Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat

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  • Features 19 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an academic writing expert from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts
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The Boys in the Boat Prologue-Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Prologue Summary

The author of the novel, Daniel James Brown, visits an elderly man named Joe Rantz. He knows two things about Joe: he “handsplit the rails and cut the posts” (2) of his own home, and he, along with nine other “farm boys, fishermen, and loggers” (2) won the 1936 Olympic gold medal in rowing. Brown and Joe Rantz talk about the famous event, and Brown expresses his interest in writing a book about Joe and his accomplishments. Joe urges Brown not to write about him, but about the whole boat.

Part One: What Seasons They Have Been Through

Chapter 1 Summary

It is 1933, the fourth year of the Great Depression. Joe Rantz, a freshman at the University of Washington in Seattle, enters the shell house for the Washington rowing team, the building where the boats are kept. He and his new friend, Roger Morris, are trying out for the freshman team, and both are nervous. Joe, who is very poor, is aware “he might not belong here at all” (13), and hopes that joining the rowing team will get him through university. He meets Tom Bolles, the freshman coach, as well as Al Ulbrickson, the head coach—“the boss” (15). As he sizes up the new recruits, Ulbrickson hopes that some of the boys might lead him to his dream—the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, Adolf Hitler inspects the Duetches Stadion, where he intends to build a grand sports field for the Olympics in three years time. Hitler and his top advisors have been chipping away at human rights in Germany, carefully crafting a false narrative with which to fool foreign athletes and visitors. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s head propagandist, abolishes the free press in Germany that same week. “At the very least, an Olympic interlude would help him buy time—time to convince the world of his peaceful intentions, even as he began to rebuild Germany’s military and industrial power for the titanic struggle to come” (21).

Chapter 2 Summary

Brown steps back in time to paint a picture of Joe Rantz’s childhood and adolescence, leading up to that first moment in the…

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