Sunday, June 16, 2013

by Daniel James Brown

Joe Rantz had a hardscrabble childhood. Poverty was always around him. At the age of four, his mother died and one year later his father married again. Joe's stepmother, Thula, barely acknowledged him and he could never understand why she treated him so unkindly. When Joe was fifteen, his father, Harry, Thula, and their three kids jumped in their car and abandoned Joe. From then on, he learned to fend for himself and not to rely on anybody else. Through the Depression he found jobs that could keep him afloat. Joe grew ever more self-reliant and stronger. He stayed in school and had good grades.
In 1931, Joe's older brother, Fred, wanted him to live in Seattle and attend Roosevelt High School where Fred taught chemistry. It was a difficult year for Joe because he was used to being on his own but he excelled at school. He joined the gymnastics team which would lead him to a sport that would become his pinnacle. Alvin Ulbrickson, the head coach of crew at the University of Washington, visited the high school one day and saw Joe in action. His life would never be the same again.
Joe joined crew and became one of nine young men that would row fluidly as one and be totally committed to each other.
The Boys in the Boat has to be one of the greatest books I have ever read. From the first page, I was immediately hooked. Author Daniel James Brown's writing is nothing short of brilliant. You get history, exciting boat races, descriptions of how the shells were built (entirely handmade by a British boat designer, George Yeoman Pocock whose sayings grace the beginnings of every chapter), technique, weather, the dynamic coaches, and inspiration. There are great black-and-white photographs within every chapter that follow the story.
You don't have to be a sports fan because this is the kind of book that will have massive appeal. It's a feel good human interest story not to be missed.
Very highly recommended.