In the 1930s, eight-man rowing was one of the most popular sports in the United States. And even though East Coast Ivy League schools had the legacy of rowing, the West Coast — the University of California and University of Washington in particular — boasted the up-and-coming best rowers. There was fierce competition between the two Western schools, with Cal coming out on top in the late ’20s and early ’30s, but by 1934, the tide was starting to turn, with Washington beginning to pull ahead.
The Boys in the Boat covers three years, 1934-1936, and Washington’s rise to prominence, eventually winning the gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
I think this is one of those books that I really needed to listen to rather than read. While I think it would have been interesting just reading in print, listening to the story made it riveting. I enjoyed the stories of Joe Ranz — who ended up in the number 7 seat in the Olympic boat — and the other boys, and how they came to be at Washington. I enjoyed the conflict that coach Al Ulbrickson had with the California coach. I didn’t enjoy the rehashing of 1930s Berlin; even though it was interesting, and pertinent to the story, every time Brown detoured to Germany, I wanted him to get back to Seattle and the story there.
But what I really loved were the bits about how the sculls were made, about the effort it took to row a race. And the races themselves? They had me glued to my seat, hooked on every word.
It was a remarkable event, a remarkable story. And I’m so glad I know about it, now.
Rated: None. There is only some talk of the Holocaust and some parental neglect.