Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown was a really great book about the University of Washington rowing team that went to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Brown's writing of the story came out of a fairly chance meeting late in the life of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, and the book a fascinating one that covers a huge amount of ground. Some of the things that struck me were around the idea of a great rowing team needing to be comprised of people with absolute trust in one another, what America was like in the 20s and 30s and then the German propaganda machine leading up to WWII.

Brown chronicles in the book how as Rantz was growing up, America suffered the effects of the depression and dust bowl, leading to widespread westward migration and a number of farmers simply picking up and leaving behind homes and properties in search of something better. It was a hard time for many and the circumstances of Rantz's childhood were written of as key to what came later in the book.

Additionally, Brown has fascinating material in the book about Germany leading into the Berlin Olympics, with Nazi leadership focused on presenting to the world an image of themselves as a good and peaceful neighbor, towards the goal of buying them time to secretly build up their war powers prior to launching armed aggression. This time and place in the world is really interesting to me and brings to mind the excellent Erik Larson book set prior to WWII, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin that I wrote about in 2011.

Shortly after finishing The Boys in the Boat, I came across an interesting San Jose Mercury News feature story in "Bay Area native’s book showcases bitter rivalry between Cal and Washington in top-selling book" and the piece by Elliott Almond and Mark Emmons covers information about Brown and how his book become an enormous success and basis of a movie now in development.