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

Release date: 25th July, 2016
Publisher: Penguin Books

List Price: £9.99
Our Price: £7.62
You Save: £2.37 (23%)
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Unexpected sporting pleasures, whatever they might be, invariably add to life’s rich tapestry. This is particularly true if you’ve travelled to experience a particular form of sporting contest for the first time, have little idea what to expect and it turns out to be absolutely compelling.

Four years ago, at Eton Dorney, your correspondent spent the day watching Olympic rowers in action. It was one of those wonderful, ‘I’m hooked’ experiences, a first-time, first-hand glimpse of the effort required to be successful at a sport to which I had never previously paid much attention.

Reading Daniel James Brown’s brilliant The Boys in the Boat rekindled memories of that fantastic day in 2012; if Hollywood has not yet snapped up the book’s film rights, it’s reasonable to assume it soon will.

At times, Brown’s work reads like a sporting supplement to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, underpinned as it is with reminders of Depression America and an unwavering focus on those lower down the social scale; our hero is Joe Rantz, a young man of modest means with much to prove to himself and his family.

The story is of the American rowing eight (and their cox), each from the State University of Washington, and their quest to reach the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The main characters are not, however, sepia-tinted versions of the modern-day ‘jock’ likely to be found at Ivy League institutions; these are less well-heeled individuals who none the less recognise their chance to undermine the efforts of Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, to turn the Games into a politicised glorification of the so-called Aryan race.

A quick Google search would give the game away in terms of outcome, but I would urge you not to do that. Read instead of every part of the journey from rowing club trials to the build-up to the Olympic final and Brown’s astute observation, understood by all nine men in the boat. "One of the fundamental challenges in rowing," says Brown, "is that when any one member of a crew goes into a slump the entire crew goes with him."

A metaphor for 1930s America, there are numerous slumps and setbacks, large dollops of drama and danger, but these features, expertly conveyed by the author, only serve to enhance the book’s uplifting finale. Read it.


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