The Boys in the Boat
Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (6/3/2013)
Mass Market Paperbound (3/30/2021)
Paperback, Large Print (6/3/2014)
Hardcover, Large Print (3/8/2017)
Hardcover, Large Print (7/17/2013)
July 2013 Indie Next List
— Carol Hicks, Bookshelf At Hooligan Rocks, Truckee, CA
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For readers of Unbroken, out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.
It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.
Praise For The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics…
“If you imagined a great regatta of books about rowing, then Brown’s BOYS IN THE BOAT certainly makes the final heat….”—Boston Globe
“The astonishing story of the UW’s 1936 eight-oar varsity crew and its rise from obscurity to fame,…The individual stories of these young men are almost as compelling as the rise of the team itself. Brown excels at weaving those stories with the larger narrative, all culminating in the 1936 Olympic Games…A story this breathtaking demands an equally compelling author, and Brown does not disappoint. The narrative rises inexorably, with the final 50 pages blurring by with white-knuckled suspense as these all-American underdogs pull off the unimaginable.”—The Seattle Times
“Cogent history…, and a surprisingly suspenseful tale of triumph.”—USA Today
“This riveting tale of beating the odds (and the Germans) at the 1936 Olympics is a rousing story of American can-do-ism. It’s also a portrait of the nine boys who first rowed together for the University of Washington, and of the one in particular who made the sport his family and his home.” —Parade
“This riveting and inspiring saga evokes that of Seabiscuit…Readers need neither background nor interest in competitive rowing to be captivated by this remarkable and beautifully crafted history. Written with the drama of a compelling novel, it's a quintessentially American story that burnishes the esteem in which we embrace what has come to be known as the Greatest Generation.”—Associated Press
“A stirring tale of nine Depression-era athletes beating the odds and their inner demons to compete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You can Google the result and spoil the sport, but that won’t dull the many pleasures in Daniel James Brown’s colorful, highly readable celebration of a grueling collegiate challenge.”—Bloomberg News
“Brown’s book juxtaposes the coming together of the Washington crew team against the Nazis’ preparations for the Games, weaving together a history that feels both intimately personal and weighty in its larger historical implications. This book has already been bought for cinematic development, and it’s easy to see why: When Brown, a Seattle-based nonfiction writer, describes a race, you feel the splash as the oars slice the water, the burning in the young men’s muscles and the incredible drive that propelled these rowers to glory.” —Smithsonian Magazine
“Those who enjoy reading about Olympic history or amateur or collegiate sports will savor Brown’s superb book…”
—Library Journal (Starred)
“[Brown] offers a vivid picture of the socioeconomic landscape of 1930s America (brutal), the relentlessly demanding effort required of an Olympic-level rower, the exquisite brainpower and materials that go into making a first-rate boat, and the wiles of a coach who somehow found a way to, first beat archrival University of California, then conquer a national field of qualifiers, and finally, defeat the best rowing teams in the world. A book that informs as it inspires.”
“An evocative, cinematic prose… [Brown] makes his heroes’ struggle as fascinating as the best Olympic sagas.”
“The story deserves a more visible place in history, and Brown has brought it to light in a way that will appeal to readers regardless of their knowledge of our interest in rowing or wooden boats. It’s a story about universal human values: striving for excellence and the triumph of teamwork.”—WoodenBoat Magazine
“Every sport needs its laureate. With THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, crew has found its voice in Daniel James Brown, who tells a thrilling, heart-thumping tale of a most remarkable band of rowing brothers who upstaged Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. Well-told history, packed with suspense and a likable bunch of underdogs at the heart of an improbable triumph.”—Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Time
“For years I’ve stared and wondered about the old wooden boat resting on the top rack of the UW boathouse. I knew the names of the men that rowed it but never really knew who they were. After reading this book, I feel like I got to relive their journey and witness what it was truly like earning a seat in that Pocock shell. The passion and determination showed by Joe and the rest of the boys in the boat are what every rower aspires to. I will never look at that wooden boat the same again.”—Mary Whipple, Olympic gold medal–winning coxswain, women’s eight-oared crew, 2008 and 2012
“THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is not only a great and inspiring true story; it is a fascinating work of history.”
—Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea
“In 1936 nine working-class American boys burst from their small towns into the international limelight, unexpectedly wiping the smile off Adolph Hitler’s face by beating his vaunted German team to capture the Olympic gold medal. Daniel James Brown has written a robust, emotional snapshot of an era, a book you will recommend to your best friends.”
—James Bradley, author of Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys
“THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is an exciting blend of history and Olympic sport. I was drawn in as much by the personal stories as I was by the Olympic glory. A must read for anyone looking to be inspired!”
—Luke Mcgee, USA Rowing Men’s National Team Coach
“I really can’t rave enough about this book. Daniel James Brown has not only captured the hearts and souls of the University of Washington rowers who raced in the 1936 Olympics, he has conjured up an era of history. Brown’s evocation of Seattle in the Depression years is dazzling, his limning of character, especially the hardscrabble hero Joe Rantz, is novelistic, his narration of the boat races and the sinister-exalted atmosphere of Berlin in 1936 is cinematic. I read the last fifty pages with white knuckles, and the last twenty-five with tears in my eyes. History, sports, human interest, weather, suspense, design, physics, oppression and inspiration—THE BOYS IN THE BOAT has it all and Brown does full justice to his terrific material. This is Chariots of Fire with oars.”
—David Laskin, author of The Children’s Blizzard and The Long Way Home
“A lovingly crafted saga of sweat and idealism that raised goosebumps from the first page. I was enthralled by the story’s play of light and shadow, of mortality and immortality, and its multidimensional recreation of the pursuit of excellence. This meditation on human frailty and possibility sneaks up on you until it rushes past with the speed of an eight-oared boat.” —Laurence Bergreen, author of Columbus and Over the Edge of the World
“Daniel Brown’s book tells the dramatic story of the crew that set the stage for Seattle emerging as a world-class city. Their lives define the tradition that is still University of Washington rowing today.”
—Bob Ernst, director of rowing, University of Washington
Penguin Books, 9780143125471, 432pp.
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Did you know much about rowing before reading The Boys in the Boat? If not, what aspects of the sport surprised you most? If so, did you learn anything about rowing that you didn’t know before? And if you don’t generally follow sports or sports history, what made you want to read this book?
2. Compare how the Olympics were regarded in the 1930s to how they are regarded now. What was so significant about the boys’ win in 1936, right on the dawn of the Second World War? What political significance do the Olympics Games hold today?
3. Thanks to hours of interviews and a wealth of archival information from Joe Rantz, his daughter Judy, and a number of other sources, Daniel James Brown is able to tell Joe’s story in such fine detail that it’s almost as if you are living in the moment with Joe. How did you feel as you were reading the book? What significance does Joe’s unique point of view have for the unfolding of the narrative? And why do you think Joe was willing to discuss his life in such detail with a relative stranger?
4. While The Boys in the Boat focuses on the experiences of Joe Rantz and his teammates, it also tells the much larger story of a whole generation of young men and women during one of the darkest times in American history. What aspects of life in the 1930s struck you most deeply? How do the circumstances of Americans during the Great Depression compare to what America is facing now?
5. Brown mentions throughout the book that only a very special, almost superhuman individual can take on the physical and psychological demands of rowing and become successful at the sport. How did these demands play out in the boys’ academic and personal lives? How did their personal lives influence their approach to the sport?
6. Despite how much time Joe Rantz spent training with the other boys during his first two years at the University of Washington, he didn’t really form close personal relationships with any of them until his third year on the team. Why do you think that was? What factors finally made Joe realize that it did matter who else was in the boat with him (p. 221)?
7. Joe and Joyce maintain a very loving and supportive relationship throughout Joe’s formative years, with Joyce consistently being his foundation, despite Joe’s resistance to relying on her. How did their relationship develop while they were still in college? In what ways did Joyce support Joe emotionally? What about Joyce’s own challenges at home? How do you think her relationship with her parents affected her relationship with Joe?
8. Al Ulbrickson’s leadership style was somewhat severe, to say the least, and at many times, he kept his opinions of the boys and their standings on the team well-guarded. Even with this guardedness, what about him inspired Joe and the boys to work their hardest? What strategies did Ulbrickson use to foster competition and a strong work ethic among them and why?
9. George Pocock and Al Ulbrickson each stand as somewhat mythic figures in The Boys in the Boat; however, they were very different men with very different relationships to the boys. Discuss their differences in leadership style and their roles within the University of Washington’s rowing establishment. What about Pocock enabled him to connect with Joe Rantz on such a personal level?
10. At one point, Pocock pulls Joe aside to tell him “it wasn’t just the rowing but his crewmates that he had to give himself up to, even if it meant getting his feelings hurt” (p. 235). How do you think this advice affected Joe’s interactions with the other boys? How do you think it might have affected Joe’s relationship to his family, especially after the deaths of Thula Rantz and his friend Charlie MacDonald?
11. What was Al Ulbrickson and Ky Ebright’s relationship to the local and national media? How did they use sportswriters to advance their teams’ goals and how did the sportswriters involve themselves in collegiate competition? Were you surprised at all by the level of involvement, especially that of Royal Brougham? How does it compare to collegiate sports coverage today?
12. When Al Ulbrickson retired in 1959, he mentioned that one of the highlights of his career was “the day in 1936 that he put Joe Rantz in his Olympic boat for the first time, and watched the boat take off” (p. 364). Why do you think that moment was so important for Ulbrickson? What about Joe was so special to him and how did Joe become the element that finally brought the boys of the Husky Clipper together?
13. Later in the book, it is noted “all along Joe Rantz had figured that he was the weak link in the crew” (p. 326), but that he found out much later in life that all the other boys felt the same way. Why do you think that was? And why do you suppose they didn’t reveal this to each other until they were old men?
14. What was your favorite hair-raising moment in The Boys of the Boat? Even knowing the outcome of the 1936 Olympic Games, was there any point where you weren’t sure if Joe and the boys would make it?