The Boys in the Boat
By: Daniel James Brown
Guest Reviewer Rating: FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS
Best for: 14 and up
This story’s going to stay with me a long, long time
Guest review buy Catina Haverlock
Spoiler: The University of Washington’s 9-man varsity rowing team comprised of poor and blue collar boys, shocks the world by winning the gold in Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics (during an era when rowing was the most popular Olympic sport, to boot!) Actually, that’s not really a spoiler. It’s basically on the jacket of the book.
First, Boys in the Boat gives a beautifully detailed account of the art of rowing and of the backdrop against which this story is set. And when I say detailed, I mean detailed. The lengths that Brown went through to give us the truest and most accurate version of this unfathomable true story are nothing short of awe-inspiring. I’m so grateful for his efforts to do this story justice. At the end of the book, he details chapter by chapter exactly how he researched for this story. The magnitude of it seems impossible.
But, because of Brown’s dedication and passion for this story and it’s characters, I felt like I was right there! There in the middle of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. There as Hitler and his head of propaganda spruced up Berlin, removing all signs of anti-semitism to fool the world about what a new Nazi Germany was all about. I was in the boat again and again with these unique and beautiful young men who learned to put team above self.
These boys who came to understand rowing was so much more than a sport. Consider this expert from the book:
“Perhaps the seeds of redemption lay not just in perseverance, hard work, and rugged individualism. Perhaps they lay in something more fundamental – the simple notion of everyone pitching in and pulling together.”
There was nothing I disliked about this book and I RARELY say that. I’ve heard a few say they felt weighed down in the details. I felt the exact opposite, because the details of this story brought it alive for me. The details of THIS book did nothing to interfere with the story’s pacing. This book is a treasure trove of beautiful words and lessons that made me not only contemplate, appreciate and cherish what these boys accomplished, but made me contemplate and evaluate MY life. Here’s one that reminded me of me.
“Rowing is like a beautiful duck. On the surface it is all grace, but underneath the bastard’s paddling like mad!”
Here’s another one that made me think.
“It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.”
Okay, one more.
“. . . but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life; the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them.”
I think I have at least 100 passages highlighted in this story, so impactful it was to me. Read beyond the rowing details of this last one and you will have an excellent idea of what this story embodies:
“There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called ‘swing.’ It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minute action – each subtle turning of wrists – must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other. Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars. Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation. Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.”
This story is full of characters I fell in love with, characters I hated, complex characters that I couldn’t make my mind up about. Crystal clear settings, lessons (not sermons) in every chapter, and a beautiful conclusion that left me keenly inspired but also tormented a bit. Because I wanted these characters to live forever. They seemed invincible and they were REAL people. And now they are gone. Every single one of them. But that’s life, so I guess the overriding lesson for me is to make every single day count. This story’s going to stay with me for a long, long time.
No content issues. And I can not WAIT for this to come to the big screen!
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