AUTHOR’S NOTE - The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics - Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics - Daniel James Brown (2013)


If books can be said to have hearts and souls—and I believe they can—this book owes its heart and soul to one person above all others: Joe Rantz’s daughter Judy Willman. I could not have begun to tell Joe’s story, and the larger story of the 1936 Olympic crew, if it had not been for Judy’s deep collaboration with me at every stage of the project. Her contributions are too many to catalog here, but they range from sharing her vast collection of documents and photographs, to connecting me to members of the crew and their families, to reviewing and commenting on many drafts of the book at all stages of development. All of this, however, pales in comparison with one contribution in particular: the countless hours she spent sitting with me in her living room, telling me her father’s story, sometimes tearfully, sometimes joyfully, but always with unbounded pride and love.

Judy grew up absorbing the details of her father’s accomplishments as well as the hardships he endured and the psychological impact that both had on him. She spent untold hours as a child listening to his stories. She learned about her mother’s role in Joe’s early life as she worked side by side with her in the kitchen. Over the years and at frequent get-togethers, she came to know the other eight oarsmen well and to regard them almost as members of the family. She heard Joe’s father—by then reconciled with family and known affectionately as “Pop”—tell his version of the story. She learned Thula’s side of things from her uncle—Thula’s son Harry Junior. And over nearly sixty years she asked countless questions, collected clippings and memorabilia, and documented every detail. In essence, she became the keeper of her family’s story.

In several places in this book I quote bits of conversation or delve into the thinking to which only Joe or Joyce were privy. Though no one was there to record these conversations, and no one made transcripts of Joe’s and Joyce’s thoughts, Joe and Joyce were the key witnesses to their own lives, and they are the ultimate sources of these pieces of the story. In the several months during which I was able to interview Joe before he passed away, he shared not only the fundamental facts of their story but also, sometimes in exquisite detail, many of his specific feelings and thoughts at key junctures of the tale. He was able, for instance, to recount his shell house conversations with George Pocock, his emotional devastation upon being abandoned in Sequim, his journey out to Grand Coulee, and his troubled relationship with his father and Thula. Later, after Joe was gone, as Judy and I sat together for all those many hours poring over photographs and letters and scrapbooks, she was able to help me fill in the gaps, particularly at those key points in the story, many of which her father or her mother had narrated to her over and over again during the course of a lifetime. These conversations and recollections are documented most fully in the complete notes for this book online.

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Few things offer so much opportunity for common effort as the making of a book. With that in mind, I want to convey my very deep appreciation to the following people in addition to Judy who contributed to the making of this one.

First, Ray Willman, “Mr. Judy,” who has been indispensable to the project in countless ways, large and small, from day one.

In the publishing world: At WME, my stunningly brilliant and delightfully gutsy agent, Dorian Karchmar, the wonderfully capable Anna DeRoy, Raffaella De Angelis, Rayhané Sanders, and Simone Blaser. At the Viking Press, my sterling editor, Wendy Wolf, who wields the scalpel so expertly that one hardly feels the pain and is ever so grateful for the cure. Also Josh Kendall, who acquired the book and edited the initial draft, assistant editor Maggie Riggs, and the whole team of clever, resourceful professionals at Viking. And far from Manhattan, Jennifer Pooley, who has helped me along the road in so many ways.

Among those who call the 1936 crew family or close friends, many of whom generously shared their recollections and made their private collections of documents and memorabilia—scrapbooks, letters, and journals—available to me: Kristin Cheney, Jeff Day, Kris Day, Kathleen Grogan, Susan Hanshaw, Tim Hume, Jennifer Huffman, Josh Huffman, Rose Kennebeck, Marilynn Moch, Michael Moch, Pearlie Moulden, Joan Mullen, Jenny Murdaugh, Pat Sabin, Paul Simdars, Ken Tarbox, Mary Helen Tarbox, Harry Rantz Jr., Polly Rantz, Jerry Rantz, Heather White, and Sally White.

At the University of Washington’s shell house: Eric Cohen, Bob Ernst, and Luke McGee, all of whom reviewed the manuscript and offered many fine suggestions and essential corrections. Also Michael Callahan and Katie Gardner for help tracking down photographs. I’d like to call particular attention to Eric’s excellent website, It is by far the single best source for anyone who wants to know more about the long, illustrious history of rowing at Washington.

In the wider world of rowers and crew coaches: Bob Gotshall, John Halberg, Al Mackenize, Jim Ojala, and Stan Pocock.

In the world of libraries and dusty archives: Bruce Brown, Greg Lange, Eleanor Toews, and Suz Babayan.

For help with things German: Werner Phillip at the Wassersportmuseum in Grünau and, closer to home, Isabell Schober.

Finally, this is, in many ways, a book about a young man’s long journey back to a place he can call home. Writing his story has reminded me again and again that no one is more blessed by his home life than I am. I want to thank the three lovely and intelligent women who make it so: my daughters, Emi and Bobi—each of whom has lent her own unique talents to the making of this book—and my wife, Sharon. Her thoughtful reading of the manuscript, her many conversations with me about it, and her deeply insightful comments and suggestions have vastly improved it on every conceivable level. Her love, her confidence, and her continual support have made writing it possible in the first place. Without her, there would be no books.