The Boys in the Boat
By Daniel James Brown
I had to pick it up. Penguin Random House claims it is one of its bestselling books of all time.
You know the feeling of chancing upon a series in Netflix that you’re not particularly invested in and then finding yourself comfortably settled in the show, not compulsively obsessed, but with no inclination to drop it either? You just fall in step with the story.
It is a book that unapologetically takes its time. Undoubtedly, there were times when I just wanted to rush through it. I felt the whole plot of the story I could just read in one newspaper column. I approached the book expecting the usual straightforwardness of non-fiction, but I found none. Brown was simply in the business of reconstructing time.
The research put in the book is exhaustive. It had weather conditions down on a random day in the 30s. I certainly did not expect it from such a book. I did not expect the reception either, but I guess it struck a chord with millions of Americans when working class boys won the gold in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, just when Hitler was ramping up its new Germany, amidst news of Jewish maltreatment, skewed conditions at the Olympic games, an impending world war, and the Great Depression.
It struck me how the Olympics can be such a façade for peace, and if the world didn’t want to see, it really could not see the horrors at its doorstep. The whole world was in Berlin in 1936. Despite the “clean-up” of Berlin, someone should have told the world what was coming. Instead, athletes from various countries as a sign of respect gave some form of Nazi salute to Hitler watching intently from the stadiums.
While the book ran its slow pace in the beginning, it picked up its pace in the last few pages, as if on a regatta it constantly described. I didn’t realise I was primed for the final race. I was reliving the final race in Berlin with a second by second account by the book.
I heard the book slowly became popular among rowing circles until it caught fire and spread everywhere. A tortoise and Americana sort of read.