Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club LX

Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club LX


No pseudo-intellectual would ever want to go overboard in praise of a mere book.
But Daniel Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat, Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” a true story about the University of Washington’s championship rowing team, takes top honors in my reading competition.
It’s a story of both individual perseverance and group effort in the context of once hugely popular, team sport played out on a worldwide stage on the eve of impending war.
Most people who think of the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin by Nazi Germany and its murderous leader Adolf Hitler, recall Jesse Owens, an Ohio State track athlete, winning Olympic Gold, much to the consternation of race supremacist Hitler, Or perhaps, their imagination might shift to the recent best-selling book “Unbroken,” which told the inspiring story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, whose miraculous survival as a World War II prisoner of war and successful life afterward is the stuff of legends.
But “Boys in the Boat” is their equal in drama, one that focuses on the rowers and their coaches, the nature of rowing and what it takes to meet and beat the best competition.
Told both from the point of view of UW’s Huskie rowers as well as the vantage point of Hitler’s henchmen intent on pulling off a propaganda coup, the multiple themes make for an engrossing, page-turning tale.
Much of “Boys” focuses on one boy in particular, the impoverished, luckless but ever-resourceful and hard-working Joe Rantz, who needed to row to survive.
If Rantz was to get the education he so desperately needed to escape poverty, he had to make UW’s freshman rowing team. Rowers were provided campus jobs, and Joe needed the income to stay in school.
The competition faced by Rantz and the other would-be rowers was enormous, but failure wasn’t an option for a young man who was always broke, always hungry, always ill-clothed and always looking for some means to keep his head above water.
His personal story is heartbreaking, but many people faced tough times during the Depression. Joe studied chemical engineering and made the rowing team that, through mere chance, became one of the greatest ever.
People might find it hard to believe now, but crew built a fanatical fan following in the early days of the 20th century. Eastern schools were the first to master the teamwork required for excellence, but western schools, like Washington and the University of California, followed.
Coverage of the sport was a staple of newspaper sports sections, and there was live national radio coverage of races.
Crew is physically demanding. But victory does not just go to the strongest team, but to the the smartest, most determined, most tactically astute and most technically proficient.
Brown’s tutorial on the sport is excellent, the personalities he portrays — they range from good to pure evil — are compelling.
It’s tinged, however, with a certain sadness. Portraying the oppressed people of Germany, particularly the Jews in the midst of what would become the Holocaust, Brown captures their essential helplessness as they faced the horrors to come.
“The Boys in the Boat” is a book that will entertain and engross a wide audience, even if not all aspects of the book are as thrilling as the Huskies’ rows to greatness.

Other recommendations from Jim’s Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club can be found on my web log at news-gazette.com
Here are previous recommendations from Jim’s Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club.
[-] “Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission” by Hampton Sides.
[-] “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris.
[-] “A Night to Remember” by Walter Lord.
[-] “April 1865: The Month That Saved America” by Jay Winik.
[-] “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” by Laura Hillenbrand.
[-] “Lindbergh” by A. Scott Berg.
[-] “The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963” by Laurence Leamer.
[-] “The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case” by Sam Roberts.
[-] “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” by Jane Leavy.
[-] “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions” by Ben Mezrich.
[-] “Harry & Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Post-War World” by Steve Neal.
[-] “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis.
[-] “Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone” by Martin Dugard.
[-] “In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors” by Doug Stanton.
[-] “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34.” by Bryan Burrough.
[-] “Flags of our Fathers,” by James Bradley.
[-] “Cary Grant: A Biography” by Marc Elliot.
[-] “Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager” by Buzz Bissinger.
[-] “Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York” by Kenneth Ackerman.
[-] “They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967” by David Maraniss.
[-] “Flashman” (a novel) by George MacDonald Fraser.
[-] “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and A World on the Brink” by David Margolick.
[-] “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics and the Battle for the Soul of a City” by Jonathan Mahler.
[-] “Five Families: the Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires” by Selwyn Raab.
[-] “The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and the Golden Age of Basketball.” by John Taylor.
[-] “American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies” by Michael Kauffman.
[[-] “The Looming Tower: al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright.
[- ) “A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports” by Brad Snyder.
[-] “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis.
[-] “The Education of a Coach” by David Halberstam.
[-] “Arc of Justice: A Sage of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age” by Kevin Boyle
[-] “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl” by Timothy Egan.
[-] “The Wrong Man: The Final Verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case” by James Neff.
[-] “The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House” by John Harris.
[–] “FDR” by Jean Edward Smith
(-) “The Unlikely Spy” (a novel) by Daniel Silva.
(-) “Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal” by Ben Macintyre
(-) “The Interpretation of Murder” (a novel) by Jed Rubenfeld
(-) “The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country” by Laton McCartney.
(-) “The Last Great Fight: The Extraordinary Tale of Two Men and How One Fight Changes Their Lives Forever”
by Joe Layden.
(-) “The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958 and the Birth of the Modern NFL” by Mark Bowden.
(-) “Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family” by Joaquin “Jack” Garcia.
(-) “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer
(-)  “Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi” by Neal Bascomb
(—) “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Goodwin.
(—) “His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph Ellis.
(—) “Clemente” by David Maraniss
(—) “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963” by Robert Dallek
(-) “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” by Neal Gabler.
(-) “Tears in the Darkness” by Michael and Elizabeth Norman
(—) “The Scarecrow” by Michael Connelly (mystery novel).
(-) “Four Days in November” by Vincent Bugliosi
(—) “Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald.” by Edward Jay Epstein
(—) “America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation” by Michael  MacCambridge
(-) “Billy Boyle” (fiction) by James Benn
(-) “The Ghost War” (fiction) by Alex Berenson
(-) “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President” by Candice Millard
(—) “Cobb” (a biography of baseball great Ty Cobb) by Al Stump.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 351-5369.

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