Study Guide

Olympics Books The Boys in the Boat

By Various Authors

The Boys in the Boat

Poor Joe Rantz Gets A Happy Ending

The Boys in the Boat is a lot like Seabiscuit, or Bagger Vance, or any of the other impossibly optimistic legends that came out of the Great Depression and World War II eras.

The characters in these stories survive unspeakable hardships, overcome incredible odds, and manage to defeat their opponents all while maintaining this sense of quiet dignity and humility that you just don't find today. (They don't call them the "Greatest Generation" for nothing.)

In this case, we read all about a classic underdog named Joe Rantz. Abandoned by his family at a young age (several times, actually…it's super-sad), Rantz is the epitome of a working-class hero. He manages to somehow find his way to the University of Washington, where coach Ulbrickson has plans to draft the ultimate rowing team to bring to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

And, you guessed it: against all odds, Rantz makes it onto that team, and along with eight other men goes on to defeat Hitler's specimens of Aryan perfection to win the gold. It's a classic story about good versus evil, David versus Goliath, Hollywood archetype versus Hollywood archetype….

But it's also all true.

As told to the author by Rantz himself as he lay dying of congestive heart failure, it truly is an inspiring story. In fact, how has Hollywood missed this potential cash cow? We figure it's only a matter of time.