December 12, 2015

"The Boys in the Boat"

In this season of miracles and magic, I'd like to suggest a book that is both inspirational and a really good read.  It is the true story of the University of Washington rowing team who, against all odds, took the gold medal in the 1936 Olympic Games.

Set in the Pacific Northwest during the depths of the Great Depression, "The Boys in the Boat" tells the almost unbelievable tale of the nine member team and their quest for victory.  Although rowing has always been considered a sport of the upper classes, these boys came from proletariat backgrounds - the sons of loggers, farmers and stevedores fighting just to survive during the economic collapse of the 1930s.  It is a story of sheer grit and determination as they first try for a seat on the rowing team, then compete in national championships before the ultimate contest, the Berlin Olympics with Adolf Hitler himself in the viewing stands.

Based on extensive research and interviews, the author, Daniel James Brown, imbues the story with all the thrills and spills of an action film without ever having to resort to fiction.  The reader is taken on an emotional roller coaster as this rag tag group work together to become the greatest rowing team in the world while the impending horror of Nazi Germany lurks like a shadow throughout.

The characters are unforgettable - Al Ulbrickson the relentlessly demanding coach, George Yeoman Pocock the British-born builder of exquisite racing shells, Don Hume the stroker, Bobby Moch the coxswain, and especially Joe Rantz who overcame a heartbreakingly sad childhood into a quest for self-redemption and proved a teammate of extraordinary fortitude.

Some critics have called "The Boys in the Boat" "Chariots of Fire with oars".  I call it one of the most exhilarating and heartening reads in recent memory.

The nine member University of Washington team
Winners of the 1936 Olympic Gold Medal in Rowing

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