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Book Recommendation: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Updated: Apr 9

“It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down,” he told his daughter, Marilynn. “What matters is how many times you get up.”

Now a major motion picture directed by George Clooney, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat tells the epic quest of 9 young men in search of Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. If you liked Unbroken, you will love this unforgettable portrait of the Depression era with working-class boys fighting for a position in the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team. I highly recommend The Boys in the Boat for your next nonfiction read!

book cover with a group of men crewing on a lake with the sun rising

With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the group was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Joe’s childhood bring him to and through the trials for the Olympics?

  2. What new aspects of crew did you learn? How does the design of the sport shape the athlete?

  3. The novel tells a much larger story of a generation living during world wars, the Great Depression and expanding America. What aspects of life during the 1930s struck the most? How do their circumstances compare to today?

  4. Bobby Moch was Jewish. Knowing what he knew about Germany, are surprised he went? Should the team (and America) have boycotted the Olympics?

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