Review: The Boys in the Boat
As congestive heart failure was claiming the life of Joe Rantz, he asked to meet Daniel James Brown. Rantz’s daughter was reading one of Brown’s books to him and Rantz knew one of the people in the book so he thought it would be nice to meet the author. When they met, they spoke of the book and then began chatting about Rantz’s life and when Brown realized what a remarkable story it is, he asked if he could tell his story. Rantz said that he’d like that, “But not just about me. It has to be about the boat.”
After a tough childhood in Sequim, Washington, Joe Rantz found himself trying to survive on his own. In an attempt to better himself, he enrolled in the University of Washington. He tried out for crew only because he would be guaranteed a part time job if he made it and he needed the money. He made the team and rowed with the sons of blue collar workers, most of whom had never rowed before in their lives. Remarkably, they found themselves rowing for the United States at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, is the story of that remarkable Olympic team. Joe Rantz is at the center of the story, but the stories of his teammates, future wife, coach, and even the shipbuilder who built their shell are included as well. Brown expertly weaves the history of the time with their stories and it makes for one wonderfully compelling book. With the depression ending and war looming, the country was desperate for some good news and these boys were it. Rowing was one of the most popular sports at the Olympics at the time so the country – really the world – followed these young men very closely. They served as a reminder of what could be accomplished with integrity, team spirit, and hard work.
I listened to the audio version The Boys in the Boat which is on 12 CDs and lasts approximately fourteen and a half hours. It took me a little while to warm up to Edward Herrmann’s narration but once I did I was totally hooked. I loved this book not only for the story of these remarkable young men but for a glimpse into the time period. I listened to the book in the car and sobbed at the end – I had to pull into a parking lot to compose myself. The story of these men made me realize why Tom Brokaw called those who grew up when they did “The Greatest Generation.” Their story is truly inspiring and it’s one I recommend to everyone.