The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown was inspiring. The story follows Joe Rantz — one of the oarsmen that raced in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Brown draws many parts from a personal interview with Joe:

"It was when he tried to talk about 'the boat' that his words began to falter and tears welled up in his eyes... Finally, watching Joe struggle for composure over and over, I realized that 'the boat' was something more than just the shell or its crew."

Joe had a difficult life. He grew up during the Great Depression, and his mother passed away when he was three. At fifteen, Joe's father and step-mother left him to live by himself.

He made it through high school by chopping down trees and catching salmon. He paid for college by paving a road, and operating a jackhammer while suspended off the side of Hoover Dam.

The world today is a much different place than the one Joe grew up in. Reading The Boys in the Boat made me appreciate that.

There's a constant parallel between overcoming challenges in life and in rowing:

"It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you."

Along with Joe's story, Brown draws on a huge collection of journal entries, newspaper clippings, and radio transcripts — all of which add more detail than I could've imagined. If you're looking for a book to end the summer with, I'd recommend picking this up.

"To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both — it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience — a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love. Joe was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it."