Top positive review
Rowing as peak experience
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.