Thoughts on a Book: “The Boys in the Boat”

I’ve been a little slack about blogging over the past couple of weeks. One reason is I’ve been more interested in planning an upcoming research trip to Mississippi than I have been about writing.

That and I’ve been a bit lazy.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you about a book I read recently, “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” by Daniel James Brown.

Husband John gave me the book as a Christmas gift. Actually, John gives me lots of books, which I really appreciate. This past Christmas, John and his mother gave me several books, and I’ve been working my way through them over the winter and spring.

“The Boys in the Boat,” as the subhead well indicates, tells the story of the eight-man rowing team (the ninth man is the coxswain) that represented the U.S. in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

While the author writes about all of the team’s members, their coaches and the Berlin Olympics in general, he focuses a lot on the life of rower Joe Rantz.

As the passage on the back of the book jacket describes him, Joe was “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.”

Joe, like the rest of the boys, was a member of the University of Washington’s rowing team. One might not think about the Pacific Northwest when one thinks about rowing — also called crew — but Washington has been a powerhouse in the sport of rowing for decades.

Like Joe, the other “Boys in the Boat” weren’t the sons of doctors, lawyers and titans of industry, like one might imagine their Ivy League counterparts to be. They were the sons of loggers, laborers and farmers who, like many people during the Great Depression, were struggling to make ends meet.

You can learn more about “The Boys in the Boat” on the PBS website. In 2016, the PBS series “American Experience” ran an episode on the team, and there are videos, photos and articles that tell more of its history and the history of rowing.

In addition to the history of this particular rowing team, by reading this book I also learned a lot about the sport of rowing and the history of the 1936 Olympic Games.

About rowing, among other things, I learned that one, six-minute race uses the same amount of energy a person would expend by playing two, 40-minute basketball games, back to back.

That kind of makes me want to take up rowing for its bang-for-your-buck quality, if nothing else.

About the 1936 Olympics, which occurred during the early years of Adolph Hitler’s reign, I learned about how the campaign against Germany’s Jewish population, which would eventually spread across Europe as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” was officially toned down for the Olympics.

The Berlin Olympics was Hitler’s chance to show off Nazi Germany, after all, and to normalize his regime in front of an international audience. Everything would look nice and pretty, all of the people visiting for the Games would have a good time, and Nazi Germany would look like an OK place to be.

Jesse Owens - LOC
Jesse Owens starts the 200 meter at the Berlin Olympics. Library of Congress.

So, I imagine it was extra satisfying for those spectators who didn’t fall for Hitler’s ruse to watch not only the Washington rowers defeat the German rowing team, but also to see Jesse Owens, an African-American sprinter and jumper, win four Olympic gold medals.

Regarding a completely different book — albeit one also set around World War II — I just finished reading, “A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy,” by Thomas Buergenthal.

You can read more about the author and his story here. The book was a quick and interesting read and I recommend it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s