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Ask a Bookseller: ‘The Boys in the Boat’

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The historical sports drama “The Boys in the Boat,” directed by George Clooney, is now in theaters. It’s based on Daniel James Brown’s nonfiction book by the same name, and Sarah Dorn of The Nook in Brookings, S.D., highly recommends reading it. 

The Boys in the Boat” is the true Depression-era story of nine young men on the University of Washington rowing team who went on against all odds to compete at the 1936 Olympics.

The Boys in the Boat
"The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown
Courtesy of Penguin Books

The story focuses on Joe Rantz, who lost his mother early in life and was left as a teenager to make his own way. He worked as a logger and did other heavy manual labor to keep himself fed and housed.

Though he was accepted into the University of Washington, paying for school was another matter. Precious scholarship money was available for members of the school’s rowing team. Hundreds of boys tried out for nine coveted spots, and Joe made the team.

Brown weaves together a highly readable, fascinating underdog sports story. Long before the Olympics was even a possibility, the Washington team faced heavy odds against Ivy League and Navy rowing powerhouses, whose members were considerably better off.

Dorn, a WWII history buff who says she knew nothing of rowing coming into the book, found herself immediately swept up in the story.

Part of its appeal was personal: her grandfather was of similar age to Joe in the early 1930s and lived in similar poverty-stricken circumstances. She loved the insights this book gave into how hard many in that generation had to work to survive. She also appreciates the mentorship that the rowing coaches and boat builder provided to the young men on the team.

Dorn says she enjoyed the film, though she found herself missing some of her favorite details from the book. 

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