Mind Over Water

Lessons on Life from the Art of Rowing

From  Caroline Knapp’s review of Mind Over Water: Lessons on Life from the Art of Rowing in The New York Times Sunday Book Review:

This is no simple ode to the beauty of river and shell; nor, like David Halberstam’s book about elite competitors, ”The Amateurs,” is it a chronicle of the sport’s physical rigors. Lambert covers both those bases – there are elegant descriptions of boats (”fantastically long and narrow, a pterodactyl afloat”), and there are nods to the rower’s daily expenditure of blood and sweat – but his reach is broader. ”Lessons learned afloat,” he writes, ”carry over onto dry land,” and his book elucidates that point, each aspect of the sport presenting fodder for reflection. An account of learning to balance an eight-oared shell becomes a meditation on intimacy (”As in other intimate relations, while responding to each other, we need to maintain our own center of gravity”); a reminiscence about coxing an eight becomes a rumination on personal agency (”At every moment we have a choice: to drift or to steer”); descriptions of racing and training become explorations of everything from self-definition to the nature of competition and success.

Lambert, a staff writer and editor for Harvard Magazine who has written for Sports Illustrated and other publications, is a thinking man’s jock — along with profiles of world-class rowers and coaches, you’ll find quotations from Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard, Einstein and Michelangelo… above all, there’s Lambert’s unequivocal joy in rowing, its provocative, sensual power. In his hands, the river becomes a character in its own right, something to dip into for a time, something transporting. ”Rowing,” he writes, ”is such a beautifully small, obscure sport.” Perhaps, but viewed through his lens, it becomes larger and more universal.