The BUZZ: This NY Times bestseller was recommended to me by four people in the same week (thanks Kim, Ann, Kerry, and Bill). I figured I had to check it out.
The GIST: First, this is not a war book. It intersects with the build up of Nazi Germany, but the subject is the extraordinary sport of rowing. In 1936, an unlikely crew from the University of Washington took gold at the Berlin Olympics. This is the true story of those nine young men, their coaches, the world they came from, and what they achieved. The tale is told from many angles, the central thread being rower Joe Rantz. As a reaction to a heartbreaking childhood, Joe grows up strong and fiercely independent; to row to win, though, he must learn to believe in the power of the team, to trust in “the boat”. Rowing fans will savor every page, and those who have never experienced the sport will likely become converts.
The WRITING: Engaging. Brown understands the scope of his subject and explores every aspect of it. Throughout, he keeps his tone light and avoids sensationalism. He allows his reader to re-live the events without his commentary, and this makes them even more compelling. Brown balances technical details with an historian’s gift for context and never moves far from the boys and their journey. This result is a can’t-put-it-down masterpiece.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy it because you’ll want to lend it. Like a heroic quest, where the outcome is never certain and the obstacles seem impossible, the sweep of this story is epic. In this case, the good guys win, which makes it a wonderful story for its time and for all time.
When you walked away from the boat, you had to feel that you had left a piece of yourself behind in it forever, a bit of your heart. Rowing is like that. And a lot of life is like that, too, the parts that really matter anyway.