Winning on the water-a book review of Boys in the Boat

Why do we like books and movies about sports? Have you noticed how many sports stories there are? (This post offers multiple affiliate links to sites that offer a commission to this blog for purchases made there.)

Some sport stories are about fictional characters and situations-

  • Rocky
  • Field of Dreams
  • Bleachers
  • Friday Night Lights
  • Million Dollar Baby

But the ones that most catch our attention and our hearts are those about real people.

  • Seabiscuit
  • Chariots of Fire
  • A League of Their Own
  • The Blind Side

Rowing- athletes in a boat

Most of us know something about the big sports, like football, basketball, and baseball. We probably know less about horse racing, boxing, track, and ice skating. But rowing , rarely if ever on the sports pages or television broadcasts, isn’t one most of us know at all.


The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

In Boys in the Boat the United States Olympic Rowing team of 1936 beat incredible odds to win the gold medal. But the meat of the book reviews in detail how each man came to be in that boat, especially Joe Rantz. Based on interviews of him by the author, we learn Joe’s painful early family life, struggle to pay for college, and the grueling physical challenges of preparing for competitive rowing.

At that time the sport of rowing was dominated by the sons of wealthy families and the Ivy League colleges they attended. By contrast, the University of Washington athletes who made up the 1936 Olympic rowing team came from working class families and had to work their way through college. That they did so in the midst of a depression makes their achievement even more remarkable.

You may be surprised to learn how much the sport of rowing physically and mentally challenges the human body. To be competitive, the crew’s eight rowers must work synchronously as the leader, known as the coxswain, calls out commands to set a pace that is fast enough to win but sustainable for the length of the race.

Nazi Germany’s Olympic games

Interspersed in the boys’ stories, Daniel Brown outlines the events unfolding in Germany, as Hitler and the Nazi party rose to power. As part of their plan to dominate Europe and eventually the world, they plan to make the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin a showcase of German wealth, knowledge, power, and athletic ability. Specifically, Hitler hoped the German rowing team would beat England and Italy, the teams historically likely to win. The story of his reaction to an American team that not only challenged but upset the status quo completes a book worth reading.

My reaction to Boys in the Boat

From reading this book, I gained an appreciation for this sport that I previously knew nothing about. My husband and I listened to the audio book while on a 12 hour car trip and it kept us interested and entertained. We were inspired by a story where perseverance, courage, loyalty, and commitment were celebrated and rewarded.


This story proves history lessons aren’t dull, boring, or outdated, but can offer us information and inspiration to help us explore the HEART of health

the BOYS OF ’36 documentary

A PBS video documentary The BOYS OF ’36 is available on Amazon Video, free with Prime or available to rent.

Your comments welcome

If you read the book or watch the video, please contact me with your thoughts. I might use your comments in an update.

Thanks for visiting Watercress Words; I’d love for you to follow-use this form to get email alerts when I post something new. about the HEART of health.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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Physician authors share the heart of health

Physicians often do other things besides practice medicine. Many have hobbies and travel extensively. Many do spiritual ministry and other volunteer community activity.

I know doctors who dance, sing, play instruments, act, and do comedy. Others own and manage side businesses.

But probably the most common non-practice activity that doctors do is write-like me, and other physician bloggers.

When I started blogging 4 years ago, I knew few other physician bloggers, but the number has grown so large I know few of them now.

Doctors write health and medical books and blogs of course, but they cover other topics too-finances, travel, food, family, parenting, spirituality, fashion. They’ll usually throw in their unique perspective as a physician in approaching these non-medical topics.

And they don’t all write non-fiction; doctors write novels too, some of which get made into movies.

Books reviewed here- a list

I’ve reviewed or referenced several books written by physicians. In this post, I’m listing links to those reviews. along with a brief excerpt. I hope you’ll bookmark this page so you can come back and read all of them if you don’t get to them all now.

Enjoy exploring the HEART of health with these physician writers.

(This post contains affiliate links which, by paying a commission if used for a purchase, help fund this blog. )

The Point of it All

If you wondered why Pulitzer prize winning journalist Charles Krauthammer quit his medical career to write a political column for the Washington Post newspaper, you’ll learn the answer in his newest and sadly last book. He explained

“I left psychiatry to start writing…because I felt history happening outside the examining room door. I wanted to…because some things matter, some things need to be said, some things need to be defended.”

Being Mortal

Dr. Gawande poignantly describes this process by sharing in detail his  father’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, progression, hospice care and death. He shows how difficult a process this can be, given that even he and his parents, all of whom are physicians, struggled to come to terms with the reality of terminal illness and the dying process. Though they were all familiar with and experienced in dealing with the medical system, they still felt unprepared to face the decisions required at the end of life. But in the end, both he and his father felt at peace with the outcome and Dr. Gawande senior did experience “a good life-all the way to the very end.”

What Patients Say , What Doctors Hear

As a physician, this was not an easy book to read; Dr. Ofri does not hesitate to tell us physicians what we need to do better in our communication with our patients.

But she also makes it plain to patients that you have a role and a vested stake in communicating your concerns, questions, and even grievances to the physicians who care for you; that without such information, your physicians cannot provide optimal diagnosis and treatment for you.

When Breath Becomes Air

This memoir is not so much a diary of what happened to Dr. Kalanithi as what happened within him as he confronted his own mortality and chose not to let it define the remainder of his life.

On the copyright page, “Death and Dying” is included in the list of categories for this book. However, you will not find “how to die” instructions here. Instead, you will learn how one man and his family chose to live despite knowing that he would  soon die.

Working Stiff

When she applied for a position in New York City at the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), Dr. Judy Melinek never imagined that decision would plunge her into the nightmare of September 11, 2001. She was at the ME office that day when the Twin Towers were attacked and fell, killing thousands of people.

Healing People, Not Patients

Health care professionals will find Dr. Weinkle’s concepts an attractive alternative to “burnout”, an encouragement to remember why we entered the profession in the first place, and a challenge to restore the personal touch that makes medicine truly an art. 

Patients will find explanations about why medical care is at times fragmented, uncoordinated, and unproductive, will understand the challenge that their own physicians face in providing effective care, and understand how they can be part of the solution. 

sharing the HEART of health

I thank my colleagues for sharing the HEART of health, both in the exam room, the operating room, the emergency room, the clinic, and at their own computer.

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

To start following Watercress Words , use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn, links are on the left side bar here and the Home page. Thanks so much.

Thanks for exploring the HEART of health with me.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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