Making History [The Boys in the Boat]: A Review

Hi everyone! Today I am here with a review of The Boys in the Boat, a neat book that I have heard a lot about. Both my mom and my mother in law recommended this book after they read it for their book clubs. It is an incredible story of team work, diligence, and a determination to succeed.

This book is different because you know the end before you begin. You know they will win the gold medal (why is there a book if they don’t win?). Sometimes, this book was a bit slow for me because I knew the ending. But the fun part is seeing the journey to that incredible race.


The Boys in the Boat follows the story of the men’s rowing teams from the University of Washington as they row for a spot in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. As the Nazis gain power in Germany, these Americans seek the ultimate Olympic prize: a gold medal. We get to see the full journey of this team from their first practices to their final Olympic trials and experiences at the Olympic Games.

The story follows the experiences of one rower, Joe Rantz, more closely than the others. Rantz has a difficult childhood and must overcome intense financial, physical, and emotional challenges to earn a spot on the Olympic team. Learning more about Joe’s childhood and journey to the University of Washington helps make this story feel more real. We learn about his difficult family life, his tiny room at the YMCA, and his worries over money. But we also see him take care of his siblings, fall in love with Joyce, and make the Olympic team. Joe is a real person, with a real story.

My favorite parts of the book were the actual races. I was surprised by how many races the author describes. We root for Joe and his teammates as they race against each other for a spot on the first varsity boat. We get the rivalry races on Lake Washington against their biggest competitors–the teams from the University of California. We can visualize the championship college races on the Hudson River where the University of Washington boys row into the Olympics. And the climax of the book–the gold medal race in Berlin—where the college boys from the American Northwest shock the world. That race is a truly beautiful climatic moment.

What was difficult for me to get excited about was the long stretches of narrative about different coaches, rowers, and Nazis. We get so much background information. But it was too much for me. I found myself skipping over a lot of it to get to the races and the parts that are more connected to the journey to 1936 Olympics. For me, that in-depth background almost ruined the book. I almost put it down half way through with no plans to return to it. Again, the Olympic race saves this book for me. I would still like to have seen a lot less background and more focus on the actual races. I loved those races and felt like I was there cheering on the boys in the boat.

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Fun fact: you can actually watch videos from the Olympic race on Youtube. Check out this neat video.

Have you read this or similar Olympic stories? Any you would recommend?

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