The Boys in the Boat: A New York Times Bestseller

The Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown


In 1933, a group of eager University of Washington freshmen sit in a rowing shell for the first time. Over the next three years, these boys row thousands of miles in their quest to defeat their rivals at the University of California. Their success in American regattas catapult them to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where their defeat of Germany foreshadows the great war to come.

Reasons to Read this Book:

  • Great American heroes: Everyone likes a good, old-fashioned, red-white-and-blue tale. This is definitely one of those. What makes it better? These boys are the pulled up by their own bootstraps, American dream type. Brown focuses on Joe Rantz, the number 2 man, and the hardships he experiences as a child and young man, including the early death of his mother, abandonment by his father and stepmother, and living hand to mouth throughout his college years. The story is much more inspiring than it would have been if the Olympic crew consisted of Harvard or Yale old-money boys. It’s a good versus evil story too: the Allies and the Axis powers, but six years premature. I got a lot of the same vibes from this story as from the Kurt Russell movie Miracle about the 1982 hockey team defeating the Russians (I highly recommend this movie! Read more here).
  • History: The Greatest Generation includes these boys who defied Hitler and his new Germany several years before the United States entered into World War II. Brown demonstrates the events in Germany in parallel with the training of the Husky crew. It’s eerie to read about the lengths the Germans went to in order to sterilize the front they showed to the world and how greatly they tried to prove that the post-World War I Germany was peaceful and welcoming and clean. Hitler, with the help of his propagandist Goebbels, fooled a lot of people for a long time! Brown also inserts short anecdotes about people who enter the crew’s story: a German family in the town where they stayed during the Olympics, only one of whom survived the war, and a soon-to-be-famous racehorse named Seabiscuit.
  • The power of a team: Throughout the book, Brown looks into the minds of each of the men on the Washington crew that becomes the American crew. When they row poorly, it’s because they aren’t paying attention to each other. When they row well (and multiple people, coaches, etc. say that this team is the best crew they have ever seen, so we’re talking really well!), they are in tune with each other and literally cannot be beaten. At the end of their careers, Joe Rantz, Shorty Hunt, and Roger Morris, had never lost a race (the Olympic crew didn’t form until 1935, so the other boys rowed in different boats at Washington). After the Olympics, the boys remained like family, spending reunions together multiple times per year, calling each other on the phone, and rowing together each decade following the Olympic victory. The boys together added up to much more than each individual’s contribution.

Final Thoughts:

You know I’m a sucker for any good nonfiction. (More here.) While there were some slow parts, and one would think that reading about a race wouldn’t be exciting, you’d be wrong! This would be a book that I would reread, so you know it’s worth it!

Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:

My Rating: A-

  • “minus” because it took me a while to really get into it–like 50 pages.
  • appeals to a wide variety of readers

Clean Factor: A

  • nothing beyond a few disturbing mentions of atrocities committed by Hitler and his men.

Application: A

  • Book clubs: lots of discussion points; clean
  • School/Classroom setting: excellent to pair with American history class, alongside fiction in an English class; good example of nonfiction and research methods


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