To be middle-aged and ghosting a scull through the early morning light of a Lake Cayuga dawn: that's where Strauss finds himself, a pilgrim of sorts, searching for a little self-affirmation. But he's also a junkie, rapt in the glow that pervades the ancient craft of rowing. The sport appealed immediately to Strauss (History and Classics/Cornell; co-author, with Josiah Ober, of The Anatomy of Error: American Military Disasters and Their Lessons for Modern Strategists, 1990). It wasn—t just that he needed the workout (bookish, he had long preferred the couch to the gym) or that the oars seemed to speak to him of fluid dynamics and Nile oarsmen and red-brick-and-ivy regattas. Rowing also held the promise of testing the athletic competence and resolve of someone who had fumbled painfully as a child. Redemption seemed to lurk in the boat, a wedding of the cerebral and corporeal. Yet this isn—t so much the story of a personal quest. Instead, Strauss revels in the sheer beauty of the sport, from the flow state brought on by the rhythm of perfect oar work to the burnished murk of capacious, ever-so-seedy boathouses. The author's enthusiasm is infectious, buoying the heft of his writing and allowing for an extended investigation into stroke mechanics, a complex, balletic suite of movements. Strauss also makes something well worth reading from the curious blending of elite and common that permeates rowing: it was a poor man's gambit in classical Greece, but an aristocratic pursuit in ancient Rome and pharaonic Egypt; it was a favorite sport of the Gilded Age, complete with race fixing and assorted scandals, and yet the sport also found a following in the mining towns of southern Canada. Redemption is a big word. Still, by any measure, Strauss has tapped into something special out there in his scull. He does fine service to his sport in this memoir.
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