Excerpt provided by Syndetics
<anon I1="BLANK" I2="BLANK">Prologue In a sport like this--hard work, not much glory, but still popular in every century--well, there must be some beauty which ordinary men can't see, but extraordinary men do. -- George Yeoman Pocock This book was born on a cold, drizzly, late spring day when I clambered over the split-rail cedar fence that surrounds my pasture and made my way through wet woods to the modest frame house where Joe Rantz lay dying. I knew only two things about Joe when I knocked on his daughter Judy's door that day. I knew that in his midseventies he had single-handedly hauled a number of cedar logs down a mountain, then hand-split the rails and cut the posts and installed all 2,224 linear feet of the pasture fence I had just climbed over--a task so herculean I shake my head in wonderment whenever I think about it. And I knew that he had been one of nine young men from the state of Washington--farm boys, fishermen, and loggers--who shocked both the rowing world and Adolf Hitler by winning the gold medal in eight-oared rowing at the 1936 Olympics. When Judy opened the door and ushered me into her cozy living room, Joe was stretched out in a recliner with his feet up, all six foot three of him. He was wearing a gray sweat suit and bright red, down-filled booties. He had a thin white beard. His skin was sallow, his eyes puffy--results of the congestive heart failure from which he was dying. An oxygen tank stood nearby. A fire was popping and hissing in the woodstove. The walls were covered with old family photos. A glass display case crammed with dolls and porcelain horses and rose-patterned china stood against the far wall. Rain flecked a window that looked out into the woods. Jazz tunes from the thirties and forties were playing quietly on the stereo. Judy introduced me, and Joe offered me an extraordinarily long, thin hand. Judy had been reading one of my books aloud to Joe, and he wanted to meet me and talk about it. As a young man, he had, by extraordinary coincidence, been a friend of Angus Hay Jr.--the son of a person central to the story of that book. So we talked about that for a while. Then the conversation began to turn to his own life. His voice was reedy, fragile, and attenuated almost to the breaking point. From time to time he faded into silence. Slowly, though, with cautious prompting from his daughter, he began to spin out some of the threads of his life story. Recalling his childhood and his young adulthood during the Great Depression, he spoke haltingly but resolutely about a series of hardships he had endured and obstacles he had overcome, a tale that, as I sat taking notes, at first surprised and then astonished me. But it wasn't until he began to talk about his rowing career at the University of Washington that he started, from time to time, to cry. He talked about learning the art of rowing, about shells and oars, about tactics and technique. He reminisced about long, cold hours on the water under steel-gray skies, about smashing victories and defeats narrowly averted, about traveling to Germany and marching under Hitler's eyes into the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, and about his crewmates. None of these recollections brought him to tears, though. It was when he tried to talk about "the boat" that his words began to falter and tears welled up in his bright eyes. At first I thought he meant the Husky Clipper , the racing shell in which he had rowed his way to glory. Or did he mean his teammates, the improbable assemblage of young men who had pulled off one of rowing's greatest achievements? Finally, watching Joe struggle for composure over and over, I realized that "the boat" was something more than just the shell or its crew. To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both--it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience--a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love. Joe was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it. As I was preparing to leave that afternoon, Judy removed Joe's gold medal from the glass case against the wall and handed it to me. While I was admiring it, she told me that it had vanished years before. The family had searched Joe's house high and low but had finally given it up as lost. Only many years later, when they were remodeling the house, had they finally found it concealed in some insulating material in the attic. A squirrel had apparently taken a liking to the glimmer of the gold and hidden the medal away in its nest as a personal treasure. As Judy was telling me this, it occurred to me that Joe's story, like the medal, had been squirreled away out of sight for too long. I shook Joe's hand again and told him I would like to come back and talk to him some more, and that I'd like to write a book about his rowing days. Joe grasped my hand again and said he'd like that, but then his voice broke once more and he admonished me gently, "But not just about me. It has to be about the boat." Excerpted from The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. 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Reviews provided by Syndetics
Kirkus Book Review
The long, passionate journey of the University of Washington rowing team to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The nine young Americans (including coxswain Bob Moch) who made up the team in the Husky Clipper that would eventually edge to victory by six-tenths of a second ahead of the Italians in the Olympics emerged from the harsh realities of the Depression, as Brown (The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride, 2009, etc.) delineates in this thorough study of the early rowing scene. The journey of one young rower, Joe Rantz, forms the emotional center of the narrative. A tall, strapping country boy who had largely been fending for himself in Sequim, Wash., in 1933, he got a shot as a freshman at making the prestigious crew team at UW, which was led by freshman coach Tom Bolles and head coach Al Ulbrickson. Many strands converge in the narrative, culminating in a rich work of research, from the back story involving the creation of UW's rowing program to the massive planning and implementation of the Berlin Olympics by Hitler's engineer Werner March, specifically the crew venue at the Langer See. The UW team honed its power and finesse in the lead-up seasons by racing against its nemesis, the University of California at Berkeley, as well as in East Coast regattas. Despite the threat of an American boycott, the Berlin Olympics were carefully orchestrated by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and filmed by Leni Riefenstahl to show the world the terrifying images of Aryan "purity" and Nazi supremacy. Yet for these American boys, it was an amazing dream. A touching, fairly uncomplicated portrayal of rowing legends.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
New York Times Book Review
I STILL REMEMBER reading books to my own kids, teenagers now, but I don't remember the last time someone read me a book, or even a paragraph, other than my husband barking out a snippet of the day's outrageous news. Yet I've never forgotten how different the experience of listening to prose is from reading or watching it transformed into film. It requires time and a mental stillness, the kind one has these days mainly in cars or other modes of transit. And so I set out to listen to the audio of young readers' versions of best-selling nonfiction in the car on trips upstate, often with my 13-year-old along to test their Y.A. appeal. We began with Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," read by the actor Macleod Andrews in a vaguely Midwestern, boyish cadence. I was one of those people who had avoided Pollan's book when it came out a decade back, certain that if I read it, I'd wake up not just rejecting high-fructose corn syrup but also unable to find sustenance anywhere in my country, or worse, morphed into an organic-baby-food-producing, vegan scold. Listening to the nightmarish story of American industrial farming - the tragedy of ghost towns in Iowa and the Midwest all given over to "America's 80-million-acre field of corn," a plant that Pollan compares to an alien invasion - was indeed disturbing. When he buys a steer to chart its journey to becoming meat, you know it won't end well, but what happens is even worse than you think. At one point, listening to the unfolding litany of disaster that is America's food system, the kid in the car opined that my generation "let this happen." I denied it, of course, but as a native Illinoisan who spent a few summers on chain gangs of teenage corn "de-tassellers" toiling in Cargill's cross-pollination fields, I suppose I am personally implicated in the fiasco. Tip: You might want to listen to this seven-and-a-half-hour book (the adult audio clocks in at nearly 16 hours) while on a long drive with your family, but you won't be able to stop and eat at the fast-food outlets serving the disgusting things Pollan calls "EFLS" - edible foodlike substances constructed with corn and sickly factory-farmed cow or chicken. So pack a picnic basket of organic goodies from the farmers market before setting off. After Pollan, we popped the marvelous work of Laura Hillenbrand into the CD player. The actor Edward Herrmann (who died in 2014) reads a shorter, Y.A.-friendly version of "Unbroken," the true story of the Olympic runner and P.O.W. Louis Zamperini. Hillenbrand begins with our hero, his plane having gone down in the Pacific, floating on a life raft encircled by sharks. She leaves him there and drifts back to the delinquent boy discovering he was the fastest runner in Torrance, Calif. Before long he is racing the 5,000-meter in the 1936 Olympics and meeting Hitler, then enlisting in the Army Air Corps, crashing, spending a record 47 days on that shark-encircled raft and entering a hellish Japanese P.O.W. camp. Hillenbrand is a true master of the English language (planes "etch" the sky, sharks "bristle" beneath the raft), and her writerly skill is delivered with a feel for the eras in which the book unfolds by Herrmann's orotund, World War II radio announcer voice, his accent just slightly out of time. I was so into this story that when I reached home as Zamperini was being shot at by the Japanese, I brought the CD out of the car and hurried it inside with me, to finish listening. Our third and fourth audiobooks didn't grip us like the first two. "The Boys in the Boat," by Daniel James Brown, is about the Depression-era Olympic gold-medal-winning United States rowing team. The five-and-a-half-hour audio of the version adapted for younger readers, read by the actor Mark Bramhall, is heavily veiled by fog and endlessly dripping cold rain as the author paints the Pacific Northwest setting. Marketed as a sort of natural companion to Hillenbrand's book, it lacks her sharp ear for language, and although it was a best seller, it's not clear why the world needed another book about how the Americans triumphed over Nazi Germany in the 1936 Olympics. The book is, however, evocative of the incredible hardship Americans endured during the Depression, and it strikes deep emotional chords: Before the first third of the story is over, the hero, Joe Rantz, has been abandoned by his family three times. We learn that he and the other rowers, working-class boys all, formed a "mystical bond" in the boat that they never forgot. Unfortunately, "Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts," by Susan Cain with Gregory Mone and Erica Moroz, didn't capture us either. We do have introverts in our household, and Cain explains that "a quiet temperament is a superpower," which is a nice way to look at it. But there's a gooey dose of psychobabble here, even presumably simplified for young people in this reworking of the adult book, along with a protest-too-much degree of reassurance that introverts are just as smart and worthy as extroverts. Perhaps there are people out there who don't already believe that, but we're not among them. There is a 24-question test by which the listener can determine what sort of "vert" he or she is, which might not be immediately obvious. I took it and found myself exactly in the middle - a so-called androvert, sort of surprising because I was a shy and bookish teenager. The book is full of tips for more introverted teenagers on how to navigate the noisy world, including finding a few close friends and accepting that "you might not get up in front of a stadium like Taylor Swift." The most interesting anecdote the self-described introvert Cain shares is that she came to realize that being quiet means people often listen more closely when she speaks. But the book, at least, isn't helped by its reader, the actress Kathe Mazur. My 13-year-old test-listener observed, "She has a voice that makes me want to go to sleep. You should write that." And so I have. NINA BURLEIGH is the national politics correspondent at Newsweek magazine and the author of five nonfiction books.