Meet Ted And Nine Boys In A Boat

It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.

Meet Ted: our coder extraordinaire whose doctoral work at Auburn revolved around the study of British Literature. The fact that he named his daughter after a Jane Austen character, and that's he's an avid reader and Coke Zero drinker makes him a real Renaissance man. Oh, and he's one of the kindest people we know, which makes him our friend.  We asked him to review one of our favorite books and he readily obliged—did we mention he's kind? Enjoy!

My knowledge of crew and rowing went no further than the J Crew label in the back of the jeans my kids gave me. Daniel James Brown's book The Boys in the Boat changed all that. It chronicles an 8+ University of Washington rowing crew (that would be 8 oarsman and a coxswain) and their path from freshman crew to the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany. It does this mostly by focusing on Joe Rantz, following him from heartbreak as a young boy through his triumphs and challenges and, yes, pain, as the crew's seventh seat.

Let me tell you, Brown describes in beautifully precise scientific detail the physics behind eight people rowing simultaneously. For example, there's this: “Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand meter race–The Olympic standard–takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.”

But Brown goes beyond the dry numbers and the (to me) academic physiology. By showing this world of syncopated rowing through the eyes of Joe Rantz, Brown paints flesh and bones on these statistical marvels. Joe absolutely amazed me as I read of him losing his mother and basically raising himself. He never felt like the world gave him a raw deal, and he never, ever made excuses for his situation. Pretty contradictory to what I experience today--indeed, stands out in bold relief against so much of what I am guilty of myself. I would do well to take just one page out of the book of Joe Rantz, commit it to memory, and live by it.

Let's face it: from Rudy to Hoosiers, we love our stories of the success-against-all-odds and the roll-up-our-sleeves and get-it-dones--perhaps because it captures something that we find as uniquely American. Told the wrong way, these stories can come across as trite or artificial, but there is nothing of either of these here. Indeed, with The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown succeeds in showing why Joe Rantz and his entire generation is worthy of the title "the greatest generation that ever lived."

Posted by Ted