The Last Amateurs, by Mark de Rond

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The Independent Culture

Tom James won Olympic gold at Beijing in the Team GB men's four. Last year, as president of the Cambridge University Boat Club, he led his crew to victory in the Boat Race, and Mark de Rond, a Cambridge don, has chronicled the months of blood, sweat, toil and beers that culminated in that triumph.

De Rond was given unprecedented access to the oarsmen and coaches during training and selection, so it's a pity he devotes so much space to talking about himself, detailing everything from his dreams to his erections, and exhibiting a disturbing penchant for stripping naked in front of full-length mirrors. When he can tear himself away from his favourite subject, De Rond makes a good fist of dramatising the squad's tensions, rivalries and self-doubt as they fight to make the Blue Boat, though he throws away one crucial selection battle in an asterisked aside.

Still, the rowers did seem to value rather than merely tolerate his input, as James acknowledges in an epilogue. A case of whatever floats your boat, perhaps.

Published by Icon Books in hardback, £17.99

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