Boys in the Boat
By: Daniel James Brown
A classic sports tale regaling the 1932-1936 University of Washington men's rowing club and quest for Olympic gold. The story begins with Joe Rantz quest for education and a better life after being abandoned and abused on the Olympic penninsula. The author masterfully draws the reader in with vivid imagery, exciting action, and sympathy-inducing backstories. You root for the home team, knowing full well they will win, they must win, but following along each step of the way. The author builds suspense and draws the reader in with each rowing season, until the final, dramatic 1936 season. The last race is nothing short of epic, and you feel the significance of their task, the rippling magnitude of their performance, and the emotional roller coaster of preparation for the obsessive quest to be the very best. It's a Cinderella story in its purest form, a thrilling read, and a heart-warming story.
By: Laura Hillenbrand
Continuing on the vein of harrowing quests, Unbroken follows Louis Zamperini's unbelievable service in WWII, including his unfathomable airplane crash and Japanese imprisonment. The author paints stark, riveting images spanning years while never allowing the reader to lose interest or hope. Zamperini endured unspeakable torture during his service, drafted from the brink of being the first person in history to break the 4 minute mile. In a matter of months, his goal changes from shaving miliseconds off his mile time to surviving, unbroken. His story inspires and challenges the reader to examine her own drive and determination, drawing strength from his grit as we ponder the extreme measures his tormenters went through to break him. He seems almost super human at times in his fierce determination not to yield, but life eventually catches up to him and we glimpse the true effects of the horrors of the war. The book's ending is perhaps the most personifying aspect of his story: after gale-force storm of war and the still calm of it's end came the wreckage and aftermath, which he stumbles through and emerges a better, more sustainable man. Louis Zamperini was, in the truest sense, unbreakable.
The Stranger in the Woods
By: Michael Finkel
This book was very short, but I found myself stopping after each chapter to let the layered meanings sink in. For 23 years, a man lived in the North Woods in total solitude less than 2 minutes from civilization. The book begins with his discovery, and pieces together his life as the author searches for understanding, understanding of the man and his motive, and understanding of why society views his the way it does. The hermits direct quotes are my favorite part: he did not speak for 23 years except to say "Hi" once to a hiker who encountered him on a trail. His primary source of knowledge were books he stole, so his sentences are sparce and pregnant with meaning. It is unclear how much he intended, but very clear he doesn't care at all. He had no filter and no emotion for many of his interviews, and his sentence structure and choice of words are so foreign from the way we generally communicate. He begs the question why. His perspective on life and existence is so radical, and diametrically opposed to the rest of civilization, that one cannot help but rethink their own opinions on how to live. A fascinating story, though only 3-4 years old, already disappearing into the past like everything this man had built his life around. A bit haunting, never dull, a strong recommendation for everyone who wants to be challenged.
By: Dean King
A fascinating glimpse into a little-known political maneuver with international implications which would reshape the face of history forever. I loved the emphasis on the women of the trip, but found the story excessively depressing. The long march is nothing more than brutal, and the author never lets you forget it. The political perspective was interesting, but there exists so little information on the individuals themselves that it was difficult to form attachments to the characters, or even sometimes keep them all straight. It hardly matters though, because so many of them end up dying.