the University of Washington rowing crew. Much of the story follows Joe Rantz, a particularly poor young man with a heartbreaking past: his stepmother convinced his father to essentially abandon Joe. His history, along with that of his crewmates and their coaches, provide the book’s heart, literally and figuratively. Each chapter begins with a quote from George Yeoman Pocock the boat builder who served as a mentor to Joe and others.

Interspersed with descriptions of the men’s pasts, their grueling training and the exciting races — particularly those against California – Brown describes events in Germany before the world fully understood the atrocities occurring there.

Even though the outcome of the race is known from the start, how the American crew made it to Berlin is fascinating. It’s a story of indomitable spirit that demonstrates the power of hard work, friendship and the American dream.

The Boys in the Boat
Four Bookmarks
Viking Adult, 2013
416 pages

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