If you think a non-fiction book about rowing, will be boring, think again. Written and read exceptionally well, this is a compelling true tale. The history of boat building, rowing and shells, heroism and hardship makes for a brilliant reading experience. The story is written with such depth and description that the words fly off the page. To say it is inspiring is to dwarf its full effect. The reader is superb, enveloping the listener in his resonant, expressive voice, always assuming the right accent and stress, so much so that at times the reader may picture a glint in his eye. It is never maudlin nor is it hyperbolic. It is about a different time, beginning about a century ago, a time when the young grew up early, of necessity, survived by their wits, rarely gave up without a fight, and expected nothing for free and nothing unearned. It is about courage and resourcefulness in the face of the greatest negative odds, it is about believing in something in an all consuming way.
This book should be read by a wide audience, young adult and adult alike. I believe even middle graders would benefit from it, if led by a dedicated teacher, interested in imparting a moral lesson to the class. This book is a lesson on the benefits of perseverance, the ability to accomplish results believed out of reach, the ability to push oneself beyond what was believed to be human endurance; it is awe-inspiring.
“The Boys in the Boat” encompasses the traumatic events that occurred in the 20th century, from WWI, to The Great Depression, and then, briefly, follows up on the lives of the “boys” who served their country and grew into men. It describes the dust bowls, FDR’s WPA and the building of the Grand Coulee Dam, Hitler’s advance on Europe and the tragedy of the Holocaust, but mostly, it is about events leading to the enormous Olympic victory achieved by the University of Washington’s, American rowing team, in 1936. Germany staged the event, magnificently, to convince the world that The Fatherland was on its way to being Utopia, rather than a country creating a nightmare for the rest of the unsuspecting, perhaps blind by choice, world that did not want to become involved with the problems of others, a world view that seems all too familiar today.
The reader will devour the information presented on the history of rowing and its famed shell builder, George Yeoman Pocock, on the coaches who battled each other for the winning titles, who strove for an Olympic presence, and on the eventual success of the tenacious team from Seattle. They will wax nostalgic and marvel at the mention of such famous heroes and accomplishments like those of Joe Lewis, Jesse Owens, the horses, War Admiral and Sea Biscuit, and the Titanic and the S.S. Manhattan. Sadness will engulf the reader when they revisit the madness of Hitler and his concentration camps, Kristallnacht and WWII.
Mostly, though, this is the story of courage and inner strength, both found in Joe Rantz, a young boy, tossed out into the world at age 10 by poverty and cruelty. He was unprepared, but also unwilling to give up, unwilling to fail at life. No matter how many times he was knocked down, he somehow pulled himself up to face another day, and it is through his life that we learn of the boys who sat in the boat built by George Pocock that would lead them all to victory and a permanent place in history’s hall of fame.
This book tells the story of a group of young men, called boys throughout the book, which gave them an identity that seemed vulnerable and yet brave throughout. Each one, in his own way, was a hero and role model that would be wise to imitate today. They were boys with all the foibles boys possess, with all the mischief and crudeness, but they were boys that were determined to succeed, against all odds, against their ancestry, against the class barriers that tried to prevent them from achieving their goals. They had character. You will feel their struggles, their pain, their joy, their anger and their compassion. You may not understand the behavior of some of the characters, but you will eventually understand Joe’s ability to turn every negative into a positive, to forgive all and master every obstacle in his way, without becoming obsessed with the idea of revenge, only with the idea of succeeding.
The descriptions of the races will make the readers hold their breath in anticipation of the results. The details will put the readers there, in that same spotlight that the boys bask within when they win or lose because the prose is flawless and the audio reader's tone is impeccable.
Although some of the subject matter was painful to revisit, the beauty of the narrative countered any discomfort and made it a phenomenal experience, even worthier of reading. The author’s knack for painting accurate pictures of the scenes described was captivating. This author has done a formidable job of presenting a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. It is exciting, touching, tender, romantic, heartwarming, inspiring, and, in short, it is brilliant.
The boys beat Hitler at his own game, even though he tried to rig the rules, changing them so that Germany might win the competition and the medal. The reader will be at the Olympics every step of the way and will feel the tension of the moment which will be almost unendurable. Having hindsight, knowing what will come in the following decade, will make the reader even more aware of the importance of their win. This book imparted that feeling and every bit of the history with accuracy, and without overdoing the emotion.
The anecdotal stories related in “The Boys in the Boat”, enhanced the reader’s understanding of the times and the pressures these boys faced, the understanding of their effort to succeed in the face of daunting obstacles. If I could, I would give this book 10 stars. It is so head and shoulders above much of the drivel that is being turned out today. In spite of a childhood rife with neglect, in spite of formidable impediments before them, Joe and these boys always rebounded, always showed courage in the face of whatever hurdle had to be overcome and had the amazing courage of their convictions to keep on going toward success.