COLUMBIA — Although they were Olympians, no one knew their names.
They didn't have the notoriety of modern athletes, nor did they compete often. To call them underdogs would be an understatement.
Also unlike today's competitors, the men who made up the 1936 U.S. men's Olympic rowing team were not wealthy. All had been affected by the Great Depression in some way.
The story of the team that rowed its way out of obscurity and into a gold-medal race is a tale of hard work, perseverance and beating the odds. Its story, chronicled by Daniel James Brown in "The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics," is this year's One READ book selection.
One READ, which is in its 13th year under the wing of Daniel Boone Regional Library, encourages mid-Missouri residents to read the same book and talk about it in book discussion groups, among other events.
The communitywide reading program is sponsored by a task force of media outlets and local agencies. Thousands of communities across the U.S. participate in similar programs every year.
After more than 140 nominations by readers, a panel narrowed the list to two finalists. "The Boys in the Boat" was chosen by popular vote over "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by Ben Fountain.
Doyne McKenzie, One READ co-chair and library collections manager, said "The Boys in the Boat" isn't typical nonfiction work.
"The way it's written is almost cinematic," McKenzie said. "Though you already know the winners and gold medal results, even at the very last race you're not sure if they're going to make it as you read."
Besides the basic sports story of a team overcoming challenges, the book highlights other adversities the team had to overcome, such as poverty caused by the Great Depression, the U.S. and Nazi Germany "East-West" rivalry, and the buildup to World War II.
This is only the third time a nonfiction book has been chosen by the library.
Last year's selection, "The Ruins of Us" by Keija Parssinen, marked the first time an author with local ties was picked. Parssinen is a Columbia resident.
McKenzie said that more than 400 copies of "The Boys in the Boat" are available through the library, and readers were already causing copies to fly off the shelves.
"The thing I think is fascinating is that as soon as the finalists were announced, people were running in to read the books," she said.
Following the template of previous years, the library has planned to use the entire month of September to discuss the book and themes related to it.
McKenzie said the One READ board is trying to get Brown to speak in Columbia near the end of September, but the board is still negotiating with Brown's publicist. Other activities for the monthlong celebration include art exhibits, short reader-created stories called flash fiction, and discussion panels.
Anyone who wants to get a head-start on One READ can check out a copy of the book from any of the three branch libraries: Columbia Public Library, Southern Boone County Public Library in Ashland or Callaway County Public Library in Fulton.
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.
Photo: Viking Press