For those of you who have read “Unbroken” or have seen the movie, you might be interested in another 1936 Olympic epic called The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. It traces the University of Washington eight-man rowing team to the gold medal, despite heavy odds against their success, while concentrating on the life story of one of the rowers. The socio-economic circumstances fueled by the depression and the political overtones of the Olympics being held in Nazi Germany are detailed and provide the background for this amazing story. The perseverance of Joe Rantz, the number two rower in the boat, who survives a tragic childhood to become a member of the University of Washington team and to make it to this elite crew, is exhilarating. Interwoven are mini-biographies of the other crew members, the coach and George Pocock, the world famous boat designer and builder. It does not have the extreme exposure to death faced by Louis Zamperini in his war experiences, but for those who find accomplishment in sports and individual achievement fulfilling, you will enjoy this well written and well researched story.
Not quite the same epic but also involving heroic feats on water transpiring some 50 years earlier (1879) is “Kingdom of Ice.” It describes the quest during the later part of the 19th century to find what was believed to be the vast open water sea at the North Pole. Shackelton’s adventures in attempting to reach the South Pole are now well documented by photo exhibits, books and film recreation but the quest for the North Pole is not so well-known. It is a story that is unfortunately far more tragic yet the survival is equally as amazing. Hampton Sides tells the story of an American crew outfitted by an eccentric newspaper owner, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., (who also dispatched Stanley to find Dr. Livingston.) The crew attempts to reach the open polar seas within the Arctic Circle predicted to exist by the greatest cartographers of the day. Like Shackelton, the ship gets frozen in the ice flow and spends months “drifting” uncontrollably across the Arctic before sinking. The historical events and the scientific developments of the time are documented and interwoven into the saga along with the life story of the captain, George Washington DeLong. Man’s will-to-live despite what appears to be insurmountable and deadly odds is not only tragic but uplifting. ■