Rowing is like a beautiful duck. On the surface it is all grace, but underneath the bastard’s paddling like mad. (The Boys in the Boat, page 178)
I first mentioned this book in my post titled “Optimistic Travel.” Since then, I have continued to think about how great it is and, furthermore, my duty to evangelize to my fellow readers who might be looking for a recommendation for their next read.
While telling the true story of Joe Rantz from Washington state, Daniel James Brown shares the narrative of the 1936 USA Olympic Rowing Team that made it to the world stage in Nazi Berlin, going on to win the Gold Medal despite all adversity.
The Boys in the Boat is a captivating storyline following not only Joe’s story, but also the story of the great northwest during some of the hardest years America has ever seen, including the Great Depression, The Dust Bowl, and the start of World War II.
Aside from its well-written narrative, the book also gave me a great appreciation for rowing that I had never considered. To the outsider looking in, rowing was, in my opinion, rudimentary and mundane. I never thought of rowing as an elite athletic sport until reading of the intense mental and physical training that the boys endured.
Last week, I walked along Boathouse Row in downtown Philadelphia and watched the rowing teams cruise across the glassy Schuylkill River as the sun rose over the hill. I was captivated by the rowers’ technique, teamwork, and of course, their speed. It was a beautiful site given my new appreciation for rowing. It was just as Brown described, “All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.”
The Boys in the Boat will teach you about rowing, yes, but also about a boy who was abandoned by his own family multiple times. A boy who only owned one shirt to bring to rowing practice. A boy who had to work and fish for his own food before he even became a teenager. A boy who never complained and simply wanted to find acceptance in the world.
You will also learn about a coach who hid his emotions from everyone while paining through the journey for excellence. You will learn of a tradesman who crafted row boats with his hands and the sport with his heart and mind. And finally, you will learn about Nazi propaganda, the beginning of rowing as a sport in America, and just how hard the Great Depression was for our ancestors.
It’s a fantastic read. Go get it.