My knowledge of the 1936 Berlin Olympics had always been limited to African American Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in track and field, in defiance of Adolf Hitler’s twisted belief of Aryan racial supremacy. But thanks to author Daniel James Brown, I now know the incredible journey of nine young American men who against all odds won the gold medal in eight-oar rowing.
The Boys in the Boat is a popular title at the library, even though it came out in 2013. This is one of those gems of a book that spreads through word of mouth. It also is a popular book club pick, and Cook Memorial Library’s morning book club, which I lead, had to wait a year to get enough copies for this month’s meeting. But what perfect timing – I enjoyed reading the adventures of Joe Rantz and his Washington University teammates in between watching the Rio Olympics.
Rantz and his fellow athletes were part of what journalist Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation, who lived through the Great Depression and helped win World War II. These humble young men grew up poor, and in Joe’s case, dirt poor, in the Seattle area. They overcame obstacle after obstacle, right up to the final race in Berlin. Reading their stories of perseverance is truly inspiring.
Brown’s book is extensively researched and exquisitely written, peppered with photographs that add nicely to the story line. The author was fortunate to interview Rantz before he died as well as family members from the entire crew. Brown also documents the Nazis’ twisted agenda of making Germany seem like a peaceful utopia to the rest of the world, all while hatching a plan to exterminate millions of innocent people and wage world war. The Boys in the Boat is a story you won’t want to miss.