Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

on August 28, 2015

Boys in the BoatI don’t often review adult books. Partly because my other blogs,, are geared toward first through sixth grades. But I just finished a book that I was reading for the neighborhood book club, and it deserves to be highlighted. It also deserves to be in a lot of school libraries. Boys and girls can both learn a lot.

Listed as an ALA Notable Book for Adults, this would be a wonderful addition to any history class, as it makes history come alive. Jesse Owens wasn’t the only American who shattered the dreams of Hitler and Goebbels. The Germans wanted to show the superiority of the Aryan “race” and stick it to those who punished them for World War I. Nine University of Washington men, learning to pull for each other, showed the world what teamwork can do.

The main focus is Joe Rantz, a Washington native who led an extremely difficult life. He was abandoned – literally – by his family several times. As a result, he had to learn to trust his teammates to work toward their common goal. The reader also learns a lot about Al Ulbrickson, head crew coach, and George Pocock, the shell builder who contributed much more than shells.

In a way, the many races leading up to the Olympics are more exciting than the actual event. Because it’s obvious what the result will be. It’s more about the process and about the closeness of the gold medal race (and why it’s close) anyway. But exciting it is.

The level of research going into this book is incredible. Meticulous detail went into each and every page. I can probably build a reasonable racing shell now. The author readily admits that he improvised dialogue, but much of it comes from the people who were there. He interviewed many participants and read every diary and letter he could get his hands on. And he is careful to set the story in the history of the day, noting the effect of the Great Depression on the nation and of the Nazis on Germany and the Olympics.

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  • Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
  • Author: Daniel James Brown
  • Published: Penguin Books, June 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 417 pages
  • Genre: Narrative nonfiction, Biography, History
  • ISBN: 978-0143125471
  • Extras: Authors’ Note, Notes, Index

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