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Daniel James Brown’s book ‘The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” is the story in short of the Olympic triumph of the University of Washington (Huskies) over Nazi Germany.
This crew of eight young men during the Depression, says the author, were members of a generation who felt their lives were disposable. As Mr. Brown has said in an online interview, “The burdens of the Depression were so severe that [people] felt as though they had no control over their lives.”
Mr. Brown presents Joe Rantz, the number-seven man in the 1936 U.S. Olympic eight-oar crew, as the narrative’s central figure, but the story of incredible strength and courage is ultimately that of the team. It is the story not so much about the championship and the team’s ultimate victory as of the challenging beginnings of all eight young men and their coxswain/coach, a team that had been rowing together for less than five months prior to the Olympics, and who survived difficult circumstances only through extraordinary collaboration and sportsmanship.
Bob Moch, coxswain and coach, directed the boys with encouragement and understanding; George Yeoman Pocock, who designed and built the eight-oared racing shell especially for the games, was also a mentor.
Mr. Brown’s research into primary and secondary sources such as diaries, journals, logs, painstaking interviews, newspaper articles and archival photographs is outstanding. His synthesis helps the reader understand what defined that generation.