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The Boys in the Boat

Title: The Boys in the Boat  | Author: Daniel James Brown

Buy the same copy we read, here on Amazon

You’ve seen this book everywhere, right? It’s on the “Staff Picks” shelf at your local library, in the “On Demand” section at your bookstore, and in the “Best Sellers” category on your Kindle. It’s one of those nonfiction books written a couple of years ago that the right people discovered at the right time, and now everyone says it’s a must read.

So what’s this all about? What makes people love it? I mean, really. You’ve probably picked it up at the bookstore. You’ve probably thought this through. It’s a four hundred page book on… Rowing? Really? How did a book like that become popular?

If you’ve thought this about The Boys in the Boat at any point and haven’t changed your mind yet, I’m going to attempt to convert you in the next three paragraphs.

This is not simply a book on rowing. It is a story of nine boys. All of them with different lives, different backgrounds, different personalities, rich and poor, some confident in their goal, some striving for the recognition they never had, but all with one objective – to go for gold in the Berlin Olympics. Daniel James Brown has brought their stories together into one book, and it is one of the most endearing I have read. Joe Rantz is the focus for most of the book, and Brown tells about his life, childhood to adulthood, and his journey to Berlin from start to finish. But although he is the main character, it is about all the boys. How they come together at the University of Washington for one common purpose, how although they are all unique and think in their own individual ways, they become united in the boat, almost reading each other’s minds as they pull as one undivided team, and how they form a bond that could not be broken across the years.

And yes, even though it’s not the only object of the book, The Boys in the Boat is about rowing. There is more rowing in this book than any other you’ll ever read. I can pretty much guarantee that. And it’s wonderful. I am more impressed with the sport than with any other I can think of. Here’s a statistic from the book that shocked me: “Physiologists… have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race – the Olympic standard – takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.” Six minutes! I had no idea that men sitting in a boat pulling oars in and out of the water could be that taxing. The sport is so fascinating, and there’s nowhere near enough space here to write all the countless things that the boys must master to become professional rowers. That’s probably why someone wrote a book on it. And by the time you finish that book, you’ll be wanting to turn on the Rio Olympics and see when the rowing is scheduled.

But for all the remarkable information on rowing, I read this book for Joe. All the statistics are incredible, but Joe is the heart of this book. From the beginning of his story to the end, he is exactly as a main character, son, teammate, and friend should be. I’m trying not to be cliche here. I know that this type of thing is written so often, and is usually not very believable. But really. Joe is a wonderful person. Kind, honest, hard working. You don’t find many like him. After Tarah and I read this together, although we were both impressed with the rowing side of things, it was Joe we talked about long after we had finished the last page. He is what makes this story of nine boys going from the state of Washington to the country of Germany to compete for the gold in the 1936 Olympics truly extraordinary.

So have I converted you? I hope so! Believe all the people who say it’s worth reading! I haven’t met a person who read it and didn’t like it yet, and I’m betting you won’t be the first.


For readers of Unbroken, out of the depths of the Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate account of how nine working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.

It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.


A few mild obscenities, a few mentions of drinking, and one sexual reference.

I am a wish-to-be literary genius who reads probably just a bit too much. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read, and don't foresee myself not loving it anytime in the future. I’m going to tell you just a bit about myself and the books I love, so that you can know whether to trust me or not when I say a book is amazing or just so-so. Read more about me here