This book is proof that a really good writer can make any topic interesting. When I started this book, little did I know that I would become a fan of the 1936 USA rowing team from the University of Washington who represented team USA in the Olympics. Who knew?
“The Boys in the Boat” follows 9 boys from a variety of blue collar backgrounds who try out for the varsity row team at the University of Washington. Most of the members of the team come from very humble beginnings. As the coaches begin to assess the talent level of this group they believe they have found a gifted and special group. And as the stakes escalate to hopes and dreams of Olympic gold, the coaches use a variety of techniques to find the perfect combination of crew mates. Most of these techniques include pitting the boys against each other and keeping everybody guessing as to which boat is the “top boat”. Nobody has a spot locked in.
The approach has the affect of making each of the boys a bit paranoid about their talent and their role on the team. In fact each boy believes he is a weak link and is lucky to have made the team at all.
There are quite a few of the boys that are well described but the majority of the story focuses on Joe Rantz who is poor and estranged from his family.
As they advance and prepare to head to the 1936 Olympics hosted in Germany, another layer of this story is made clearer. The reader learns about the masterful propaganda that Germany used to convince the rest of the world that all was well with this new and suddenly powerful country.
All of this background sets the stage for the climatic main event: the 8 man rowing race that drew tens of thousands of fans in person and countless fans listening on the radio. As readers, we are cheering for team USA who is competing against the best of the best including the big bad Nazi Germany propaganda machine.
As the final race draws nearer the tension increases when two of the USA boys are sick but refuse to be substituted. Then the team is assigned the worst and windiest lane. The weather is not in their favor. I won’t spoil the ending other than to say, it’s well worth the read. And when you are done, I am sure you will become big fans of the boys in the boat.