The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics [NOOK Book]

Overview

The #1 New York Times–bestselling story about American Olympic triumph in Nazi Germany

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 ...
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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

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Overview

The #1 New York Times–bestselling story about American Olympic triumph in Nazi Germany

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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Slate called it "the greatest underdog, Nazi-defeating American Olympic victory you've never heard of." To 1936 newspaper readers, the triumph of the University of Washington's eight-oar crew in the Berlin Olympics was a matter of great national pride. To its youthful team members and coach, this once-in-a- lifetime experience forever clarified their sense of self and group identity. Daniel James Brown's captivating The Boy in the Boat rescues this all too little-known story with interviews and primary resources, including the boys' own diaries, journals, photos, and memories. Perfect for fans of Laura Hillenbrand, Erik Larson, and Timothy Egan.

Library Journal
In this sweeping saga, Brown (Under a Flaming Sky; The Indifferent Stars Above) vividly relates how, in 1936, nine working-class rowers from the University of Washington captured gold at the Berlin Olympics. Mentored not just by their coach but by legendary boat-builder George Pocock, these athletes overcame the hopelessness common during the Great Depression by learning to trust themselves and one another, and by rowing with grace and power. The crew's camaraderie and unmatched precision surpassed expectations, shocking the sporting world. Brown faithfully conveys rowing's stoic persistence, passion, and pain. He captures how and why this team rowed in flawless harmony. The story's depth comes from the memories that rower Joe Rantz shared with Brown shortly before his death as well as from Brown's interviews with crewmates' friends and family and their archives. In a brief epilog, Brown comments on the rowers' post-Olympic accomplishments. VERDICT Those who enjoy reading about Olympic history or amateur or collegiate sports will savor Brown's superb book, much as they would enjoy David Halberstam's The Amateurs: The Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal, which examined the 1984 single scull trials.—Jerry P. Miller, Cambridge, MA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101622742
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 6/4/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 127
  • File size: 18 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author


Daniel James Brown is the author of two previous nonfiction books, The Indifferent Stars Above and Under a Flaming Sky, which was a finalist for a Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He has taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University. He lives outside Seattle.
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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

In a sport like this—hard work, not much glory, but still popular in every century—well, there must be some beauty which ordinary men can’t see, but extraordinary men do. —George Yeoman Pocock

This book was born on a cold, drizzly, late spring day when I clambered over the split-rail cedar fence that surrounds my pasture and made my way through wet woods to the modest frame house where Joe Rantz lay dying.

I knew only two things about Joe when I knocked on his daughter Judy’s door that day. I knew that in his midseventies he had single-handedly hauled a number of cedar logs down a mountain, then hand-split the rails and cut the posts and installed all 2,224 linear feet of the pasture fence I had just climbed over—a task so herculean I shake my head in wonderment whenever I think about it. And I knew that he had been one of nine young men from the state of Washington—farm boys, fishermen, and loggers—who shocked both the rowing world and Adolf Hitler by winning the gold medal in eight-oared rowing at the 1936 Olympics.

When Judy opened the door and ushered me into her cozy living room, Joe was stretched out in a recliner with his feet up, all six foot three of him. He was wearing a gray sweat suit and bright red, down-filled booties. He had a thin white beard. His skin was sallow, his eyes puffy—results of the congestive heart failure from which he was dying. An oxygen tank stood nearby. A fire was popping and hissing in the woodstove. The walls were covered with old family photos. A glass display case crammed with dolls and porcelain horses and rose-patterned china stood against the far wall. Rain flecked a window that looked out into the woods. Jazz tunes from the thirties and forties were playing quietly on the stereo.

Judy introduced me, and Joe offered me an extraordinarily long, thin hand. Judy had been reading one of my books aloud to Joe, and he wanted to meet me and talk about it. As a young man, he had, by extraordinary coincidence, been a friend of Angus Hay Jr.—the son of a person central to the story of that book. So we talked about that for a while. Then the conversation began to turn to his own life.

His voice was reedy, fragile, and attenuated almost to the breaking point. From time to time he faded into silence. Slowly, though, with cautious prompting from his daughter, he began to spin out some of the threads of his life story. Recalling his childhood and his young adulthood during the Great Depression, he spoke haltingly but resolutely about a series of hardships he had endured and obstacles he had overcome, a tale that, as I sat taking notes, at first surprised and then astonished me.

But it wasn’t until he began to talk about his rowing career at the University of Washington that he started, from time to time, to cry. He talked about learning the art of rowing, about shells and oars, about tactics and technique. He reminisced about long, cold hours on the water under steel-gray skies, about smashing victories and defeats narrowly averted, about traveling to Germany and marching under Hitler’s eyes into the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, and about his crewmates. None of these recollections brought him to tears, though. It was when he tried to talk about “the boat” that his words began to falter and tears welled up in his bright eyes.

At first I thought he meant the Husky Clipper, the racing shell in which he had rowed his way to glory. Or did he mean his teammates, the improbable assemblage of young men who had pulled off one of rowing’s greatest achievements? Finally, watching Joe struggle for composure over and over, I realized that “the boat” was something more than just the shell or its crew. To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both—it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience—a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love. Joe was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it.

As I was preparing to leave that afternoon, Judy removed Joe’s gold medal from the glass case against the wall and handed it to me. While I was admiring it, she told me that it had vanished years before. The family had searched Joe’s house high and low but had finally given it up as lost. Only many years later, when they were remodeling the house, had they finally found it concealed in some insulating material in the attic. A squirrel had apparently taken a liking to the glimmer of the gold and hidden the medal away in its nest as a personal treasure. As Judy was telling me this, it occurred to me that Joe’s story, like the medal, had been squirreled away out of sight for too long.

I shook Joe’s hand again and told him I would like to come back and talk to him some more, and that I’d like to write a book about his rowing days. Joe grasped my hand again and said he’d like that, but then his voice broke once more and he admonished me gently, “But not just about me. It has to be about the boat.”

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 203 )
Rating Distribution

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(134)

4 Star

(35)

3 Star

(21)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 203 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 21, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    If I told you one of the most propulsive reads you will experi



    If I told you one of the most propulsive reads you will experience this year is the non-fiction story of eight rowers and one coxswain training to attend the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, you may not believe me. But you’d need to back up your opinion by reading this book first, and you will thank me for it. Daniel James Brown has done something extraordinary here. We may already know the outcome of that Olympic race, but the pacing is exceptional. Brown juxtaposes descriptions of crew training in Seattle with national races against the IV League in Poughkeepsie; we see developments in a militarizing Germany paired with college competitions in depression-era United States; individual portraits of the “boys” (now dead) are placed alongside cameos of their coaches; he shares details of the early lives of a single oarsman, Joe Rantz, with details of his wife's parallel experiences.

    The 1936 Olympics in Berlin was the stuff of legend, when Jesse Owens swept four gold medals in field and track, but a Washington crew team won that summer also, against great odds. How that victory took place and how a group of great athletes became great competitors is something Daniel James Brown spent five years trying to articulate. Quotes from George Pocock, crafter of cedar shells, head each chapter, sharing his experience watching individual oarsmen become a team.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    As a rower familiar with the '36 Olympics, I was drawn to the bo

    As a rower familiar with the '36 Olympics, I was drawn to the book out of a general interest; but I have to say it is exceptionally well written in how it puts together the characters and tells a story well beyond the world of crew. This book is going to be a best seller. If you have a chance, pick up a great coffee table book about George Pocock: Ready All Row. It sheds even more light on this central character and his accomplishments.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2013

    Highly Recommend-A Must Read

    One of the best books, if not the best, I've read this year.
    High School History teachers should read and recommend this book to their students.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    If all stories about rowing were written like Daniel Brown's fab

    If all stories about rowing were written like Daniel Brown's fabulous multi-level biography, I would read every one of them. This is a wonderful account, told with such detail and precision that I sometimes felt as if I were in this tale. Mr. Brown totally sucked me into his adventure. These young men who rowed for the USA in the 1936 Olympics faced huge obstacles. It was the Depression. Many were dirt-poor. They came from a small (then) and nondescript town of Seattle. They could not have had more difficult problems thrown their way. But by taking every sliver of hope, and mixing in superb craftsmanship (from George Pocock), excellent coaching (Al Ulbrickson), and these nine perfectly attuned young men learning together........the result was perfection. This is a true Team sport. I am not giving away anything by telling you that they DO win Gold at the 1936 Olympics. It is HOW they did it that is so darn exciting. Even knowing the end result does not diminish this bigger than life adventure. This is a must read, period. Many of the old luminaries of American rowing are in this story, the good, the bad, and the legendary, including Hiram Conibear, Tom Bolles, Al Ulbrickson and George Pocock. The story of the Pocock racing shell, which was still the best racing boat in the US when I started rowing, is detailed, along with the life story of George Pocock, his personality, and his contributions to Washington crews. This is an inspirational story, one that will lift you up, and it is wonderful, not only because Brown is a great writer, but because it is true.    

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    Love it

    Loved the book....Great insight to the athlete as well as the Coach....In additiin to the historical signifigance tgat was not ignored... must read by rowers and their familiy....

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2013

    A riveting read!  I had no idea of the tough training and total

    A riveting read!  I had no idea of the tough training and total dedication this sport requires of the rowers.
     This biography of  Joe Rantz , one of the rowers, told the incredible story of the very tough life situations he had to 
    overcome from an early age and repeatedly throughout his life.  A very well written book which I highly recommend!  

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    If you row,you'll enjoy this book.

    Skeptical if this book would be worth the read. How do you turn a six minute event into a book worth reading? Brown does, and does it extremely well.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2013

    Wonderful story, wonderfully told

    Wonderful story, wonderfully told. Am in my 3rd season rowing as an adult, with a coach who rowed at Washington, so was interested in the history. But was delighted that the book is more about the rowers and the time. Really enjoyed the author's style, voice and details. Will look for more

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2013

    Inspirational, motivational - All around well written - Great bo

    Inspirational, motivational - All around well written - Great book

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    A good essay on the sport of rowing.

    A narrative of the development of the Olympic Gold winning crew of 1938. Excellent information on the sport and its intracacies with the depression years' impact on the country and one of the crew as he developed from college freshman crew to the varsity and then, with the crew, the Olympics. The narrative is narrowly focussed upon the topic at hand. I recommend either experience in the sport or an academic interest in it as a prerequisite. Nicely written.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This is a truly great book. It is filled with rich descriptions.

    This is a truly great book. It is filled with rich descriptions. It is truly inspirational. Two thumbs up.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The 1936 Olympics may be best remembered for Jesse Owens winning

    The 1936 Olympics may be best remembered for Jesse Owens winning gold medals, by nine young men from the University of Washington rowing team also had their moment of Olympic history at those games as well. Their story, from the time they were a rag-tag bunch of college freshmen to a polished team representing America in Nazi Germany, is well-documented in this outstanding book by Daniel James Brown.

    The book is driven by personal stories, especially that of Joe Rentz, a young boy whose father and stepmother abandoned him and his siblings during the Great Depression. Left to fend on his own, Joe was able to keep the family alive and also find a way to the University of Washington, where he was part of a seemingly rag-tag bunch of young men thrown together to form the freshman rowing crew.

    These young men became a team through hard work, camaraderie, excellent coaching, and a lot of perseverance. The research on this team – everything from the results to the coaches to the lives of the young men – is outstanding. Much of the knowledge came from accounts provided by either the team members or their surviving family members. Painstaking detail is written for some of these stories, such as the courtship of Joe and his future wife Joyce, the conditions the team endured in Poughkeepsie during the regatta championships (Washington became the first school to sweep the three events – varsity, junior varsity and freshman), and the experiences they each shared during their time in Berlin at the Olympics.

    The events of the time shaped how this team would be viewed at the Olympics, and the author does a good job of writing about the history of that time without getting too deep. The references made to the rise of the Nazis, the Dust Bowl gripping the country and the effects of the Great Depression all are important to the story but do not take away from the central theme – namely the nine young men from the University of Washington rowing team.

    Every aspect of the book is well researched, well written and told in the proper amount of detail. This was an inspiring tale and a book that kept my interest from beginning to end. An outstanding read that anyone will enjoy.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2013

    A truly exceptional telling of the coming together of 9 young me

    A truly exceptional telling of the coming together of 9 young men. An engrossing read that involves in you deeply into the life of one of the main characters, Joe Rantz.
    I never expected to be so engrossed in a book about, of all things, crew rowing.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 21, 2014

    Boys in the Boat was insightful and inspiring

    I loved Boys in the Boat and I am not a sports enthusiast. But I gained an insight to the rigors of the rowing sport and the team spirit that is required and I also got a different look at the effects the depression had on people. It was inspiring to read how those young men rose above very difficult life situations to achieve their goals and I was proud of the American Olympic team. I am going to recommend this book to my book club.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2014

    Highly recommend

    A powerfully written, touching, and historic account of the creating of the 1936 Olympic Rowing team. This lives of these men, especially Joe, the main character, was amazing in the struggle they had just to stay in school in the Depression. The poverty and struggles the team overcame to become the Gold Medal winners at the Berlin Olympics was proof that we can overcome such great challenges. I also loved the weaving of the history of Germany woven throughout the story. I went from knowing nothing of rowing, to be becoming a fan that can't wait to see an actual race. Great read, hard to put down, and sad that it is over.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2014

    Although it had a slow start, it was a very great book. Once I w

    Although it had a slow start, it was a very great book. Once I was past page 200 (about), I was in love. The last few chapters had me reading faster than ever. It was so intense, emotional, and exciting! As a freshman in high school and having read this for honors English, this made me look at my sport (soccer) in a new way. Just being around my teammates and being able to play the game is an award itself. 

    I highly recommend this book! It gives you inspiration, and teaches you things. 

    For me at least, I entered a whole new world. I lived with Joe Rantz. I rowed with him, I ate with him, and I enjoyed every moment.
    Before, I looked at rowing to be a boring sport. After reading the detailed descriptions found in the story, I came to realize that rowing is in fact very beautiful. It takes grace, trust, and pure dedication to pull off what these men did. Daniel James Brown, you have a wonderful piece of writing. I find it a privilege to have been able to read it. Well done! :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2014

    Fantastic and Inspirational Read

    Loved this book that we read for our Book Club. I didn't know anything about the story but was delighted to start reading it and seeing so many quotes from George Yeoman Pocock and part of his story too as my son currently works making the Racing Shells for the Pocock Company.

    The book is so educational regarding rowing, the wonderful lives of these great gentlemen, the rivalry between the Huskies and Cal, the war and Hitler's regime during the Olympics. A great "can do" book that will inspire everyone :-)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2014

    Fantastic story

    Great story about athletes and rhe 1930's. Made me proud to live in Seattle and be an UW alum.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2014

    Great story - very inspiring! The amount of research that went

    Great story - very inspiring! The amount of research that went into this book is outstanding. I felt like the characters were developed well, though I did get some of the coaches confused at times. I am very curious to know more about this subject now. I am not normally a huge fan of NF sports books, but this one breaks the mold! I read several things out loud to my husband (a coach and teacher), and he has recommended the book to several students. The discussion my book club had about this book was one of the best we have had to date. We all took something different from it, and we all loved it (quite a rare occurrence)!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 31, 2014

    Great book!

    For the first couple pages, it seemed a little slow. Now I'm almost done, having raced through it, getting to know the boys. It was a great time in history, when nothing was taken for granted, and everything was earned. The author is fantastic, making connections between random occurrences in history, but it all comes together. You feel like you are right there, cheering them on, knowing what the boys are capable of. Of course, I'm living in the Northwest, so I have a special fondness for the University of Washington--I rowed in the very same place. Can't wait for the movie!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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