readingcook

The Boys in the Boat

In My Book Club Books on February 14, 2016 at 11:42 pm

The Literary Epicurean Book Club Selection

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 The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Book Description (Courtesy of Goodreads):

For readers of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. 

My Thoughts:

What a great book! From the opening interview to the epilogue, this is a brilliantly written, incredibly detailed and engaging account of nine ordinary men,their coaches, and the boat builder who did the extraordinary. Daniel James Brown did an amazing job telling the story of Joe Rantz and the others, as well as the times they lived in. I cannot believe that I was totally unaware of this piece of Olympic history, and I am so thankful to Mr. Brown for having brought it to light. Those “Boys in the Boat” deserved nothing less.

Book Club Discussion:

This story of the rowers from Washington who went on to win at the 1936 Olympics was a complete revelation to all of us. Not a one of us had heard of it before we read the book, and the book wouldn’t have been written in the first place if the author’s neighbor had not asked him to come meet her father who had read and enjoyed one of his earlier books. Her father was Joe Rantz, one of only two of the original crew who still alive at the time, and he had quite the story to share with Mr. Br0wn.

The book was based on Joe Rant’s interviews with the author, but the author dug deeper to help the reader get the most complete picture of this moment in history. All members expressed appreciation of the author’s substantial research that went into the writing of this book. Since his main interview was with Joe Rantz, that was certainly the predominant viewpoint, but there was also tremendous detail about all the other team members, the coach, and George Pocock, the man who built the boat. The author gave full measure to each and every person who contributed to the team effort. He also did an outstanding job capturing the essence of the Depression Era and the chilling details of the scope of the Nazi’s endeavors to deceive the world and how Hitler created the perfect facade that belied the terror of the Nazi government. We loved his writing style, where each chapter began with a powerful quote from George Pocock that contributed significantly to understanding, and the personal narratives of coachers and rowers that just flowed beautifully to tell their story. Members also expressed praise for the author’s masterful use of foreshadowing.

We all agreed that Joe definitely carried this book. His whole backstory, how he was basically abandoned by his father more than once and left to pretty much manage on his own from the age of 10 during the Depression era and how he got himself through college, is just an amazing story in and of itself. The whole rowing team experience and trip to the 1936 Olympics just added another whole incredible layer. The stories of the other rowers were also compelling, as was the focus on the coach, especially his understanding of the physical and psychological needs of his team and how he kept trying one combination of team members after another to find the perfect one.  That man was definitely ahead of his time.

We also appreciated the substantial focus on George Pocock, his supreme craftsmanship and attention to detail, and his incredible understanding of the rowers, especially how he contributed to their overall success. One member compared Pocock’s belief that every piece of wood plays a unique part in the final result when building a boat to the fact that each man in the rowing team brought unique qualities to make an exquisite team. Pocock understood that so well.

So many important messages were conveyed in this story about the value of hard work and best effort, perseverance, working together, and the power of forgiveness. We were in awe of how Joe was able to reconcile with father and his general attitude that he “…couldn’t carry that anger around.” We were equally in awe of how the rowers overcame their own adverse circumstances, how they worked hard – not just on the rowing team but also to get the money to complete their education and meet the challenges of the academics while honoring the enormous time commitment to the rowing team, and how committed they were to each other and being the best team member they could be in every sense of the word. We compared all of these behaviors to what we see with the current generation of students and athletes and their measure comparatively speaking. Needless to say, today’s generation of students and athletes did not compare well.

Book Club Rating: a solid 5/5 Stars – Just an absolutely well written, incredible story with rich characters and depth of theme. So inspiring on so many levels. Not surprisingly, we are all definitely interested in watching this event in the next Olympics!

Book Club Menu

Purple Rain Martini

German Potato Salad

Apple Pecan Feta Spinach Salad

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Hot Salmon Spread

Shrimp Tortellini Pesto Skewers

Crab Cakes

Tri Tips Lollipops

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Mudslide Ice Cream, a German Cookie, and  Rocky Mountain Chocolate Apple

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