The Boys in the Boat chronicles the lives of the men of the University of Washington Rowing team and their journey to the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin Germany. It’s a historical sports book, but it is so much more than that.
This book was recommended by fellow blogger Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster. At first, when I read her post about it, I thought “Yeah, I’m sure it’s just like every other sports book. You probably only liked it because you did crew, just like I love Running with the Buffaloes because I’m a runner.” I have never rowed crew before, and besides talking to my friend Charlie about his rowing team in high school briefly this one time, I have rarely even heard of rowing as a sport anywhere except in England. However, I am a naturally curious person and it sounded mildly interesting, so I picked it up before Independence Day Weekend to keep me busy on the beach. Boy oh boy was I wrong about it only being ‘mildly’ interesting.
This book is not only about the sport that is rowing. It is not only about a team who did the impossible, as every great sports book will say of their protagonists. This book is a vital piece of our history. There are so many components of it that it is impossible for you NOT to get sucked into the lives of the University of Washington Rowing team, their coaches, their friends and family, and at the same time the lives of Hitler’s closest confidants and even Hitler himself. This book has everything.
I am a huge believer in the smallest details, and this book nailed them. I especially loved how it was able to capture snapshots of the world in the 1930’s at a variety of different levels. From the singular life of Joe Rantz, to Coach Al Ulbrickson viewing the team as a whole, to President FDR trying to heal the United States in the middle of the Great Depression, to Leni Reifenstahl capturing the essence of the Nazi Regime, and even to Joseph Goebbles attempting to brainwash the entire world into believing that Hitler was different, The Boys in the Boat was able to get across all of the events and ideas seamlessly as if they were happening simultaneously in front of your eyes right here and now.
As a reader, I was swept up in the writing. I cried, I laughed, I felt their nerves and their stresses, their fears and doubts, their pain and their triumphs. I could not be any happier with this book. As Daniel Brown writes at the end “if books can be said to have hearts and souls” then I have to believe that this one has them. This book is as much alive as the Husky Clipper was with Bobby, Don, Joe, Shorty, Gordy, Stub, Johnny, Chuck, and Roger her with a perfect swing. This is definitely a book I will treasure and read over and over and over again.