The Boys In the Boat

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve referred to this book as Boys On the Boat. Which is ridiculous, because it is all about being IN the boat. Anyhoosie, consider that fair warning in case I slip up.

This book. THIS BOOK. It is absolutely, positively, without a doubt, the best book I’ve read this year.

Okay, fine. I haven’t read that many (five at the time of writing this post), but still…THIS BOOK.

boys in the boat

I loved it.

Which is strange, because I didn’t really think it would be something that would, well…float my boat. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

It’s the story of 9 young men (really, it focuses on 1 young man, but by the end, he realizes it’s not about him, it’s about everyone in the boat with him, so truly, it’s the story of 9 young men) who row for the University of Washington and end up representing the US at the 1936 Olympics. Yeah, that Olympics…the one with the maniac with the stupid mustache (aka Hitler).

All of the boys in the boat come from working class backgrounds. They are in stark contrast to the East Coast teams from more privileged backgrounds, and there is a lot in the book about the East-West rivalries (as well as the bigger UW-Cal rivalry). The boy at the center of the story, Joe Rantz, had a particularly rough childhood, as he was often tossed out of the house by his step-mother. He was perhaps the poorest boy on the team, and was often razzed by others for his shabby clothes and love of the banjo. However, like the others, he was bright, and driven, and smart, and in the end he realizes that he needs to believe in both himself and his teammates if they want to win.

The book also introduces other fascinating characters, such as Al Ulbrickson, the coach of UW’s teams, and George Pocock, who built almost all of the sculls in use at the time, and who also served as a mentor to the team.

The only jarring note in the book was the almost rabid hatred that shines through whenever the author brought up Hitler. Every few chapters he would jump to Germany and the preparation for the Olympics. And I’m NOT saying that Hitler shouldn’t be rabidly hated, but I didn’t think that all of the scenes featuring him and Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl were necessary. The author obviously holds great admiration for the boys in the boat, and (this is no spoiler) they overcame adversity to win the Olympics, but Hitler personally did them no wrong (although whoever came up with that asinine method for determining lane assignments obviously was trying to do someone some wrong), so I do think the bias against Hitler was overdone.

But despite all that, I still could not put this book down. I powered through itย in 2 days, even taking it with me so I could read in my car while I waited for my friends to show up for a hike. And then I kept chattering about it at lunch.

One of my closest reading friends didn’t care for it and couldn’t make it past the first 100 pages, but everyone else I know who has read it loves this book. So if you’re at all on the fence about reading it, I say give it a try!ย It’s got a great story, and I dare you not to fall for Joe Rantz.



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22 responses to “The Boys In the Boat

  1. First of all, you’ve read five books already? Crap. I need to up my game.

    Second of all, double crap for making me realize I need to add this to my list. ๐Ÿ™‚ Do you think it would make for a good audio experience?


    • I’m afraid I’ve doubled that number. ๐Ÿ˜€ And I’m guessing with the right narrator, this would totally work on audio. Some of the races are suspenseful. And all of the people are fascinating. I haven’t heard anyone mention the audio, though.


  2. I’m so glad you liked this! Brown took a subject that sounded like a snore-fest (at least to me) and makes it utterly unputdownable. He has another couple of books that were AMAZING as well. Check them out, for sure! (The Indifferent Stars Above & Under a Flaming Sky)


    • Oh, yay! I was wondering if his other books were as interesting. And I was trying to sell this to a couple of friends today, and it was hard to convince them that a book about rowing was really that good.


  3. Right?? Five Books? Who are you? I’ve finished one and only because I started it in 2014. Nevermind the TV I may or may not have been watching in the evening.

    I’ve been wondering about audio for this one, too. Even though it does NOT sound like something that would be of interested to me. I mean, boys in a boat? And yet the praise…


  4. Want! Want very much!!!!


  5. I read it a couple of years ago and I loved it too!!! Reading that book made me realize why Tom Brokaw called that generation the greatest.


  6. Ti

    Would it make a good book club book? I have to pitch books for the year in February and maybe this one would be good. Is it inspirational? A few of the members want more inspirational reads.


    • Yes! Yes, yes, yes!! I think there’s enough in there to discuss…Joe’s childhood, the adversity they all faced, the depression, the East/West rivalry, Hitler and Berlin and the Olympics, what the boys all made of themselves. And it is most definitely inspirational.


  7. I might read this in a few years but not anytime soon. It just sounds too much like a rehash of Unbroken which is totally unfair, I realize. Glad you loved it!


  8. I totally adored this book. I didn’t think I could care about rowing, but I was really on the edge of my seat as I was reading about the gold medal race in the Olympics. I love books like that. And to Care’s point, I think it’s a bit similar to the first part of Unbroken (the racing/competition part), but the “other” stuff is really different — I loved the way this one focused on class and the way sports are and are not affected by it.


  9. Beth F

    Ok, ok, ok. I don’t know why I haven’t read this yet but I will get to it one of these days.


  10. I don’t think I would have considered this one but now that I’ve read the review, it’s definitely going on my list! Working class boys defeating the odds and going on to win the Olympics? Yes! I love stories like that. If like to see how this one is in audio.

    And five books already?! Wow!


  11. litandlife

    Well, look at you and two books off your winter list already!


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