My book review of 'The Boys in the Boat' by Daniel James Brown

by Daniel James Brown
The Boys in the Boat
by Daniel James Brown

Telling the story of an American team seeking to compete in the Berlin Olympics, this is a book about rowing, but it is so much more. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the author beautifully describes life in 1930s America, the threat of war in Europe, the rise of Hitler, and the personalities of the incredible individuals who made up this outstanding crew.

Joe Rantz is the focus for this astonishing story of talent, commitment and determination. He had been abandoned by his family but, without bitterness or anger, had resolved to put himself through school and college overcoming tragedy, rejection and poverty. The strength of his character as well as his physique led him to be a key member of the crew identified by coach Al Ulbrickson and boatbuilder George Pocock as the best rowers for generations.

They were eight working class young men who had Olympic glory in their sights. They worked tremendously hard on being physically fit enough and technically able enough to rise to the challenge. But the most powerful lesson they learned, and the most poignant message in the book, was that they should not row as individuals.

Although each rower was outstanding in their own right, success would only come if they gave themselves over to the crew and achieved something which is called 'swing'. "It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others...Only then will it feel as if the boat is part of each of them, moving as if on its own...Poetry, that's what a good swing feels like."

We learn of how this crew achieved swing through Joe's personal story and it is beautiful and inspiring. This is a wonderful book which I urge you to read without delay! (Alternatively I believe George Clooney has been named as director of a film version...!) It's a brilliant story. I want to read it all over again...and think I might!

Review date: March 2022
Publication date: 3rd January 2014