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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on March 7, 2002
With the Summer Olympics coming up, this book should be read and savored for its extraordinary writing quality and insights.
As a college oarsman (single sculls, then coxswain, bow and stroke of an eight), as a persnickety reader since childhood and as a writer of 20+ books, I approached the work of non-rower Halberstam with skepticism, reluctance to be touched by him. Was I wrong!
Rowing is one of the most unusual and difficult sports, and it seems remote to outsider, almost mechanized. Insiders know the real world under that surface: the loneliness of training, the necessity for precise skills and relentless focus, the gut-wrenching pre-race [jitters] and fear that vanishes at each start, the sense of being asked to perform brutal acts on one's own body, the appalling effort (especially for stroke) of trying to stage an attack or recover from being in arrears, the ectasy and elation of winning, the soul-searing agony of losing with its message of inadequacy, of being bested by a superior human or group of humans, the need to get back and try harder, to push the body further and further into pain.
Halberstam captured it all, and went deeper, into the minds and hearts of some of the greatest oars the U.S. has produced, to bring back a masterpiece of reporting. He managed to show the idiosyncratic nature of dedicated single-scull oarsmen, and the way these loners look at their lives and chosen sport.
As a rower, I was consumed by this book. As a critical reader, I was entirely satisfied. As a writer, I was envious of Halberstam's skills. My only regret is that rowing is not perceived as the great participant and spectator sport that it is, and that too few of us have the chance to enjoy it in either sense.
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on December 31, 1997
When I first started rowing in 1987 I happened across a copy of the Amateurs at a local bookstore. thrilled with the fact I found a book on my new sport and written by one of our best journalists I devoured it in a scant five hours. Even though I was a novice to the sport I found that Habelstram captured the pain, fears, joys, and dissapointments of boat racing perfectly. Later as a coach I would reccomend this book to my rowers so they could see that the feelings they were experiencing are not unique to them, but also shared by even the elite scullers that Halberstram observed. I also reccomended this book to the parents of my rowers so they could better understand the level of commitment it takes to row . Halberstram has done a rare thing, he has written about a subject so precisley that it will not be scoffed at by those who row, and those who do not row will not be lost in the explanation of technique and rowing history.
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on November 14, 1998
This is easily the best "sports" book I have ever read. On the recommendation of a close friend and former Harvard rower, I dove into this book thinking only that I would know a few stories about a sport burried in the agate type of a few sports pages. I was wrong. As a competitive marathon runner, I related to everyone in this book. I know what Tiff Wood goes through every morning with his training. I understand why he does what he does to the dismay of family, friends, and teachers. Why would someone with an Ivy League education waste all that to row in relative obscurity? Why place money, family, and the other trappings of "normal" American life on hold? Because. Because some people aspire to things a little more than measly paper. Because some want to accomplish things. Because some haven't given up on dreams.
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on December 4, 1999
It is incredible that David Halberstam, a non-rower and outsider to the cliquish or solitary types found in boathouses, was able to write such a penetrating and accurate picture of the amateurs in this book.
His descriptions of the feeling of rowing, of ``swing,'' and of the bizarre politics of single sculling are right on the money. They are recognizable to long-time rowers and comprehensible to those who have never rowed before. His character depictions are at times almost frighteningly dead-on.
To put it succinctly, Halberstam gets everything right in this book. If you are a rower or any other sort of athlete, or if you want to read a masterfully told story of competition, read this book.
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on June 1, 1999
Halberstam really gets into the minds & hearts and gives names and faces and histories to these traditionally anonymous competitors. Very deep and probing and moving, and the racing/action scenes are well-written. Glad to see a focus on a minor sport, where the athletes aren't stars or icons (unlike Halberstam's latest offering on Jordan).I compete in lifeguard rowing events--much different style of rowing than sculling, but I use an ergometer to help train. While reading this book my 2500 meter erg times dropped by 10 seconds or more, not from any form or style tips but just by recalling the focus, dedication and motivation of Halberstam's rowers.
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on January 14, 2001
I always wondered why some people I know at school were totally into crew. All that training, winter on the rivers, getting up really early - why? Now I know.
Yes, I live to climb and climb to live. But rowing is unbelievably more intense. David Halberstam sure brings it alive. Not only the pain, the training, the loneliness and solitude at the top of an elite and obscure sport, but also the intense clash of personalities - the limited glory, the pain of loss, the pain of not even getting to row.
Who would think that one of the best books I've ever read is about rowing? Now all I want to do is go out and row, row, pull, pull, harder, harder...
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on March 26, 2003
Someone recommended this book to me one day during the Olympics. I read it straight through at one setting. It is the story of a lonely sport, rowing, and the men who endure incredible pain and sacrifice just for the chance of competition. These are not men who party at night, sleep late and wave to the cameras. No, they are dedicated, serious students who have been called to wield an oar.
The author shares a trait with Paul Johnson and Daniel Boorstin- that is the art of intertwining personal tales within the plot of his story in such a way that both complement each other. If you want a good beach book, this is the one.
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on September 2, 1998
Halberstam poignantly captures the beauty, grace, intensity, zen and agony of the sport. I gave the book to my girlfriend to read so she'd understand why I get up before dawn in rain, snow or perfect calm to sit on my bottom in a boat and go backwards. It's also a fabulous portrait of amateur athletes, especially Olympic athletes, who push themselves to their limits not because they seek wealth, or glory or fame, but because they seek excellence. Fans of sports, biography and great writing will love this book.
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on October 19, 2014
I preferred Brad Lewis's autobio "Assault on Lake Casitas" due to its writing style and deeply personal voice. But in terms of showing a less biased view of events, this is a good book. The raw politics among the young men of the 1984 U.S. Men's Olympic sculling team makes for interesting reading, and The Amateurs provides an even treatment of each athlete and his background, although I didn't feel quite immersed in the story or inspired as I have been by other books on competitive rowing.
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on March 27, 1998
I'm in the middle of my rowing career at Harvard right now, and David Halberstam's evaluation of rowing as an experience and as a way of life is right on. He is an incredibly perceptive reporter, as evidenced by his characterization of Harry Parker, my coach, along with the four extraordinary rowers this book is written about, and he is also an exceptional author. Great book.
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