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Mind over Water: Lessons on Life from the Art of Rowing Paperback – 31 Dec 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade); 1st Mariner Books Ed edition (31 Dec. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618001840
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618001842
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.1 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 507,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


In an exploration of the sport, the author reflects upon the metaphysical voyage into the soul.

From the Publisher

"Forbes FYI" review
"A curious and well-wrought meditation on the relationship of rowing, with its taxing monotony and intricate systems of balance and velocity, to life, which certainly shares those features. Lambert is a philomath who, after crew at Harvard, couldn't quite settle on a single path. Sensing his life wasn't following a proper trajectory, he turned to rowing for inspiration and found in it a paradigm: it requires poise, symmetry, forward motion, cooperation, concentration and consistency. His reflections on how to focus one's energies in order to attain harmony in life and work will remind some of the now-classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; Lambert's book shares with that one a thoughtful writing style that's meaningful without ever lapsing into treacly New Age mush. It's also a great primer on the mechanics of rowing, which to hear Lambert describe it, is a hell of a lot harder than it looks from the shoreline." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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IN THE DARKNESS, deep in silence, the lights - green, red, a few of white - surge ahead, in the rhythm of breathing. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 Nov. 1998
Format: Hardcover
For someone who has come to the sport of rowing at a relatively late stage, Lambert offers a remarkably perceptive insight into what motivates competitive oarsmen, their fears, aspirations, joys and pain. He elucidates particularly well the different mind-set of the single sculler as against the crew oarsman, demonstrating clearly the existence of a 'sport within a sport'. There have been a number of books on rowing - it is rare and refreshing to find one written by one with journalistic skill.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 10 Nov. 1998
Format: Hardcover
Not being a rower and never having been in a racing scull, I did not expect6 this book to hold my attention like it did. I had trouble laying it down. The suspense in the race which Lambert outlines so beautifully held me spellbound. The lessons in life which were outlined were beautifully phrased. I really think this book could be a best seller if it is promoted properly.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Really great book, the style of writing is almost poetic at times. Suitable for rowers and non rowers alike. Especially good for the family members of a rower to gain insight into the sport they love
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Timothy Grant on 25 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback
Being an avid and slightly obsessive rower, I was looking forward to reading this book, after finishing "The amateurs" in record time.

To be honest I was disappointed, it feels like a series of rather desperate attempts to link the world of rowing with every day philosophy and life problems, a concept which sounds interesting, but turns out to be rather monotonous and repetitive. That said given the title I should have probably expected it!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 33 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
as much about self-discovery as about rowing 25 Sept. 2004
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on
Format: Paperback
A book that aspires to describe perfection better start with a sentence that aspires to perfection.

This is how Mind Over Water begins: "In the darkness, deep in silence, the lights --- green, red, a few of white --- surge ahead, in the rhythm of breathing."

If this were a class, Butler could riff for 10 minutes on that line. For now, let's leave it at this: You're in a long, narrow boat, with a skin that's just one-sixteenth of an inch thick and oars that extend fifteen feet. It's 5:45 a.m. on an October morning in Boston. It's chilly. And you are about to begin a race that is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. On a Tuesday morning. Before work. Just for fun.

Okay, Craig Lambert, a veteran oarsman and a stylish writer, is a little bit crazy. Well, so are the best rowers. And so is Harry Parker, the Harvard crew coach whose exploits first got Lambert, a gifted amateur, interested in writing professionally about the sport.

You never heard of Harry Parker? He'd be thrilled. Recognition is the least thing he cares about. He's single-minded about something else: winning. And win he does. He became Harvard's crew coach in 1963, when he was just 27. For the next 6 years, Harvard did not lose a single intercollegiate race. His crews won 18 consecutive races against Yale. His winning percentage from 1963 to 1997 is .806 --- he is, very probably, the most successful coach in any sport in the whole and entire world.

Harry Parker has some voodoo wisdom that Craig Lambert has absorbed. And then there are the home truths Lambert's picked up himself along the way. Some samples:

"Speed demands that we risk our balance. Velocity comes with volatility... That which is stable is slow."

"Being part of a crew makes the individual shine; in rowing you pull harder and longer that you could ever alone because everyone else in the boat is depending on you."

"My years of rowing in eights [eight-man boats] convinced me that to succeed in this world we must be willing to do whatever is required despite what our mind says."

"Sometimes the best response to stormy weather is to unleash your own tempest. It is one way to restore equilibrium."

"Grabbing an early lead costs energy, an expense that may later haunt the front-runner... In practice, Parker would remind his rowers that when opponents jump out in front, you must make them pay the price."

"To build a winning crew, select the right athletes, place them in the proper seats, and allow for the freedom to create. In other words, hire the right people for the right jobs and manage with a long, loose leash."

If you're employed in almost any organization Butler can imagine, he'll bet that last idea is one you'd like to print out and slip under the boss's door. That's light years away from the sport of rowing --- and yet it's not New Age, hippy-dippy sloganeering. What it is, Butler submits, is writing at a level we're not used to seeing very often: prose that yokes close observation of the real world with deep wisdom about the world inside.

"We are out here in the darkness to reveal ourselves, to discover who we are," Lambert writes. "With the oars, we attempt things that we cannot do, we confront that which is beyond our capacities. Mind over water. The shells transport us into the unknown."

It almost makes you want to get out there some early morning and see how far, how fast, how smoothly you could make a boat --- or, really, your life --- go.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Gaack! Just when I'd given up highlighting my books. . . 30 Jan. 2005
By Robin Wolfson - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Mind Over Water" falls into the category of the memoir, highly personal and considered memories and musings. It's about rowing and, as the subtitle states: "Lessons on Life from the Art of Rowing." If you don't like this kind of book, steer clear. You also won't like "Green Thoughts: A Writer in The Garden." On the other hand, if you do like this kind of book, "Green Thoughts" is also recommended.

"Mind over Water" is about rowing internalized, what it means to row and race and how these lessons can be applied to life. As such, its primary goal is not so much instruction as translation. And translations, of course, are never exact, which may account for some of the animosity of other reviewers.

So what is "Mind Over Water" really about? It's not so much about rowing as it is about what rowing means to the author. As such, you can't really fault it for not being the book you might write about rowing or for not being an instruction manual. It has humbler ambitions. Think of it as an off-water musing.

In any case, I liked it. And, yes, I had to get to get out the highlighter. Among those who like the book, everyone is going to have favorite passages, as some of these reviews attest. Here are some of mine:

"Edges form outlines. If our boundaries determine our identities, then we learn who we are by finding our limits."

"Sliding between dark and shadow, between sunlight and the obscure, is the region of discovery."

"Staying on course limits your attention to the boat and its rowers, who are, after all, the motor that takes you there. The goal does not disclose itself until it is attained."

"Mistakes shine a spotlight on our model of reality and show us its flaws. Unexpected outcomes help us refine our picture of nature."

"Tall smokestacks rise from the powerhouse and waft plumes of smoke into the sky, the epitaph of fuel burned into power."

If this kind of writing disturbs or bores you, look elsewhere. If not, you might find "Mind Over Water" as enjoyable as I did.
37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Godel, Escher, Bach meets Jonathan Livingston Seagull 3 Oct. 2002
By Mary Malmros - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I don't know when I've read a more unfortunately flawed book -- unfortunately, because while there are snippets of truly inspired writing in it, they are overwhelmed by too many examples of what Strunk and White have told us all not to do. The author, evidently a successful journalist, seems to lose all sense of restraint in the book-length format: pithiness is absent as points are belabored to death; metaphors are piled three- and four-deep until all sense of the original subject is lost; and a sense of appropriate diction is tossed out the window in favor of florid, show-off vocabulary that causes the reader to wince in sympathetic embarrassment. Perhaps most telling, the author never seems to find an authentic voice. Compelling books on sports have been written from the perspective of both the insider and the outsider; Lambert seems to try for both, and is convincing as neither. He drops the names of rowing greats he has shared the river with, yet never seems to find his own place as a rower, the level at which he can simply put his head down and work at it without concern for what others are doing. Constantly fretting at his own inadequacies and questioning whether he has any right to consider himself a "real athlete", he articulates a series of vague goals that are best summed up as a desire not to be last -- or at least, not last by too much. The result, for the reader, is to end up wondering why Lambert is in this endeavor -- rowing or writing -- and if the author himself doesn't seem to know, why should the reader care?
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
seductive sports saga 26 Oct. 2003
By ciz - Published on
Format: Paperback
I had fun with this book. As a rower who has been on national teams and medaled at the Olympic Games,I resonated with this saga of rowing and what it means to those who do it. Some sports books I have read take the perspective of the outsider, the spectator. In sharp contrast, this one comes from someone who has really "been there," who has experienced training, racing, winning and losing. This is the real thing. The author extrapolates down-to-earth, practical experiences to worldly, spiritual, and even cosmic insights. Highly recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A funny, profound, exhilarating book 17 Dec. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is a gem: beautifully faceted, rarely found, and precious to keep. Craig Lambert is as skillful a wordsmith as he is a rower, and reading his intelligence at work on what it means--and what it takes--to master this sport is a delight. One of the pleasures of Mind Over Water is the way Lambert teases insight out of all aspects of rowing, as in his perfectly pitched meditation on balance in the section called "Equinox": "balance is no settled state: it is alive, dynamic, constantly emergent. Even those ideal moments when our boat sets up perfectly, flying across the water in silent, level splendor, only mean balance now. A second later, we must take the next stroke." Lambert is a transcendental rower, and he brings an Emersonian eye to the mind-body connection, as in this, one of my favorite passages: "The shell responds to motions of the body. The body follows the dictates of the mind. Hence the boat reacts to the rower's mind: when your mind quivers, so does your shell. . . . Conversely, a quiet mind levels the boat; stillness settles the body, and the shell, relaxing into agreement, takes the quietest, fastest route through the water." Lambert moves easily between the sublime and the prosaic, and when it's time to evoke the need to push the body to do more than it wants, he brings wit and humor to the task: "Don't tell me that this isn't the finish line, I think. This has got to be the finish line; I am already on my fourth wind and there is no way I can row another hundred feet, let alone another mile." And when he does finish, "I don't know about Tom [his rowing partner], but I have accomplished the impossible--several times over. Never mind that we were amazingly slow: we did it." Lambert has asked himself since childhood, Am I a real athlete? In other words, he's the perfect guide into the elemental and rarefied world of rowing. For those of us whose exercise regimes haven't been more ambitious than step classes, free weights, and weekend hikes, Lambert makes such a place accessible to the imagination. Mind Over Water is funny, profound, earthy, contemplative, even exhilarating. I highly recommend it.
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