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Review: "The Boys in the Boat; Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin


1936 - National Championship Crew from the University of Washington goes on to defeat the Nazi athletic machine in the Olympics. Most readers might say ho-hum, but you would be completely and totally wrong. This best seller takes us deeply into the exciting and competitive world of (this may be difficult to believe) rowing. Imagine that in the 1930's rowers were placed on playing cards like baseball players. Rowing was second only to football in popularity and tens of thousands would show up for competitions. We've all heard of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics but who ever knew about the rowing team. Kudos to Brown for rescuing this story from the back-shelf of history. Insightful histories of major characters abound, (rower - Joe Rantz, coach - Al Ulbrickson and boat maker - George Pocock). These characters are so interesting and brought to life with such vibrancy that I only wish they were alive today so one could seek them out and have a conversation with them. The split second wins and losses, the strain on body and mind and the intricacies of strategy and boat building all combine to make this book a fascinating read. As I get more and more interested in books like this type (narrative histories i.e. David McCullough style) I simply cannot get enough. They are fascinating reads when done by a deft hand with clear insight and the technique to fashion the narrative into a running whole, advancing the story along with the timeline and people involved. If you like to read history, try one of these on as a worthy alternative to historical fiction.