Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

So much attention has been paid to the 1936 Olympics and how Jesse Owens was such a hero. Hitler was trying to show how wonderful Germany was and did everything in his power to create a venue that would elevate the German people. Imagine his mortification when Owens won 4 gold medals. But Owens wasn't the only thorn in Hitler's side. The U.S. rowing team with member Joe Rantz was another group of unlikely winners.

Although the story of the 8 man rowing team, Brown focuses his account on Rantz and his life and place on the team.The book, in addition to being a life history focuses on the themes of survival and perseverance. Rantz overcame so much to be even able to make the rowing team in Washington as  well as the Olympic team. His home life was basically nonexistent as he was virtually abandoned by his father after his mother died and his father remarried. At a time he survived by foraging in the woods near his home for food. 

Brown also brings the reader into the world of the sport of rowing. The descriptions of the building of the rowing boats and the training that is involved in becoming a part of a world class rowing team. The sport was usually considered for the rich and elite of the East Coast in the 1930s, but the team from Washington dispelled this legend. Can you imagine a ticker tape parade for a rowing team in today's world? 

Upon arrival in Germany, the team faces an even greater obstacle to success - the inequitable treatment of teams not from the Nazi and Fascist countries. At Kiel, where the rowing events were held, the U.S. team was given the outer lane, subject to the wrath of the winds and weather of the North Sea, while Germany and Italy were given the inner lanes, protected from those conditions. 

The book reads like a novel and, although you know the results, the ending is a real page turner. Brown's list of references gives evidence of his thorough research. The interviews that he conducted with Rantz add personal touches. I will be anxious to hear Brown when he speaks in Pittsburgh on 14 March 2016. It should be an interesting and entertaining evening.