Some sports books suffer from not taking their subject seriously enough.  Seriously, not somberly.  Meaning that the book does not view game-playing as an end in itself.  The Boys in the Boat is not that sort of book.  It is one of the best sports books I have ever read.The book is about a University of Washington rowing crew’s quest for the gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  As such, the temptation to make the story “meaningful” must have been overwhelming, but the author gamely resists it.  There are an excessive number of homilies about the evils of Nazi persecution of the Jews (just in case, I suppose, some reader out there was not yet aware), but the author makes no pretense that anything other than winning the race was on the line.  No Jews would be saved, no world war foreshortened.

At the same time, the book is not really about the gold at the 1936 Olympics.  It is really about a spiritual state called “swing.”  I know nothing about rowing, but it enthralled me.  The actual racing, the quest for the gold, is really only the necessary structure for the spiritual journey.  Highly recommended (my wife and my daughter read it first, and they agree).

I wonder how many evils of the modern world arise because people forget that a thing may not be the real end but is still necessary structure for it.  Marriage and love/sex is one example that comes to mind.

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