Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Boys in the Boat--Review

The Boys in the Boat is about the University of Washington 8 man crew team that won the Gold in the 1936 Olympics.  The focus of the book is on one of the eight crew members, Joe Rantz, who had a particularly difficult time growing up.  After Rantz's mother died and father remarried, the step-mother with the father's cowardly consent, kicked the step son out of the house and he had to live on his own without any support as a teen.  The book is in large part about the importance of others and connectivity for an individual's qualitative growth.

If you are not a fan of competitive rowing, you might find the attention to detail too much.  The author carefully describes much about the races and preparation to a degree that enthusiasts will enjoy, but others may not.  He does a very good job of juxtaposing information about Hitler's Germany and how the Nazis attempted, successfully, to create an illusion for the games that Berlin was not the antisemitic horror it was and would be.  I found these parts especially informative.

The reader knows how the Olympic final will end but still I found the description of that race and others exciting.  Much is written about a man named Bobby Moch who was the coxswain. I did not realize how significant the coxswain is to the success of a boat.  The depiction of Moch's leadership reflected how central he was to the team's victories.

One thing that was mentioned just once, and I would have liked to read more about it, was that Moch was told prior to going to Germany that he was a Jew. His father, for business reasons, had suppressed this information.  I remember reading that Marty Glickman--known by most in my generation as a sportscaster but had been an Olympic runner on the '36 US team--was replaced the day before his event because he was Jewish. And I wonder if Moch had been approached by anyone asking him to suppress his Jewishness when he went to compete.

Do I recommend the book?  Yes, particularly if you have had experience rowing competitively.  I am less enthusiastic otherwise. I was told the book was a page turner and beautifully written. It is written well, but I had no trouble putting the book down.  The stories about Rantz's survival and his realization about the potential for the group to transcend the individual makes the book valuable to any teacher or coach who wants to make the point that such can happen.

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