Friday, October 11, 2013

Books Reviews: The Boys in the Boat, By Daniel James Brown

The Premise:
(From the cover) Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The Good:
The story is especially poignant for me as it took place in places where I’ve lived and am intimately familiar with, so I wanted to get that bias out of the way early. That said, once the story gets moving, it moves along like, well, an eight-man crew that’s found its swing. Mr. Brown does his best work describing the races. Like all memorable historical and sports-themed stories, the book works its magic when it’s building anticipation up to the action—even when you know the results, or think you do, you still feel the apprehension of actually being there. And it is a book that’s alive with heroes and villains, sweat and tears, tragedy and triumph.

The Bad:
The book spends a great deal of time focusing on one of the “Boys in the Boat” in particular, which I understand is a narrative device to help the reader get immersed in the story, but the overall message of the story is about each member of the crew giving up their individuality for the success of the group. While I immensely liked the boy the author focused on—he had a truly remarkable life—there were times when I wanted to learn more about the other boys. And I never really got a strong sense for “why him”. It just seemed disingenuous. Also, there are times when the prose is overwritten and there is a bit too much focus on the Nazis outside the context of the Olympic games.

The Verdict:
Buy it if you went to U-Dub. Read it otherwise. The book has been optioned to be made into a movie, along the same lines as Seabiscuit, so have fun creating your dream team of actors to play the roles.