So, unbeknownst to either of us, Randy and I were reading the same book at the same time (great minds, etc., etc.). He also posted about The Boys in the Boat, and I gladly direct you to his review, which has a good synopsis of the story.
First off, this was a great book. Following so closely on the heels of Unbroken (both the book and the movie), it's hard not to compare the two, at least a little, as both feature American athletes at the 1936 Olympics (Louis Zamperini even makes a cameo). But while Unbroken (the novel) was spectacular (and much broader in scope), I thought that Brown did a better job of capturing the events of those Olympics. The Boys in the Boat was primarily about Joe Rantz and the University of Washington crew team, but Brown interspersed details of Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels's propaganda machine in the preparations for the games, which I thought added a needed element. It was so creepy to read about the preparations the Germans made for the Olympics, how they sanitized the burgeoning fascism and Antisemitism to put on a show for the rest of the world. Knowing how Germany and the rest of Europe would so soon be torn apart added an extra layer of morbid drama to the events.
West of the stadium a vast, flat assembly area, the Maifeld, had been leveled and a great limestone bell tower was being erected. The tower would stand just over 248 feet tall. The great bell it would house would bear around its bottom edge an inscription sandwiched between two swastikas, "Ich rufe die Jugend der Welt!" ("I summon the youth of the world!") And the youth would indeed come. First for the Olympics and then for something else. A little less than ten years in the future, in the last few desperate days of the Third Reich, scores of Hitler Youth - boys as young as ten or eleven - would crouch below the bell tower among blocks of fine Franconian limestone, the rubble of the buildings now being erected, shooting at advancing Russian boys, many of them not a great deal older than they. And in those last few days, as Berlin burned around them, some of those German boys - those who cried or refused to shoot or tried to surrender - would be lined up against these limestone slabs by their officers and shot.
The 1936 games are fascinating to me (I'm still waiting for an amazing movie/book to be made about Jesse Owens. How has that not happened yet?), and Brown did a great job of capturing the pageantry and emotions.
This was also a great sports book. Unlike Randy, I didn't know anything about rowing before I started reading it, but the passages about the intricacies of the sport were surprisingly fascinating. Brown also did a good job of keeping the anticipation and drama ratcheted up throughout each racing scene. I kind of figured Joe and the UW guys would make it to Berlin based on the cover, but I was still on the edge of my seat. All in all a very interesting and exciting read that I highly recommend.