Author: Daniel James Brown

ISBN:  978-0-670-02581-1

When one thinks of great sports writing Roger Angell’s The Summer Game comes immediately to mind, as do the many pieces on golf by Herbert Warren Wind; not to forget John McPhee’s many New Yorker profiles, especially ‘A Sense of Where You Are’ (1965) about Princeton basketball star Bill Bradley; and then, of course, who could ignore David Halberstam’s Everything They Had. Certainly, in the weeks ahead, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat will join this august company because his story of the University of Washington’s 1936 Olympic quest for gold by their extraordinary eight -man crew is a classic literary achievement about a memorable and momentous athletic accomplishment.

Daniel James Brown grew up in San Francisco and attended Diablo Valley College and the University of California at Berkley and UCLA. He taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford. He is the author of two non-fiction books and now writes full time  and lives with his family near Seattle, Washington.

Three major strands together spin the basic weave of Daniel James Brown’s amazing yarn; first comes the boat, The Husky Clipper and its builder, George Pocock; second are the major players, the nine Boys in the Boat, and finally, the long arduous journey which starts on Lake Washington in 1933 and moves steadily onwards culminating in Germany on the Langer See at Grunau and the Nazi Olympics of 1936.

George Yeoman Pocock was born at Kingston upon Thames in 1891 “ ...within sight of some of the finest rowing water in the world.” He was descended from a long line of boat builders. Not only did he build boats; he rowed them, imitating the style of the powerful Thames watermen. As a builder, he said at one time, “My ambition has always been to be the greatest shell builder in the world ....” He learned his trade from his father at Eton using simple hand tools not just building boats but sculpting them. In 1927 he revolutionized the building of racing shells which had always been made of expensive Spanish cedar by experimenting with native western red cedar. As a result, at the Intercollegiate Poughkeepsie Racing Association Regatta in 1936, 17 of 18 shells entered were built by him.

One of George Pocock’s greatest achievements was certainly his building of the 1936 Gold Medal shell The Husky Clipper, a cedar and spruce, red and yellow masterpiece that carried ‘the boys’ to their  Olympic victory in Germany. Today, a sole survivor of that great achievement, it proudly hangs in retirement in the dining commons of the Conibear Shell House at the University of Washington.
This is the story of the boys who rowed The Husky Clipper to victory in Germany in 1936 - Gordon Adam, Chuck Day, Don Hume, George ‘Shorty’ Hunt, Jim ‘Stub’ MacMillan, coxswain Bob Moch, Roger Morris, John White jr., and Joe Rantz whose personal struggles form a centre piece for this extraordinary journey. A chance meeting between the author and Joe’s daughter Judy towards the end of her father’s life, and the ensuing conversations that Daniel James Brown had with Joe Rantz inspired the writing and eventual publication  of this exciting, well crafted saga.

Looming over all the positive aspects of this story, casting an ugly shadow over the images of athletic endeavor and national and personal commitment, flutters the black and red flag of advancing Nazism. As the boys prepare their challenge in the early years of the 1930’s, Hitler and his thuggish gang, most notably the conniving Goebbels and even the  self serving filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl prepare to unleash their hellish rampage across Europe, but first  would come the Berlin Olympics which Hitler tried to use to present a false and deceitful political German face for the world to admire. Part of Daniel James Brown’s story is the initial success of this deception and then the resounding rejection that the winning of the American Gold Medal in Rowing helped to deliver to Hitler and his destructive cause.

Finally this is a book to delight the lover of sports writing as well as the historian. One cannot ask for more than masterful writing and flawless research all wrapped up in a unique historical human story of the selfless pursuit of excellence.


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