Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Author: Daniel James Brown
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Audible
Content Alert: Maybe some swearing, but I don't remember much

While The Boys in the Boat is the story of a bunch of young men from the University of Washington and their coach, and the obstacles they overcame to win a gold medal in crew in the 1936 Olympics, it's really the story of Joe Rantz, a boy whose mother died when he was a baby, who was abandoned by his father and stepmother and left to raise himself while he was still a child, who managed to survive, on his own at the heights of the Great Depression, and who found himself rowing crew for the University of Washington, not, as many of his teammates did, to have a fun extracurricular activity, but so he could afford to attend school and get an education. By the end of the story, while I was rooting for all eight boys in the boat, it was Rantz who had captured my heart.

Captured my heart. That's an interesting phrase to use when writing about a nonfiction book. This week we were at my in-laws' house for Father's Day, and the women in the family were talking about books. My sister-in-law agreed that although David McCullough's John Adams was an important book, it was also a fairly boring book. While I would never fault McCullough's writing or scholarship, I find myself gravitating more to nonfiction books that I might classify as "storytelling history." I was first introduced to these kind of books with Erik Larson, Bill Bryson, and Laura Hillenbrand-- you know, these are the books you want to read for the story, and they keep you reading even though they're nonfiction. Daniel James Brown belongs to this class of writers (and I think it's great company). I realize that I am probably the last person in America to read The Boys in the Boat, but if I'm wrong, it's worth a read for sure. I listened to it while I was running the Ogden Marathon, and it was definitely engrossing enough to keep me reading, even when the running was not fun.

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