What Makes a Hero


TheBoysintheBoatCara/Andrea here,

All of us here at the Wenches are avid readers year round, but summer, with its long days and laid-back pace, always seems a good time to make inroads on the TBR pile. So I’ve been sneaking in a little extra reading time. And though we do a regular “What Are We Reading” feature here, I thought I’d share a particularly wonderful book I just finished.

Team 2Every so often, I get together with two college pals for lunch, and as one of them is head of non-fiction at Viking and the other a long-time editor at the New York Times, you can imagine that—surprise, surprise!—we talk a lot about books. Now, I always ask my friend at Viking what the most exciting manuscript is on her desk. (it’s fun to get a heads-up on an upcoming release.) Well, this past winter, her eyes lit up and she said that she had something really special coming out in summer.

TeamSo, when The Boys In The Boat hit the shelves in June, I immediately snatched up a copy. As the Wench “jock” I had a natural affinity for the subject matter—it’s the story of the
19363U.S. 8-oar crew team that won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. But wait! Those of you who aren’t particularly interested in sports shouldn’t drift away here. It’s not really about athletes and athletics. It’s about heroes and all the things that really matter in life.

19361Now, when we Regency authors write heroes, we dress them in elegant breeches and boots, we give them fancy titles and set them in the glittering mansions of Mayfair. But strip away the trappings and what we really do is create men of honor and integrity, men who are
Indianssteadfast and loyal, who see the bonds of friendship as more important than their own personal desires. In a word, they have heart, and their own inner strength, even in the face of daunting adversity, gives them the courage to believe in themselves. And of course, love is an integral part of the story.

19367The “boys in the boat” weren’t aristocrats. They were hardscrabble, hardworking, mostly dirt-poor kids from the Pacific Northwest who wanted to better themselves by going to college. Somehow they cobbled together enough money to do so—some of the stories of their childhood will bring tears to your eyes—and in one of those wonderful confluences
Pocock_George_1928of fate that usually happens only in fiction, they came together with the legendary rowing coach of the University of Washington and a philosopher/boatbuilder who never finished grade school but could quote Shakespeare and Milton as he build exquisitely beautiful racing shells in the drafty old former WWI airplane hanger that served as the university’s boathouse.

The story that followed is a romance if ever there was one, an epic quest that like all romances has a happily-ever-after. The boys endured brutal workouts, physical pain, and sneering prejudice from the elite eastern universities who thought the yokels from the primitive west couldn’t possibly compete at a gentlemen’s sport. (College crew was far bigger than college football in those days—the big regattas drew huge crowds of spectators, were front page news on all the major newspapers, and the individual races were broadcast nationwide over the radio.)
 
FinishBut compete they did. And proved their mettle by winning the national championship and the Olympic trials, which earned them the right to represent the U.S. at the 1936 Games. You learn in the book that rowing is all about teamwork. Every minute motion must be in synch, and no one individual can carry the boat. Rhythm, sweat, willpower, trust in each other—it all must flow perfectly for the boat to fly over the water. And when it does, it’s poetry in motion.

I won’t recount the plot, but it’s a really wonderful read, especially as it interweaves fascinating portraits of
19365America during the Depression and the rise of the Nazis in Germany into the story of the boys becoming a world-class crew team.  The culmination, of course, is the race in Berlin (you can see a vintage film clip of the actual race here) which transcended sport in its subtext. Hitler and his minions were hoping to send a message to the world about Aryan invincibility by winning as many events as possible. The U. S. team, highlighted by the brilliant performances of track star Jesse Owens and the boys from Washington, stood out as a beacon of light for the rest of the world.

So what about you? What qualities are most important for you in a hero? And do you have a personal unsung hero?

45 thoughts on “What Makes a Hero”

  1. What a great post, thank you for telling us about The Boys in the Boat! I’d seen it but didn’t know what it was about. It sounds fascinating, the sort of book that elevates its subject to an extraordinary level to reveal humanity, heroism and other core qualities in dynamic ways – so that even if you don’t know anything about sports or boating, or thought you wouldn’t care, you’re well and truly hooked.
    I adore good, well-written nonfiction, which can be every bit as compelling (and sometimes more so) than fiction.
    As for heroism, great question, Andrea. Everyday heroes are my true favorites, I think – rescue and medical people, cops, animal rescuers, really anyone (male and female) who steps outside their own needs to help someone else, either in their work, or in an unexpected moment. The smallest heroic act can be a moving gesture that changes a life.
    As for boys and boats, I’m definitely putting this book on my list! 🙂

    Reply
  2. What a great post, thank you for telling us about The Boys in the Boat! I’d seen it but didn’t know what it was about. It sounds fascinating, the sort of book that elevates its subject to an extraordinary level to reveal humanity, heroism and other core qualities in dynamic ways – so that even if you don’t know anything about sports or boating, or thought you wouldn’t care, you’re well and truly hooked.
    I adore good, well-written nonfiction, which can be every bit as compelling (and sometimes more so) than fiction.
    As for heroism, great question, Andrea. Everyday heroes are my true favorites, I think – rescue and medical people, cops, animal rescuers, really anyone (male and female) who steps outside their own needs to help someone else, either in their work, or in an unexpected moment. The smallest heroic act can be a moving gesture that changes a life.
    As for boys and boats, I’m definitely putting this book on my list! 🙂

    Reply
  3. What a great post, thank you for telling us about The Boys in the Boat! I’d seen it but didn’t know what it was about. It sounds fascinating, the sort of book that elevates its subject to an extraordinary level to reveal humanity, heroism and other core qualities in dynamic ways – so that even if you don’t know anything about sports or boating, or thought you wouldn’t care, you’re well and truly hooked.
    I adore good, well-written nonfiction, which can be every bit as compelling (and sometimes more so) than fiction.
    As for heroism, great question, Andrea. Everyday heroes are my true favorites, I think – rescue and medical people, cops, animal rescuers, really anyone (male and female) who steps outside their own needs to help someone else, either in their work, or in an unexpected moment. The smallest heroic act can be a moving gesture that changes a life.
    As for boys and boats, I’m definitely putting this book on my list! 🙂

    Reply
  4. What a great post, thank you for telling us about The Boys in the Boat! I’d seen it but didn’t know what it was about. It sounds fascinating, the sort of book that elevates its subject to an extraordinary level to reveal humanity, heroism and other core qualities in dynamic ways – so that even if you don’t know anything about sports or boating, or thought you wouldn’t care, you’re well and truly hooked.
    I adore good, well-written nonfiction, which can be every bit as compelling (and sometimes more so) than fiction.
    As for heroism, great question, Andrea. Everyday heroes are my true favorites, I think – rescue and medical people, cops, animal rescuers, really anyone (male and female) who steps outside their own needs to help someone else, either in their work, or in an unexpected moment. The smallest heroic act can be a moving gesture that changes a life.
    As for boys and boats, I’m definitely putting this book on my list! 🙂

    Reply
  5. What a great post, thank you for telling us about The Boys in the Boat! I’d seen it but didn’t know what it was about. It sounds fascinating, the sort of book that elevates its subject to an extraordinary level to reveal humanity, heroism and other core qualities in dynamic ways – so that even if you don’t know anything about sports or boating, or thought you wouldn’t care, you’re well and truly hooked.
    I adore good, well-written nonfiction, which can be every bit as compelling (and sometimes more so) than fiction.
    As for heroism, great question, Andrea. Everyday heroes are my true favorites, I think – rescue and medical people, cops, animal rescuers, really anyone (male and female) who steps outside their own needs to help someone else, either in their work, or in an unexpected moment. The smallest heroic act can be a moving gesture that changes a life.
    As for boys and boats, I’m definitely putting this book on my list! 🙂

    Reply
  6. Fascinating! I’m not big on sports in general, but I know enough about rowing to understand that it requires enormous strength and commitment, a high tolerance for pain, and traditionally is a very aristocratic sport. Who doesn’t love a story of the underdogs triumphing? Loved the movie clip–even with the voice over in German, it was easy to understand what was going on. Thanks.

    Reply
  7. Fascinating! I’m not big on sports in general, but I know enough about rowing to understand that it requires enormous strength and commitment, a high tolerance for pain, and traditionally is a very aristocratic sport. Who doesn’t love a story of the underdogs triumphing? Loved the movie clip–even with the voice over in German, it was easy to understand what was going on. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Fascinating! I’m not big on sports in general, but I know enough about rowing to understand that it requires enormous strength and commitment, a high tolerance for pain, and traditionally is a very aristocratic sport. Who doesn’t love a story of the underdogs triumphing? Loved the movie clip–even with the voice over in German, it was easy to understand what was going on. Thanks.

    Reply
  9. Fascinating! I’m not big on sports in general, but I know enough about rowing to understand that it requires enormous strength and commitment, a high tolerance for pain, and traditionally is a very aristocratic sport. Who doesn’t love a story of the underdogs triumphing? Loved the movie clip–even with the voice over in German, it was easy to understand what was going on. Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Fascinating! I’m not big on sports in general, but I know enough about rowing to understand that it requires enormous strength and commitment, a high tolerance for pain, and traditionally is a very aristocratic sport. Who doesn’t love a story of the underdogs triumphing? Loved the movie clip–even with the voice over in German, it was easy to understand what was going on. Thanks.

    Reply
  11. Boys In the Boat has been called “Chariots of Fire” on water, . . .or Seabiscuit (another wonderful book) with 18 legs, ha, ha, ha.
    Stories like these serve to inspire—they remind us of the best in all of us, and how there’s an elemental heroism in daring to face adversity in order to be the best you can be.
    You’re so right—there are so many unsung heroes all around us. This books celebrates that spirit.

    Reply
  12. Boys In the Boat has been called “Chariots of Fire” on water, . . .or Seabiscuit (another wonderful book) with 18 legs, ha, ha, ha.
    Stories like these serve to inspire—they remind us of the best in all of us, and how there’s an elemental heroism in daring to face adversity in order to be the best you can be.
    You’re so right—there are so many unsung heroes all around us. This books celebrates that spirit.

    Reply
  13. Boys In the Boat has been called “Chariots of Fire” on water, . . .or Seabiscuit (another wonderful book) with 18 legs, ha, ha, ha.
    Stories like these serve to inspire—they remind us of the best in all of us, and how there’s an elemental heroism in daring to face adversity in order to be the best you can be.
    You’re so right—there are so many unsung heroes all around us. This books celebrates that spirit.

    Reply
  14. Boys In the Boat has been called “Chariots of Fire” on water, . . .or Seabiscuit (another wonderful book) with 18 legs, ha, ha, ha.
    Stories like these serve to inspire—they remind us of the best in all of us, and how there’s an elemental heroism in daring to face adversity in order to be the best you can be.
    You’re so right—there are so many unsung heroes all around us. This books celebrates that spirit.

    Reply
  15. Boys In the Boat has been called “Chariots of Fire” on water, . . .or Seabiscuit (another wonderful book) with 18 legs, ha, ha, ha.
    Stories like these serve to inspire—they remind us of the best in all of us, and how there’s an elemental heroism in daring to face adversity in order to be the best you can be.
    You’re so right—there are so many unsung heroes all around us. This books celebrates that spirit.

    Reply
  16. Louis Silvie Zamperini, depicted in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, was another participant in the 1936 Olympics and showed true heroism in his subsequent trials and survival as a Japanese POW in WWII.

    Reply
  17. Louis Silvie Zamperini, depicted in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, was another participant in the 1936 Olympics and showed true heroism in his subsequent trials and survival as a Japanese POW in WWII.

    Reply
  18. Louis Silvie Zamperini, depicted in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, was another participant in the 1936 Olympics and showed true heroism in his subsequent trials and survival as a Japanese POW in WWII.

    Reply
  19. Louis Silvie Zamperini, depicted in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, was another participant in the 1936 Olympics and showed true heroism in his subsequent trials and survival as a Japanese POW in WWII.

    Reply
  20. Louis Silvie Zamperini, depicted in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, was another participant in the 1936 Olympics and showed true heroism in his subsequent trials and survival as a Japanese POW in WWII.

    Reply
  21. Putting this one on my must read list. I LOVE stories like this! Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite films ever.
    I love the sort of hero who lives and ordinary life, does something extraordinary when the need arises and then goes back to his ordinary life with no desire to have much made of what he has done.
    I love every day heroes – the kind who go to work every day and take care of their wives and children because that is what real men do. They love and respect their wives, they raise their children to know the meaning of respect for others, of the rewards of hard work and dedication, of the idea the world doesn’t owe you anything, but it will give you everything if you only live a life worthy of it. The sort of man who teaches his children nothing is impossible, actions have consequences and love is stronger than death. My Dad was just such a man and he is still my hero.

    Reply
  22. Putting this one on my must read list. I LOVE stories like this! Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite films ever.
    I love the sort of hero who lives and ordinary life, does something extraordinary when the need arises and then goes back to his ordinary life with no desire to have much made of what he has done.
    I love every day heroes – the kind who go to work every day and take care of their wives and children because that is what real men do. They love and respect their wives, they raise their children to know the meaning of respect for others, of the rewards of hard work and dedication, of the idea the world doesn’t owe you anything, but it will give you everything if you only live a life worthy of it. The sort of man who teaches his children nothing is impossible, actions have consequences and love is stronger than death. My Dad was just such a man and he is still my hero.

    Reply
  23. Putting this one on my must read list. I LOVE stories like this! Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite films ever.
    I love the sort of hero who lives and ordinary life, does something extraordinary when the need arises and then goes back to his ordinary life with no desire to have much made of what he has done.
    I love every day heroes – the kind who go to work every day and take care of their wives and children because that is what real men do. They love and respect their wives, they raise their children to know the meaning of respect for others, of the rewards of hard work and dedication, of the idea the world doesn’t owe you anything, but it will give you everything if you only live a life worthy of it. The sort of man who teaches his children nothing is impossible, actions have consequences and love is stronger than death. My Dad was just such a man and he is still my hero.

    Reply
  24. Putting this one on my must read list. I LOVE stories like this! Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite films ever.
    I love the sort of hero who lives and ordinary life, does something extraordinary when the need arises and then goes back to his ordinary life with no desire to have much made of what he has done.
    I love every day heroes – the kind who go to work every day and take care of their wives and children because that is what real men do. They love and respect their wives, they raise their children to know the meaning of respect for others, of the rewards of hard work and dedication, of the idea the world doesn’t owe you anything, but it will give you everything if you only live a life worthy of it. The sort of man who teaches his children nothing is impossible, actions have consequences and love is stronger than death. My Dad was just such a man and he is still my hero.

    Reply
  25. Putting this one on my must read list. I LOVE stories like this! Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite films ever.
    I love the sort of hero who lives and ordinary life, does something extraordinary when the need arises and then goes back to his ordinary life with no desire to have much made of what he has done.
    I love every day heroes – the kind who go to work every day and take care of their wives and children because that is what real men do. They love and respect their wives, they raise their children to know the meaning of respect for others, of the rewards of hard work and dedication, of the idea the world doesn’t owe you anything, but it will give you everything if you only live a life worthy of it. The sort of man who teaches his children nothing is impossible, actions have consequences and love is stronger than death. My Dad was just such a man and he is still my hero.

    Reply
  26. Real heroism is often so quiet, without any self-seeking or fame-hunting. One thing I’ve noticed is that people cast in the mold of a real hero, without exception, lack any sort of entitlement complex. The world is not about them. Instead, they step up wherever they’re needed, and don’t consider compassion as a weakness. They shoulder the responsibilities of being in charge without grasping for the perks. They are kind; when it’s not cool, not easy, sometimes not even safe to show kindness.
    French Resistance organizer and hero Jean Moulin was a troubled soul in many ways, and he died horribly, but when I think of him, I always think of this: that whenever a family risked life and freedom by sheltering this hunted man from the Gestapo, he is known to have often–perhaps always–sent flowers to his protectors on the day after he left. A beau geste, if ever there was one.
    When captured, he admitted his identity to save those captured with him from further torture–knowing the Gestapo wanted him most of all. He died without revealing what he knew of the Resistance; though, having played one its great parts, he knew its workings better than most.
    Rest in peace, mon ami….

    Reply
  27. Real heroism is often so quiet, without any self-seeking or fame-hunting. One thing I’ve noticed is that people cast in the mold of a real hero, without exception, lack any sort of entitlement complex. The world is not about them. Instead, they step up wherever they’re needed, and don’t consider compassion as a weakness. They shoulder the responsibilities of being in charge without grasping for the perks. They are kind; when it’s not cool, not easy, sometimes not even safe to show kindness.
    French Resistance organizer and hero Jean Moulin was a troubled soul in many ways, and he died horribly, but when I think of him, I always think of this: that whenever a family risked life and freedom by sheltering this hunted man from the Gestapo, he is known to have often–perhaps always–sent flowers to his protectors on the day after he left. A beau geste, if ever there was one.
    When captured, he admitted his identity to save those captured with him from further torture–knowing the Gestapo wanted him most of all. He died without revealing what he knew of the Resistance; though, having played one its great parts, he knew its workings better than most.
    Rest in peace, mon ami….

    Reply
  28. Real heroism is often so quiet, without any self-seeking or fame-hunting. One thing I’ve noticed is that people cast in the mold of a real hero, without exception, lack any sort of entitlement complex. The world is not about them. Instead, they step up wherever they’re needed, and don’t consider compassion as a weakness. They shoulder the responsibilities of being in charge without grasping for the perks. They are kind; when it’s not cool, not easy, sometimes not even safe to show kindness.
    French Resistance organizer and hero Jean Moulin was a troubled soul in many ways, and he died horribly, but when I think of him, I always think of this: that whenever a family risked life and freedom by sheltering this hunted man from the Gestapo, he is known to have often–perhaps always–sent flowers to his protectors on the day after he left. A beau geste, if ever there was one.
    When captured, he admitted his identity to save those captured with him from further torture–knowing the Gestapo wanted him most of all. He died without revealing what he knew of the Resistance; though, having played one its great parts, he knew its workings better than most.
    Rest in peace, mon ami….

    Reply
  29. Real heroism is often so quiet, without any self-seeking or fame-hunting. One thing I’ve noticed is that people cast in the mold of a real hero, without exception, lack any sort of entitlement complex. The world is not about them. Instead, they step up wherever they’re needed, and don’t consider compassion as a weakness. They shoulder the responsibilities of being in charge without grasping for the perks. They are kind; when it’s not cool, not easy, sometimes not even safe to show kindness.
    French Resistance organizer and hero Jean Moulin was a troubled soul in many ways, and he died horribly, but when I think of him, I always think of this: that whenever a family risked life and freedom by sheltering this hunted man from the Gestapo, he is known to have often–perhaps always–sent flowers to his protectors on the day after he left. A beau geste, if ever there was one.
    When captured, he admitted his identity to save those captured with him from further torture–knowing the Gestapo wanted him most of all. He died without revealing what he knew of the Resistance; though, having played one its great parts, he knew its workings better than most.
    Rest in peace, mon ami….

    Reply
  30. Real heroism is often so quiet, without any self-seeking or fame-hunting. One thing I’ve noticed is that people cast in the mold of a real hero, without exception, lack any sort of entitlement complex. The world is not about them. Instead, they step up wherever they’re needed, and don’t consider compassion as a weakness. They shoulder the responsibilities of being in charge without grasping for the perks. They are kind; when it’s not cool, not easy, sometimes not even safe to show kindness.
    French Resistance organizer and hero Jean Moulin was a troubled soul in many ways, and he died horribly, but when I think of him, I always think of this: that whenever a family risked life and freedom by sheltering this hunted man from the Gestapo, he is known to have often–perhaps always–sent flowers to his protectors on the day after he left. A beau geste, if ever there was one.
    When captured, he admitted his identity to save those captured with him from further torture–knowing the Gestapo wanted him most of all. He died without revealing what he knew of the Resistance; though, having played one its great parts, he knew its workings better than most.
    Rest in peace, mon ami….

    Reply
  31. Louisa,if you love Chariots, you will love The Boys. it’s the same sort of heartwarming story of dreams and the courage to pursue them
    I couldn’t agree more with your definition of a hero . . . and again the one “Boy” whose life story is traced in the book will make weep both in sadness and in joy,

    Reply
  32. Louisa,if you love Chariots, you will love The Boys. it’s the same sort of heartwarming story of dreams and the courage to pursue them
    I couldn’t agree more with your definition of a hero . . . and again the one “Boy” whose life story is traced in the book will make weep both in sadness and in joy,

    Reply
  33. Louisa,if you love Chariots, you will love The Boys. it’s the same sort of heartwarming story of dreams and the courage to pursue them
    I couldn’t agree more with your definition of a hero . . . and again the one “Boy” whose life story is traced in the book will make weep both in sadness and in joy,

    Reply
  34. Louisa,if you love Chariots, you will love The Boys. it’s the same sort of heartwarming story of dreams and the courage to pursue them
    I couldn’t agree more with your definition of a hero . . . and again the one “Boy” whose life story is traced in the book will make weep both in sadness and in joy,

    Reply
  35. Louisa,if you love Chariots, you will love The Boys. it’s the same sort of heartwarming story of dreams and the courage to pursue them
    I couldn’t agree more with your definition of a hero . . . and again the one “Boy” whose life story is traced in the book will make weep both in sadness and in joy,

    Reply

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