Over the course of our recent three day & 1,900 mile drive to Florida I decided to test out Audible and use my 3 month free trial courtesy of Amazon Prime. My first pick was immediately the 2013 Daniel James Brown release The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which I had been interested in reading since it came out. I've long been a fan of crew and always looked back on my choice not to join our town's team in high school as a unbelievably poor choice. Brown's book almost immediately became an absolute favorite. Below are my thoughts on it and the inaugural Blessed Bookworm Book Review.
Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Author: Daniel James Brown
Read by: Edward Herrmann (yes, that is the voice of Richard Gilmore from the TV show Gilmore Girls)
Length of Audible Read: 14 hrs, 25 min
Source: Book Gallery West & Audible
Get it here: Amazon
As the subtitle explains, this story follows the 9 men who made up the crew as well as coaching staff of the USA's 1936 Olympic Team and their quest for the gold medal. Brown provides life stories and background of several of the men, primarily centering the story around Joe Rantz, and gives a complete historical picture spreading from the turn of the century through the summer Olympic Games.
First, let me comment on the quality of the audio experience for this book itself. It's amazing. Herrmann's voice is melodious and fluid. Deep and masculine, it easily lends itself to the text easily and helps to emphasize the intensity and adrenaline that is competitive rowing. His reading of the races makes the listener feel like someone following the live regatta via radio in the 1930's. It's riveting.
Second, regarding Brown's writing style, few nonfiction writers can keep a text so filled with detail and not cross over into odious droning. His expansive attention to detail places the reader completely into life in the early 20th century. To read Brown is to experience a period of history almost first hand. With regards to Boys in the Boat, you can almost feel the wet and cold air of Lake Washington or the waves and current of the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie. It's the stuff a nonfiction reader dreams of.
The opening quotes of each chapter are all by George Yeoman Pocock - a genius in the world of rowing who literally changed the sport - providing both insights and a familiar framework to the book itself. His life story is offered in pieces of the background text and it is fascinating in its depth. Bobby Moch is the coxswain and athletic force that we all dream of encountering in sports. Tom Boelles, the freshman coach with the perfectly discerning eye for greatness. Al Ulbrickson, a head coach who knows how to reach the team's fullest potential and achieve the dreams no one dared have.
Joe Rantz will almost guaranteed become a hero for any reader. His resilience and grit are something to sit in awe of. Truly, there isn't much I could say that would entirely impart how spectacular this man was. If I were to hang a photo in my office of a role model for myself, Rantz would be it. There's simply nothing the man couldn't do.
Writing about Hitler's Germany in the years leading up to World War II and the Holocaust is a daunting task and Brown pulls it off beautifully. He does not take lightly the responsibility of this time period or the looming atrocities. He equally portrays the 'current' views as would have been the American perspective at the time, how propaganda was used for years (even the Olympics themselves a tool for the Fuhrer), as well as giving respectful attention to the events and terror that were to come. It's nothing less than a complete picture of Germany in 1936 - and that is the author's true strength: providing the complete picture.
There are unbelievable passages throughout the book describing races, practices, or just what rowing is at its essence. Brown's writing is as fluid and soulful as the sport about which he is writing. I turned my favorite passage into a printable poster for you guys to have below, because I think we all can stand to have a little encouragement from time to time to help keep us rebounding and moving forward. Check it out and enjoy your weekend!