31 Days of Great Nonfiction: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the BoatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin OlympicsThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown by Daniel James Brown

There are a handful of books that, when I finish them, I immediately start telling others that they need to read them too. Immediately, if not sooner.

The Boys in the Boat is one of those books.

The story is so engaging, and even if you know whether or not they win the gold medal (and if you read the introduction to the book, you’ll know), it’s still a gripping tale.

The framework Brown uses of focusing on Rantz in particular works well, and keeps it from becoming an unwieldy narrative where you’re trying to keep track of 9 different crew members, plus all the other individuals in the story.

If you like biographies, this has a lot of biography. If you like history, this has it. If you like sports tales, this is one. If you like overcoming-the-odds stories, this is that in spades.

The only reason I don’t want to gush more about this book is for fear that unreasonable expectations will make it impossible to live up to them.

Highly highly recommended. Please, go, read this book.

Publisher’s Description:
For readers of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam’s The Amateurs.

31 Days of Great Nonfiction

I’ve become a huge fan of Daniel James Brown this year, and if you like his writing style, check out his books Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 as well as The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party BrideThe Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown, which came this close to being a pick for the series.

To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction, go to the series page.

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  1. Biography + history + sports? Sounds like a perfect Xmas gift book for my dad! (Actually I would probably like it too — I loved Unbroken.)

    • If you liked Unbroken I really think you’ll like this one – it’s got a similar structure and both have such great writing.

  2. I love the movie Chariots of Fire (and most inspirational sports films). This book sounds right up my alley!

    • I haven’t seen Chariots of Fire (at least not all of it), but from what I know of it, the book will have many similarities. And yes, I think you’ll love it!


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