I’m not built to be a world-class rower, but I was certainly capable of thoroughly enjoying Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat (Viking, June), a splendid account of the 1936 Olympic quest of this rowing crew from the University of Washington. Brown made an inspired choice, focusing on the particularly compelling personal story of one crew member, Joe Rantz, with a supporting cast that includes the relentless and innovative head coach, Al Ulbrickson, and legendary boat builder and rowing sage George Pocock. The historical context makes for a dramatic character on its own: the U.S.’s painful recovery from the Depression, regional and personal rivalries in the rowing fraternity, the rise of Hitler’s Germany, and the dramatic 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin (the propaganda stage for Leni Riefestahl’s iconic and controversial film Olympia, which plays its own part in the story). As in Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit (the eponymous horse’s racing career was contemporaneous with Brown’s story), even though we know the outcome, the results are thrilling. These Boys make a great story, engagingly told.