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The Boys in the Boat

An Epic Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin

By Daniel James Brown
19-minute read
Audio available
The Boys in the Boat: An Epic Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat (2013) tells the story of how a group of unassuming college boys from the University of Washington went from struggling through the Great Depression to securing a victory in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

  • Rowers and other athletes
  • Anyone interested in history, World War Two or the Olympics
  • Readers who like an underdog story

Daniel James Brown is an award-winning historical narrative non-fiction writer. He’s also the author of Under the Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 and The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride.

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The Boys in the Boat

An Epic Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin

By Daniel James Brown
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 12 key ideas
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The Boys in the Boat: An Epic Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin by Daniel James Brown
Synopsis

The Boys in the Boat (2013) tells the story of how a group of unassuming college boys from the University of Washington went from struggling through the Great Depression to securing a victory in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Key idea 1 of 12

In 1933, many young men competed for spots on the University of Washington rowing crew, but few made it.

In 1933, the United States was right in the middle of the Great Depression. Back then, ten million people – a quarter of the population – were unemployed and roughly two million were homeless.

People could barely afford to spend money on food, let alone their educations. But the University of Washington offered part-time campus jobs to anyone who made the rowing team, so would-be rowers were even more motivated to try out.

The competition was high. On Monday, 9 October 1933, 175 young men showed up to try out for the freshmen team and go through the series of grueling tests designed by the coaches. The head coach was Al Ulbrickson, a no-nonsense man with two national championships to his name. The freshmen coach, Tom Bolles, was dubbed “the professor” by the sports media. He was pursuing his masters degree, and he wore a beat-up Stetson hat for good luck.

The candidates spent the next few weeks discovering the physical demands of competitive rowing. Their muscles, bones and lungs were pushed to their limits – all under the unpredictable conditions of the Seattle weather.

By 30 October, the number of candidates had dropped from 175 to 80.

Two of these candidates were Joe Rantz and Roger Morris, who both studied engineering. Many of the candidates were city boys, but Rantz grew up in a rural area and had built up his strength working with heavy equipment.

Morris, on the other hand, was one of the only candidates with prior rowing experience. When he was 12, he’d rowed 15 miles from his family’s summer home on Bainbridge Island all the way to Seattle.

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