The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

the-boys-in-the-boatI know, me and a book about sports? I don’t think so. But trust me, it is a little different with Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. First, it came highly recommended from people I trust. Second, it is about rowing, a sport to which I have some experience and sentimental attachment.

Boys in the Boat recounts the journey of men’s eight crew to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Brown enters this narrative through Joe Rantz and his fellow crew mates at the University of Washington. Although rowing is often associated with blue bloods and the Ivy League elite, in the case of the Washington crew this could not be further from the truth. The students who comprised the crew often came from rough backgrounds and truly suffered during the years of the Great Depression. This makes Boys in the Boat a story of underdogs triumphing over adversity and making good on the world stage of the Olympic.

One of the strengths of Brown’s book lays in his descriptions of rowing. When a boat gets its ‘swing’ it is a magical thing. It gives those in the boat a feeling of transcendence that is hard to describe, but Brown manages it. As a former coxswain I also appreciated the attention and credit Brown gave to this member of the crew. If the oarsmen are the brawn, the cox is the brain. The two parts are not separate, but must be able to communicate almost without words. Again, there is a bit of transcendence in this relationship that Brown captures without getting all wishy washy and spiritual.

Who would like this book? Like most sports stories about an underdog triumphing, The Boys in the Boat will appeal to more than just your typical sports fans. It gives important insight into life in the Pacific Northwest during the Great Depression. Many of the boys were from logging and mining families and felt the impact of the economic downturn acutely. Boys in the Boat also grabs you by the seat of your pants and compels you to keep reading. Even though you already know they will make it to the Olympics, you want to know how they get there. I highly recommend reading it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and fair review. 


  1. I have heard a lot about this, but I rarely enjoy books about sports so never bothered to check it. Still, like you said, this book has come recommended from a lot of people I trust, so maybe I should consider reading it.

  2. Pingback: June Round Up | 52 books or bust

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