I’m a sucker for just about any book with the word ‘BOAT’ in the title. My office shelves are crammed with them. This book is a departure from my usual fare, because it’s not just about a boat, but it sure is central to the story. The subtitle really captures what it’s about: “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics”. In today’s world, ‘epic’ is so overused as to water down the power of the word, but if ever there was a story truly deserving of the term this is it.
It’s a riveting story for three primary reasons. First, it’s a story about incredibly hard working and well coached young men who face a daunting task – to make it to the Olympics. From working class families and hard-scrabble upbringings, it’s a triumph of grit. Second, it’s the challenges of the timeframe that make the story more improbable and dramatic. America is reeling from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and the world is about to careen headlong into another catastrophic war. Third, and perhaps most improbable, is the man mostly responsible for that war plays host to the 1936 Summer Olympic games.
And then there is the boat, an eight oar racing shell. Portions of the book go into fascinating detail on the theory and construction of these sleek craft. Those passages themselves are enough to make the book interesting to a boat nut. Author Daniel James Brown does a really fine job laying this story out, weaving all the above with style, grace and force. Highly recommended!