The Boys in The Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel Brown, is a truly remarkable and enjoyable book. It manages to educate the novice about the nuances, challenges and joys of the sport of crew, it puts the reader right in the boat with some of the greatest practitioners of the sport, and most surprisingly, it sheds light on both the great depression and the rise of Nazis in Germany.
While jogging along the Potomac, I'll often see the local crew teams practicing. I've never gave them a whole lot of thought, other than to wonder what must it be like to play a sport where you don't actually see your goal. After reading 'Boys in the Boat,' I certainly have a fresh appreciation for the teams I see splashing around in the Potomac. Nearly all sports are going to be grueling in some way, and nearly all sports are going to reach a level of poetry when practiced at the highest levels. So in that respect, crew isn't unique. But Brown still manages to educate us landlubbers to the point that we can appreciate what these youth are trying to accomplish, and just how small the margin of error for success is.
I really did find my pulse quickening as I read the accounts of our hero's races. I found myself urging them on to win, though I'm not sure how much effect this may have actually had on their chances. Either way, it's a testament to Brown's writing that I can already announce that if this book is ever made into a movie (and surely it will be), the book will be far better than the silver screen edition.
Had the book just been about a remarkable crew team, that would have been enough. But it's about so much more. I've had my share of education of both the great depression as well as the horrors of the Holocaust. Yet, Brown managed to connect me with these events in a novel way and I walked away with fresh insights. I found the descriptions of the thoroughness of the Nazi propaganda machine to be especially chilling, as if torn from the pages of a dystopian novel. In a way, it gave me hope for our country: we're quick to call tyranny on our government and toss around the word 'Nazi', yet compared to actual Nazi's our government is acting like a bunch of school children.
The book is definitely worth your time: it's a well written underdog story, with a nice dose of history. What's not to like?
A huge thanks to my Mother-in-Law who read and enjoyed the book, and I thought I would, too. Great minds think alike!