The Olympic Games and an inspiring story of Northwest grit were a winning combination for those who selected the book for Timberland Regional Library’s 12th annual Timberland Reads Together event in October.
“The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown, follows the 1936 U.S. men’s eight-oar rowing team from unlikely winners at the University of Washington to gold medalists at the Berlin Olympics, beating the German team.
In “The Boys in the Boat,” Brown focuses on one of the UW crew members, said Timberland spokesperson R.J. Burt.
“They’re all made up of local boys. In that era, they were the sons of logging and farming families — blue collar kids who found their way on the rowing team and went on to beat teams from elite colleges and won their way to the Berlin Olympics,” Burt said.
Brown, who lives near Seattle, found out about the story six or seven years ago, when a neighbor told him that her father had won a gold medal in Berlin.
“At the time, he was in hospice,” Brown said. “I met this elderly gentleman, Joe Rantz. … First he talked about growing up during the Depression and the really heart-rending family situation he had to deal with.”
Brown said Rantz went on to tell how the UW crew transformed his life and the lives of a group of other boys, how they rowed in front of Adolf Hitler and beat a German boat.
“It got more and more interesting to me, “ Brown said. “He was tearing up, and I knew there was a lot of heart there. I asked him if I could write a book about his life, and he said, ‘No, not about me, but you could write about the boat,’ what they had done together, this perfect, beautiful thing they had done together.”
Brown researched the story for four years, including traveling to Germany, where, he said, the regatta grounds look almost identical to how they were in 1936.
The regatta grounds are featured in “Olympia: Festival of Beauty,” a 1938 German documentary about the 1936 Summer Olympics. The film was the first documentary feature film of the Olympic Games and is to be shown at Olympia’s Capitol Theater as part of the Timberland Reads program, Burt said.
Burt explained that planners lined up events that examine the book from many angles. “We may look at the cooking of the era, the movies of the era,” she said.
The library system also gets ready for the community event by ordering extra copies of the chosen book.
“We get lots and lots and lots of books into our libraries,” Burt said.
“The thing I most want people to get out of it,” Brown said of the book, “is this is a book in many ways about that generation of Americans. I think the story of these nine young men who climbed in a boat and learned to pull together so beautifully is almost a metaphor for that generation. They had a lot of hardships to overcome. They found a way to do it and pull together.”
Join Timberland Reads
Find the book: or the audiobook “The Boys in the Boat” in the library catalog.
TRT Events: Go to trl.org/ and click the “events” tab to see movies, music, activities, and book discussions. Or pick up a Readers Guide at any Timberland library. It includes information about the author, related events, suggested reading, and questions for thought and discussion.
Meet the author: Daniel James Brown will give a presentation at 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia. Brown will talk about his book at the free event. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.