The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

I must confess, the occasion that I will choose nonfiction novel for the sole purpose of enterainment is an extremely rare one. However, the first half of Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat may have forever changed that mindset. The story is a complex one, focusing not only on the freshmen rowing team from the University of Washington, but various human struggles, such as extreme poverty, prominent class divisions, and pure determination. In addition, both the historical factors of the impending World War II and the ongoing Great Depression set the scene for a story of the complexities of humanity.

I enjoyed the author’s focus on Joe Rantz, a member of the University of Washington rowing team. This aspect of the novel not only demonstrates the rare abilty of an author to characterize a real person, but added an incredibly meaningful piece of information to the everpresent team of hardwork and resourcefulness. And though the book may be called The Boys in the Boat, Brown does a wonderful job of presenting the contributions and personal nuances of the multiple women important to the story, straying from the “accessory” mindset that females are so often stuck with in male-centric novels.

Though I have been thoroughly appreciating the eloquent writing and clever craft of the book, I admit that one facet has left me confused. The author often describes the sport of rowing, something that should come as no surprise to anyone. However, I often feel confused at the many literary depictions of the activity and the lengthy explainations may only lend to a perplexed reader. For examples, Brown writes about one of the teams many races, stating “As they passed the quarter-mile mark, the two-boats slowly came even. Then Washington began to overtake California, methodically, seat by seat, the boys still rowing at a remarkably low thirty” (Brown 98). Because I obviously do not (or have never) have experience as a rower, the intense athletic language can at times present itself as slightly boring and takes away from the otherwise fascinating plot.

At this point in time, I am excited by the discovery of this nonfiction novel that tells a story with a much deeper meaning. Though I am only halfway through, I recommend this novel to anyone who is put off by the genre of nonfiction. As I very much look foward to learing more about the sport of rowing, enhancing my knowledge of history, and gaining a deeper understanding of the journey of the actual boys in the boat.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

  1. margaretkang

    I have to say, I feel the same as you when it comes to nonfiction novels. Usually they are not my cup of tea as I can find them to be a tad bit boring and less enjoyable to read. By your depiction of this novel, I feel like it is something I could pick up and start to get into though I am worried about not understanding it as you mentioned that certain aspects of the book could lead to a “perplexed reader”. If I hadn’t read your thoughts on this novel there would of been a very low chance of me ever picking it out let alone notice it at all. I never thought I would be interested in the sport of rowing or a book about events that were so tragic. Next time I go to the library, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for this book!

  2. ashleyamccann

    I have heard wonderful praise about this book since it first came out, although I have never read it. Your description and observations seem to go along with the high praise that the novel has received. I did not know about the importance of female roles in this novel, and I think that it is interesting that women are not portrayed as an “accessory.” Judging by the time frame that you mentioned this book takes place, I think this portrayal may be a precursor to the women’s rights movement. I enjoyed how you talked about the plot as well as some of the underlying themes of the novel. I also do not enjoy non-fiction, but I think that I will pick up this book soon.

  3. When I saw this entry, I got excited immediately, since I read it last semester. While I feel the same way about nonfiction books, this book changed my view of them as well. However, I felt the rowing aspect of the book was intriguing to me since I also row. I must say, I didn’t really notice the approach of writing that Brown took with this book, but since you mentioned it, it added a level of satisfaction when reading the novel. The second half is just as interesting and possibly even more enthralling. I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  4. Anastasia Rozanova

    This book has been recommended to me before, and from this review, I can see why. I don’t read very much nonfiction, and have been hoping to get into it some more. So this book is the perfect opportunity! I also like that there is a historical side to the book, as long as a more personal one. I have many friends who are rowers so I’ll be sure to get some help from them when I come across unfamiliar terminology. I look forward to tracking the various themes you mentioned in your post.

  5. miacremona

    The Boys in the Boat 2/2:

    It is entirely possible to describe “The Boys in the Boat” as a book encompassing many sub-genres of the non-fiction category. Perhaps, the love story between of Joe Rantz and Joyce, a story of athletic triumph, or a historical tale of Hitler’s attempt to fool the world and hide the true horrors of his Nazi party through the 1936 Olympics. But in my eyes, the story encompasses a much more broad theme. Brown’s non-fiction book truly shows the determination, courage and very possible triumph of the human spirit, the class and physical boundaries that one can cross solely as a result of hard work, for nothing that one truly strives for is inherently impossible. To me, the story of the Washington State University crew team, as compiled by Daniel James Brown, was an inspiring and incredibly beautiful story.

    The author constantly uses strong characterization, albeit heavy at times, to truly attempt to give the reader the best idea of the real people he writes about. In addition, I immensely appreciated that fact that the historical events of the time were not blatantly ignored in order to promote the theme of athletic success. For example, though the Berlin Olympic Games may have seemed like a brilliant spectacle, we are reminded of the true cost and motive.

    Brown describes,

    “Within days of the closing ceremony of the 1936 Olympics, the Nazi’s renewed their perscution of German Jews and others to whom they believed they were superior, with a savage and unrelenting vengeance. The anti-Semitic signs were rehung, the brutality and terror resuemed and intensified” (Borwn 359).

    There is no doubt that the book celebrates vast human accomplishment, but despite that central message, we are still chillingly reminded of the equally great evils that stem from the minds of people. In addition, poverty and loss are constantly described and reoccur in each chapter. The rich boys of Washington State are often contrasted with the rough and tumble boys of the rowing team, who suceed not because of status and class, but simply because they possess a certain resilience that is certainly rare.

    Again, I highly recommend this book to any person wishing to delve into the world of nonfiction or any person that enjoys a fascinating story. And, as a bonus, I think I may have actually gained some insight into the sport of rowing! Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat” is a work of literature so evidently full of rich history, and passionate craft, and I am very glad I was able to learn an incredible story of those who excelled and triumphed against all odds.

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