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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 27 June 2013

16 June 2013

I have been very busy traveling this last month, talking to coaches and recruiting athletes for LMU, so it has been a few weeks since I last wrote you a blog. Now I have several percolating in the back of my little pea brain, but I cannot delay another day, even another minute, before I tell you about the marvelous book I just finished.

A couple of weeks ago I received from Viking Press a pre-publication copy of THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest of Gold at the 1936 Olympics for me to review.

I was a little skeptical. The author, Daniel James Brown, is not a rower, so how could he possibly fully capture the magic of our sport? Well . . . I just finished the book yesterday. I cried, in private and in public on an airplane, repeatedly, heartily, unashamedly. Of course I cried when they won, even though I already knew the outcome very well. But I also cried at the little personal moments, on the water and off. I even cried when they first got their boat to swing. This is a terrific rowing book.

But it’s so much more than that. It’s a terrific book, period! Brown gives us the rich and fascinating context of the entire era of the 1930s. He makes Depression come alive, and the story behind the planning for the Berlin Olympics is terrific. But, my goodness, all this is trumped by the hardscrabble coming-of-age stories of these brave young men, especially Joe Rantz, amazing Joe Rantz. It’s gripping reading long before any of them picked up oars and took on the world.

As I read chapter after chapter, I kept marveling at what an astonishing accomplishment in research THE BOYS IN THE BOAT truly is. Having already plowed many of the same furrows with my own research for The Sport of Rowing, I kept thinking “Wow!” and, being curious, I started referring to the author’s notes at the back of the book. I could see that Brown had referred to all the same sources and consulted with all the same people I had . . . and then he had gone one layer, two layers, three layers further! Most importantly, he had gone to the surviving members of the 1936 Washington Crew and to their families. The personal stories he uncovered might well have been lost in the mists of time were it not for Daniel James Brown. Bravo, sir!

Then my heart stopped. The reference was right there! He had even consulted my book, The Sport of Rowing. I played a small role in this magnificent accomplishment. I’m so honored! Oh, my!

My own book was a survey of the entire 200-year history of rowing as sport, so no era or crew got more than a chapter or so. It is always exciting to read a book that drills down further and further and further still I recently had a similar thrill reading Chris Dodd’s magnificent 2012 book, Pieces of Eight, describing Bob Janousek’s 1974-76 British Men’s Eight.

And I thought I was pretty familiar with the immortal quotations of George Pocock . . . but Brown has found quote after quote I had never read, and he has let them set the tone for every chapter of BOYS, just like the way Pocock was the muse for Washington rowing for more than half a century.

You can read THE BOYS IN THE BOAT and go right out on the water and improve your rowing merely by channeling George Pocock . . . just like the way the 1936 Washington crew had their big breakthrough watching Pocock row by one day in his single.

In fact, I hope every one of my current LMU boys reads this book this astonishing this summer. All that I have been teaching them is in there, and it is so uplifting to read about and experience the whole process from your first day in a boat to your last stroke at the end of your rowing career to the way it shapes the rest of your life.

Oh, my!