Boat People

My latest is up at

It begins:

The back cover of the paperback edition of Daniel James Brown’s bestselling “The Boys in the Boat” declares it “the improbable… account of how… working-class boys from the American West showed the world at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin what true grit really meant.” This demonstration occurred when an eight-man crew from the University of Washington rowed against the “elite teams” of the world, most particularly the Germans competing “for Adolf Hitler.”

Any suspense over the race’s outcome does not outlast Brown’s second paragraph, which awards the gold medal to the Americans And one needn’t be cynical to think the result foretold earlier. After all, if the Nazis had won, as they did in 33 events that summer, what are the chances we would be hearing about this one? (American “grit” triumphed 24 times.) The questions are what accounted for this victory and what, if anything, it meant.