Amazon offered me a trial subscription to Audible for being a Prime member, despite my awkward audio experience with Fates & Furies I figured I’d give it a try. I downloaded The Boys in the Boat, which has been on my to read list since I read Unbroken for CBR6, because it seemed to be the most bang for my complimentary buck. It’s read by Edward Herrmann and I felt confident that Richard Gilmore wouldn’t be dramatically reading sex scenes to me on my commute (and I was right). He’s the ideal voice for the retelling of the Washington Crew’s incredible story.
“What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew.”
The story is primarily about Joe Rantz, a poor boy who grew up in Washington during the Great Depression. After his mother died a four year old Joe was sent to live with relatives; after his father remarried (his older son’s wife’s twin sister nonetheless) Joe returned to Washington but never had a proper home life. For most of his adolescence he was expected to fend for himself which gave him a strong work ethic and a desire to prove his worth. He made his way to Washington University where he joined the Freshman Crew, coached by Tom Bolles, and became a part of the “Freshman Eight.” Joe and his teammates began a journey to Olympic greatness; they were undefeated and became a symbol of Seattle pride.
After his Freshman year, Joe and his fellow Freshmen shellmates began being coached by Washington Head Coach Al Ulbrickson and unofficially coached by shell craftsman George Pocock. There are a lot of ups and downs in Joe’s crew career- particularly during the year where Ulbrickson is putting together his potential Olympic team.
Brown fills in the other rower’s backgrounds and shifts focus to the other eight boys primarily coxswain Bobby Moch, Roger Morris, “Shorty” Hunt and Don Hulme. There are also several sections on the Nazi takeover in the years leading up to the German Olympics focusing on film maker Leni Riefenstahl and ministry of propaganda leader Joseph Goebbels.
I think the audio version helps enhance the story. With all the regatta recaps it helps to have Herrmann acting as both a sportscaster and the inner monologue of the rowers. Despite knowing the outcome of each race there is still a sense of tension that comes from hearing the play by play.