The Boys in the Boat


Daniel James Brown

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The Boys in the Boat Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Daniel James Brown

Brown grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and later studied English literature at Berkeley. He earned an M.A. in English from UCLA, and afterwards taught at San Jose State University and Stanford University. After many years of teaching, Brown published his first book, Under a Flaming Sky: the Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 (2006). The book was a success, and enabled Brown to write a second, The Indifferent Stars Above (2009), about the life of Sarah Graves, a member of the Donner Party. Brown now writes full-time and lives in Seattle, Washington.
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Historical Context of The Boys in the Boat

The primary historical events in The Boys in the Boat are the Great Depression in the United States and the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Beginning in the late 1920s, the American economy underwent a crisis: millions of people lost their jobs, and industrial production markedly decreased. As a result, families that had never before wanted for food now starved. Around the same time, environmental disasters in the Midwest made farming almost impossible, forcing tens of thousands of farmers to abandon their property and move out to California and Washington in search of better working conditions. The book also discusses the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. Hitler rose to power in part because he was a master of propaganda; in 1936, he agreed to host the Olympic games, recognizing that he could swindle powerful people from foreign countries into thinking that his Nazi state was a model of tolerance and enlightenment. Hitler also controlled his public image with the help of propaganda filmmakers such as Leni Riefenstahl, who directed the masterful but obviously controversial Triumph of Will.

Other Books Related to The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat alludes to relatively few works of literature; however, since much of it takes place on a college campus, it could be compared to certain “campus novels,” such as Stoner (1965) by John Williams and Indignation (2008) by Philip Roth, both of which concern a working-class outsider who struggles to fit in at a prestigious college. In its focus on a United States athlete in the context of the time around World War II, the book could also be connected to Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.
Key Facts about The Boys in the Boat
  • Full Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
  • When Written: 2009-2012
  • Where Written: Berkeley, California
  • When Published: June 4, 2013
  • Genre: Narrative nonfiction
  • Setting: University of Washington, USA and Berlin, Germany, in the 1930s
  • Climax: The rowing finals at the 1936 Olympics
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient, with occasional first-person asides

Extra Credit for The Boys in the Boat

Movies and TV shows. The Boys in the Boat proved so popular that plans were made almost immediately to adapt it for the screen. PBS released a documentary version of the book, The Boys of ’36, and a film version is currently in the works.

Awards collector. Brown has won or been nominated for many notable literary awards: he was a finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and won the 2014 Washington State Book Award for Nonfiction.