I recently read a book that I enjoyed so much, I still can’t stop thing about it. I’m even half considering re-reading it again! As soon as I finish this post!
The book is called “The Boys in the Boat” and it is about the varsity crew from the University of Washington who won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
The book is great for so many reasons. First, and most importantly, it’s about one unit of nine guys and their boat, the Husky Clipper. They worked together, they failed together, and they won together. Much of the story focuses on one of the rowers in particular: Joe Rantz. The author talks in the prologue about his first meeting with an elderly Joe and his daughter, to discuss writing the book. Even some 60 years later, the thought of his other teammates and their amazing journey together as one, brought him to tears when speaking about it. His one condition to writing is was to be sure it was “not just about me. It has to be about the boat.”
This was a group of young boys growing up during the Depression, who came from small towns in the Pacific Northwest (an area barely even known about to the rest of the country at that time) and many of whom barely had enough money to eat; let alone get themselves through school. And at that time, the UW crew was hardly the powerhouse it is today. Before they could even get to Germany to race for gold, they had to beat the incredible US teams; which, at that time, we’re predominantly from the East Coast. Once they did make it to Berlin, they were going up against the fierce and extremely driven Germans and the Italians. Teams that had funding for days and had damn near professional athletes.
And it wasn’t only those nine boys and the Husky Clipper going up against the Germans at that time. These Olympics were just a few years before the start of World War II and the global tension and worldwide concern was reaching it’s peak. It was the entire nation behind these boys and pinning so much on them in Berlin. Their ability to tune that out and to stick together and rise to the occasion is what makes this book so great.
I also found the details and explanations of rowing, as well as the character back stories and narratives particularly fascinating and engrossing to read. Living in the Seattle area, it was really cool to read about all the references in and around the city and to learn new things. I was constantly like I know where that is” or “I didn’t know that’s who Royal Brougham was!”
I was so sad when I came to and began reading the epilogue. One, because it was sad as the years pass and they begin to die, and two because I was coming to the end of the book. I think when you are truly sad to see a book end, and want to immediately re-read it as I do, then you know it was something pretty special. I can only say I’ve had that experience a handful of times, which makes this on my “Top 5” of all-time list for sure.
At the end, the author talks about what happened to the Husky Clipper, and how it is now hanging in the ceiling of the Dining Hall at the University of Washington shell house. Seeing as that’s only about 10 minutes from where I work, I decided to go by one afternoon and check it out. I have to say, it was a very moving moment for me. Surprisingly so actually. I looked up into the shell of the boat, and saw all 9 different foot holds; leather and worn after 70 years. I walked from one end to the other, rattling off their names, and trying to picture these young boys sitting in it and rowing together in perfect unison. It was so special and something I won’t soon forget.
A wonderful story and a great read. I highly recommend it.