The Boys in the Boat Review

I absolutely loved this book! It was an easy read, and it covered so many different aspects of the 1930s that I imagine there is something in it for everyone.  I really enjoy books that show me history from a specific viewpoint, as they help me etch out how things really were from certain perspectives and allow me to create a more complete timeline of events in my mind.

The Boys in the Boat tells many personal stories about hardships and difficulties that were eventually overcome. Some of the stories are truly heart-wrenching, and I found it quite unbelievable that some of the people involved even survived at all. These stories are, however, very inspiring due to the sheer grit displayed by each and every one of the characters as they overcome their circumstances.  For some, living in appalling circumstances was simply a way of life, which is terrifying.

The book also describes many competitions that put you on edge even though, for the most part, you already know the outcome.  The history of the sport of rowing and of this particular team was interesting on so many fronts that it’s actually hard to dissect it in a summary review. There were even a few words in the text dedicated to the horse world in the 1930s and the famous racehorse Seabiscuit.  I thoroughly enjoyed that little snippet!

My favorite part of all was the perspective I gained of how the world was before WWII started.  Everyone was very aware of what was happening abroad, but yet there was never any true understanding of what was about to come.  It really made me wonder what it must have felt like to be in Berlin for the Olympic Games, and it gave me such a disturbing feeling deep down as I thought about what would happen shortly thereafter.

The historical timeline given by the book through the lens of the struggle of individuals and families is unbelievably chilling.  Through all the hardships of economy and nature, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard life must have been.  What never ceased to impress me was how people kept on making things work as best they could.  This was especially of Joe Rantz’s life and family, the specifics of which the book depicts skillfully. Rantz was truly an amazing man that seemingly had everything against him in life, but he kept the best frame of mind that a fella could in order to survive and ultimately succeed brilliantly!

The one person featured in the book who I most wish that I could meet is George Pocock!  He is the one person to whom I am most been drawn on a personal level. He was a true master at his craft and life.  Every single quote he said was beautiful and true because his sentiments were universal and not constrained to the art of his craft.  I could have changed a few words here and there to make each one fit with the art of horsemanship without any problem.  The way Pocock handled himself and lived his life gave me goosebumps.

I highly recommend The Boys in the Boat because I imagine that everyone can find in it something good to take away. This is a truly inspiring and educational book that I can’t say enough about.  In the weeks to follow, I will be discussing this book chapter by chapter in order to highlight some of its most interesting aspects. I am also excited to say that I will not be alone as I make my analysis.  I hope you all read and join in on the conversation!


3 thoughts on “The Boys in the Boat Review

  1. Chapter 1 Highlights:

    -Pg. 7 Pocock quote: “No didactic teaching will place these values (social, moral, and spiritual values) in a young man’s soul. He has to get them by his own observation and lessons”

    — Breakdown: First I believe in the importance of definition recognition so looked up the word didactic to confirm its meaning; intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive. I think the best teachers in any area need to have morals or what I would consider, a life learners mindset to become the best they can to best serve others, behind the specifics they might be teaching. Otherwise you are teaching subject matter not applicable to all of life, all subject matter should tie into the importance beyond the specific. If the teaching is too detailed in the specifics of “formal” education it has no purpose, no meaning to fit reality. If thats the case it tends to breed a mindset of setting up structures and systems that cripple true mastery of self.
    As pertaining to the quote as a whole, Pocock nails the part to self mastery beyond the specifics of rowing. The values have to be attained on the individuals own observations and lessons personally established through the continual daily application of the self mastery principles behind the specifics of rowing at its pure form.
    If this is the case the true realization comes in the form that what you believe is specific to rowing must pertain to all of life. Simply put by a quote by Tom Waits, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” An example of this through the lens of a horseman is it’s not just getting the horse to perform the tasks you would like, it goes way beyond that. That to me is the big picture, but it all starts with the smallest of details that are beyond the big picture. It can be specifics dealing with my tack being all in line, meaning that it is clean, oiled, aligned correctly, adjusted perfectly, etc. I truly believe it goes way beyond that, it is the way I look at someone and smile. The way I dress myself, the way I groom myself, the way I interact and apply the deeper, most meaningful principles and philosophies behind any true horsemanship. A universal horsemanship that can transfer across all areas of interest, but all based on the classical lessons and history of the past. Trying to bring all of the past along with me to continually practice becoming a better person. If applied correctly over a life can become something truly universal because it is a way of life, not a job or necessity, it is who you are. When a person can realize that then everything becomes simplified, more enjoyable, and everything becomes purposeful while meaning nothing at all in the greater scheme of life as we see it. So whether its universal principles that apply to rowing or horsemanship, its all the same at its core if pursued and applied correctly and through out your whole life, not just an art, job, sport, etc. applicable


  2. Chapter 1 Highlights:

    -Pg. 16-17 Al Ulbrickson Description:
    -“Ulbrickson was also the least talkative man on campus, perhaps in the state, legendary for his reticence and the inscrutability of his countenance.”
    -“He commanded enormous respect among his boys, but he did so almost entirely without raising his voice, almost, in fact, without speaking to them. His few words were so carefully chosen and so effectively delivered that every one of them fell like a blade or a balm on the boy to whom they were delivered.”
    -“To the boys, he seemed at times devoid of emotion, yet year after year he somehow managed to stir the deepest and most affirmative emotions many of them had ever known.”

    -Breakdown: I love these few lines about Ulbrickson and his style. He was always dressed impeccably and stoic in his method which to me shows deep purpose and meaning behind everything he did. Stoic type of teaching is great to me because it is all essential, no fluffing or smoke and mirrors. Everything that is said and done has a very specific reason behind it in coordination with the bigger picture. Stoic people also have proven their ability to lead through themselves by always developing themselves. They have deeply studied, applied, and reflected upon their life through their area of focus, case being rowing. He is a perfect example of mastery of life through mastery of self through a specific area of interest. It may have started out as a focus on rowing, but soon those specific philosophies start to poor into the aspects of every part of his life! The way he dressed, the way he spoke, the words he chose, everything became a vessel to develop oneself. In return of this pursuit of his best self, he learns and becomes a great teacher to those students of his. He knows beyond the specific technical aspects the team needs to achieve to succeed goes way beyond the boat, it all depends on growing the boys in the boat.
    Through out this book he shows time and time again how he continued to test and experiment with physical and emotional limits to discover and unveil one cohesive team full of developed individuals. This is a key to working with a horse, it starts with the human goes through the horse creating a team in harmony with one another. Developing oneself is the key to any form of mastery and then creating developed individuals or horses to do the same for themselves. This is what creates the bond between two beings, not forcing or demanding, creating an environment for growth based on each individuals needs and desires. That is where so many people go wrong with horses, it becomes a dominant or selfish one sided relationship. Don’t get me wrong, it is necessary to know your boundaries and make them known in a way the other can interpret correctly as well as understand the reason for those boundaries of respect. A lot of people want to create a horse that is reliant on them, when in reality they should be creating a horse that thinks for themselves. Only then can the horse and rider meet together to help each other out from their perspective viewpoints.
    In summary of these few lines I think Ulbrickson is a great coach for he continually works at refining himself first, then the team. He acts in a way that no matter the outcomes there is something he could have done better and will always be in search of that. Instead of trying to blame the failures on others he looks deep within first and on the successes he does not gloat for he knows there is more improvement to be made. He not only leads through developing others but through the example of developing oneself. To me there is nothing more important in the world as of where I stand today.


  3. Chapter one gives us a brief glimpse into the story of Joe Rantz, my favorite person in the whole book. He is literally the epitome of a man who beat the odds. He reminds me a great deal of my Papa too, which made me smile frequently throughout the book.


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