Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown (Audio)

For some reason, when I received this audio in the mail from Penguin Audio, it didn't initially pique my interest, despite the fact that I do love true stories.  But then I heard that some friends were reading it for a book club, and Kathy told me SHE had listened to it and been blown away.  I pulled the discs off the shelf, loaded them on the iPod, and then waited until I was in a non-fiction mood.

Synopsis:  This is an amazing story about a team of nine boys from the University of Washington...a rag-tag group of farmers and blue-collar workers with a special bond...who trained and competed during their years in college and in their senior year went on to the 1936 Olympics and captured the gold.

The heart of the story is focused on Joe Rantz, one of the rowers who grew up without any support of family. His mother died when he was young, his step-mother had no use for him so he was kicked out of the house as a teenager to fend for himself.  He scrapped for work to pay for college, and refused to accept defeat in any part of his life.  We also get to know the charismatic yet nonverbal coach, the eccentric British genius who designed the team's boats, as well as their other boys.

This inspirational story recounts obstacle after obstacle that these boys encountered...everything from the overwhelming competition of the money and tradition of the Ivy League crew teams, sickness, lack of funding from the university, the Great Depression, and the heavily favored German team on their home turf.  It is a true testament to the tenacity of the human spirit.

My thoughts:  I am so glad I was persuaded to listen to this...what a heartwarming story.  It just doesn't hit any closer to home than this, and makes you stand up a little straighter knowing what can be accomplished if the will is strong.

There is much to be learned here.  The author educates us in the basics of the sport of crew.  I had no idea it was so intense and physically rigorous.  We learn about the engineering of the perfect boat.  We learn about the rumblings of trouble in Berlin, the efforts made to elevate Nazi Germany to world class status, and the documentation of these efforts made by Leni Riefenstahl.

The human perspective was equally as compelling.  The average boy would have admitted defeat had they battled against the odds thrown at Joe Rantz.  One particular story I will never forget...that at the Olympics, one of the rowers was deathly ill - nearly comatose - but the team refused to compete without him.  So they put him in the boat, though he could barely sit up, and everyone compensated for him.  And they still won gold.

This is the type of book that I would compare to "Unbroken" or "Devil in the White City"...pieces of history that everyone should read and appreciate.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this book was Edward Herrmann, who actually did read "Unbroken" as well as many other non-fiction audios.  His voice doesn't vary much, and does take some time to get used to. Eventually, however, you get accustomed to his style and is actually pleasant to listen to.

Listening length:  14 hours and 25 minutes (416 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars


bermudaonion said...

You know I loved this book! Those young men had such strong character - character that we seem to be lacking today. I was struck that Rantz wanted to be on the crew because it would guarantee him a job - what would athletes today think of that?

I agree with you about Herrmann's narration - at first I didn't think I'd like it but I grew used to it and came to enjoy it.

Ti said...

I passed on this one only because I was so strapped for time, but it's totally a book I would read.

techeditor said...

I read this book. Here's what I thought.

Although its subtitle implies that THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is about the American eight-oar rowing crew in the 1936 Olympics, the book is more than that. It's mostly about what led to the formation of the crew. Also, the story is made personal by its concentration on one of the boys, Joe Rantz.

If THE BOYS IN THE BOAT was fiction, I wouldn't have enjoyed it. That's because the whole thing is so unlikely: Joe overcame such odds in his personal life. None of the boys came from money when they suddenly emerged from Seattle, a city few were familiar with then, to beat the prestigious Eastern schools (e.g., Yale and Harvard). The boat and the boys dealt with several disadvantages in Germany, both before and during their races, only to beat their competition. None of this story would be believable if I didn't know it was true.

Throughout this book, juxtaposed against Joe's and the boys' story is Hitler's creation of the fictional Germany that he wanted to present to the world during the Olympics there. As he hides the real Germany, the US ignores him, and the boys and other athletes just work on getting there.

When the story was over, I didn't want it to be over. So I read the endnotes. You'll probably do that, too.

I won an ARC of this book from goodreads.com.(

Literary Feline said...

This probably isn't a book I would give much thought to reading, but you make a compelling argument to do so, Sandy. It does sound like a wonderful story. I think I will have to look for the audio, and add it to my wish list. Thank you!

JoAnn said...

I have been kicking myself because I donated my audio review copy to the library when the story didn't appeal to me. Clearly a mistake... wonder if they'll laugh when I borrow it?

Iliana said...

Oh wow, what a story! I admit I probably wouldn't have even thought about picking it up because I don't read much non-fiction and especially if sports are involved but it does sound like a good one.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your review. This sounds like a good NF to consider as one of my book club's options. The other one I am considering is Lean In.

Beth F said...

I've been waiting to read this one. I'm on a light reading kick at the moment.

Unknown said...

I haven't heard of this one before. I have no interest in rowing, but I love the little facts you've put in this review - winning gold with a dead-weight man in the boat!? Wow. I'll keep an eye out for it!