The #1 New York Times–bestselling story about American Olympic triumph in Nazi Germany, the inspiration for the PBS documentary The Boys of '36, broadcast to coincide with the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 80th anniversary of the boys' gold medal race.
Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.
The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together - a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.
Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times - the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.
Many reviews offer comparisons of this book to Seabiscuit, appropriately so as the themes and narrative tone are remarkably similar. But I also see a strong resemblance to another American Olympic story that happened 4 decades later – our “Miracle on Ice” hockey team of 1980. In both cases global hostilities threatened Olympic boycotts, potentially crushing the once-in-a-lifetime dreams of humble college kids taking on the State subsidized titans of their sports. But the games were held, and against all odds (some of them suspicious in their advantages to the two Fascist teams) the kids rose to the occasion. This is not a spoiler – it’s well known that they win. The real drama is in the story that got them there in the first place. Brown writes that story effectively, developing the social, economic and political context, and fleshing out the characters: Coach Ulbrickson who struggled to find the right team chemistry among his talented rowers, employing crushingly superhuman training standards to ensure top conditioning. There is also shell builder George Pocock, who dispensed Yoda-like wisdom to the boys about the intangible qualities that make up a crew as opposed to a team. And of course the boys in the boat, whose own stories are compelling, especially Joe's, but several others are well highlighted.
Edward Herrmann’s flawless reading is smooth, clear and authoritative, yet also intimate in the telling of the very personal stories of Depression era America and early Third Reich Germany, as teams of rowers approached the race of a lifetime, that to the world was more than just a boat race. And just a side note - you can find video of the race on Youtube.
72 of 76 people found this review helpful
‘The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympic’ is a tireless story of triumph that endures beyond cliché and predictability. Reflective of a time where a generation of Americans was tested through the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, this true story of Joe Rantz and his eight University of Washington boat crew teammates follows their journey from humble origins detailing their sense of national pride and self determination to take on elite boat crews around the globe. The novel culminates into a true David and Goliath showdown between the Americans and the German national team at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
The drama within the novel lies more with the interpersonal stories than just the action on the water, but you will not be disappointed by author Daniel Brown’s balance and character development. This is a story that could easily be fraught with predictability, but it never happens. The novel has so much depth and narration so flowing, you will still be glued to the headphones with anticipation of finding out how the details of the story unfold.
Given Edward Herrmann’s remarkable storytelling of ‘Unbroken’ and ‘The Johnstown Flood’, he is undoubtedly the best, natural choice for narrator. Herrmann brings Dan Brown’s words to life with a balance of smooth calmness, wit, and explosive theatrics in storytelling that few narrators have mastered.
If you enjoy literary non-fiction audiobooks like ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand or ‘The Worst Hard Time’ by Timothy Egan, I promise that you will not be disappointed listening to ‘Boys in The Boat’.
52 of 59 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up The Boys in the Boat in three words, what would they be?
Fascinating, exciting and captivating
What was one of the most memorable moments of The Boys in the Boat?
There were actually several, but most had to do with how the lads had to push themselves beyond what they (and others) thought possible.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
Edward Herrmann is an excellent narrator, so I don't believe the problem is with him. Before a book is recorded, a staffer should be assigned to pick out ALL proper nouns, especially place names, and call a local Chamber of Commerce or somewhere to ascertain how these nouns are pronounced locally/correctly. This is not the first book where this has been a very big distraction for me, just the latest. Yes, the Pacific Northwest has some complicated and strangely named towns, but, in fact, so do places everywhere. As I listened, it was disruptive to mentally correct the pronunciations and eventually became frustrating at something so easily remedied. Again, Mr. Herrmann is a wonderful narrator. His voice mellifluous, his infusion of life into the characters sine qua non. Publishers, please...take the moments required to get the pronunciations right.
60 of 69 people found this review helpful
When non-fiction really works, for me it's because there's a magical combination of a well-paced great story, good solid characters and a perfect narrator. That is precisely what "The Boys in the Boat" is all about.
I don't need to review the plot. It's all there in the intro. This is the best way I can describe this book: if you couldn't put "Seabiscuit" down, this is your book. It's a wonderful little slice of history that's written and narrated in a compelling way. If you have a long car trip this summer, this is the perfect book for a mixed audience.
27 of 33 people found this review helpful
I wish more books like this were available on audible. It was the most thrilling and uplifting story I've read in a long time! I wasn't sure I'd be interested in a rowing team from 1936, but I was wrong. I LOVED this story!
Don't pass this book up. You need not know a thing about rowing. Often rowing is associated with Ivy League snobs, or dapper Englishmen from Oxford. This book will change that misconception! You might even become a fan of the sport. :)
Perfect narration, incredible story! Easily the best audiobook of 2013.
23 of 29 people found this review helpful
I was so slow purchasing this one... but 3700 other readers ranking it at a 5 aren't wrong. It is a gentle, plain but uplifting account of how 9 young Americans, the product of the great depression and dust bowl overcame all odds to win the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You know how it is going to end from the title... but clear to the win you aren't really sure it can possibly happen.
I love how it is nestled into history. My elderly family members don't want to read "Unbroken" or other WWII and depression era stories. "We lived it and don't want to hear about it anymore" they tell me. Although Brown, ties you into the Dust Bowl, Great Depression, the New Deal and start of WWII... this isn't a focus on what they endured, rather is there only to show how it made them stronger. I think they will love this one.
The narrator did great... you can tell he isn't from the Northwest, the place names, just didn't come from the mouth of a native. Still a 5 star narration.
11 of 14 people found this review helpful
You would not have thought that a book about crew and I would be at all compatible! My only knowledge of rowing comes from when I was a kid shuffling my Dad from one place to another while he caught no fish. I always took a book!
No matter, this listen is for everyone. The writing and the boys of the title are so sublime that the story skims along - as quick and lightly as "The Boat" itself. Daniel James Brown has taken exactly the right approach to telling the tale. He chose a few individuals whose compelling personal lives frame the excitement of the sports action with emotion and genuine feeling. Then he finished with the extraordinary circumstances of that particular Olympics of 1936.
It's a crackerjack combination. I am so grateful that I chose this Audible offering - mostly on a whim. Brown's exemplary writing, the inspiration of the story, and the perfectly measured voice of Edward Herrmann create an almost transcendent listening experience! An amazing book!! I am in awe!
11 of 14 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to The Boys in the Boat the most enjoyable?
Daniel James Brown takes a story about nine "boys," shows us how those "boys" were just regular people like the rest of us. And then he tells a wonderful tale of how, by committing to one another, they achieve something truly great. This is a book that highlights a little-remembered moment in history that is was so remarkable, it's chill-inducing.
I do want to add the cautionary note that after reading this book, there is a high likelihood that you will lose several hours on YouTube, watching the amazing footage of these young men at the Berlin Olympics.
What did you like best about this story?
One can never really go wrong when combining the stellar Edward Hermann with a great story. But in addition to that, this is a story everyone can relate to. It is about hard times, it is about pain, both physical and emotional. It is about fear. It is about going forward despite those things.
The sport of rowing has sadly devolved into being viewed as a very elitist activity. But from the late 1800s well into the later part of the last century, crew was a wildly popular sport, akin to baseball today. THE BOYS IN THE BOAT brings alive these nine young men, from humble--and even horrible--backgrounds and tells how they captured the attention of the entire world.
This book showcases one of the most demanding sports there is, and how these boys used that sport to quietly put Hitler in his place.
Which character – as performed by Edward Herrmann – was your favorite?
It's not really a character, but rather a moment that sticks out for me in this book. It is Hermann's narration of the final race at the Olympics. I already knew the result. But his description of the actual race--written captivatingly by Brown--had me on the edge of my chair. I found myself upset, anxious, pacing...and ultimately cheering.
I do want to add that I really loved the character of George Pocock, who built his handmade wooden racing shells with the quiet spirit of a Zen master. His quotes, which preface each chapter, can most assuredly be applied to rowing. But why stop there? Use them in life, as well.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?
"Chariot of Fire"--with oars. You will cheer!!
Any additional comments?
This is one of those rare books that can capture any reader. I've given it to friends who love crew--naturally, they loved the book. But I've also given it to my 80-year-old mother, who loved it despite having no interest in rowing whatsoever. I've given it to my BFF, who mostly reads romances and frothy mysteries--and she loved it.
To date, I've purchased 13 copies of this book, both in hard copy and audio. I've received back a 100% recommendation! Everyone loves this book.
In a few years, this book will be a fabulous film and it will sweep the Oscars. Read it now, so you can say "Oh yes. I read that story when it first came out. Great book. Better than the movie actually." ; )
17 of 22 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
Wonderful story, but the narrator made many egregious (too numerous and irritating to be laughable) mispronunciations of Pacific Northwest place names. If you're from Washington state you'll be happier reading it than listening to it. Penguin Books: don't you have editors?
13 of 17 people found this review helpful
It's fairly astonishing that no one has stumbled onto this story before: it is narrative gold. Brown is not the most elegant writer, but he is a diligent researcher, and skillfully moves between the personal and particular, and the grander themes of the Depression and WWII. And, of course, the story is inherently thrilling, full of vivid characters and the vast machinery of history. Yes, we know how the story ends -- but the reader is nonetheless on the edge of his seat throughout.
One cavil with the otherwise excellent narration: many of the place names in the Northwest are hideously mispronounced. I will grant that "Puyallup" is a challenge (it's "pew-AL-up", not "pile-up") but Alki??? It's "ALK-EYE" not "al-kee", as if an entire neighborhood were deemed a drunk.
7 of 9 people found this review helpful