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on 5 April 2009
Blood Over Water is as much about the struggle between heroism and humanity as about the race between Oxford and Cambridge. It's a terrifying read in places. It's not just the overwhelming intensity of the training regimes inflicted on Boat Race athletes. Nor was it, for me, the actual pain of racing and losing, although that's described in searing detail too.

Instead, the most disturbing and darkly fascinating aspect was the insight into the brothers' psychological journey. We get a privileged glimpse into James and David Livingston's absolute focus, their obsession and hunger for a single victory. It's heroic and admirable. But how can you be a hero and retain your humanity? When the system teaches you to hate your opponents, what happens when your enemy turns out to be your own brother?

The Livingston brothers take us on a thrilling journey through these dark places and ultimately show us that the ultimate victory is one of friendship, whoever has the medal. It's a real page-turner of a story that should be read by far more than just the rowing fraternity. It's about hope, fear, pain, love and all the rest that make us human.
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on 11 April 2009
One of the best sports books that I've read. The two seperate accounts make the story all the more interesting, and because both have sacrificed so much in the pursuit of glory, you end up not really minding who wins. A dead heat would've been the perfect result...

A cracking read, that is very hard to put down.
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on 4 August 2009
I live in the Western U.S., and I could not find this book at any bookstore (Powells, Barnes and Noble), nor any library. I even checked the NYC Public Library and the Library of Congress online, but my searches found nothing.

I was referred to by a friend who had studied at Durham University, and who had used the UK service before. The delivery and service were terrific.

The book should be of some great interest to rowers and those who follow rowing or train as a rower might on the ergo and weight circuits. Those who have not rowed in the UK, like myself, likely cannot comprehend the "boat race" mental construct, which motivates, guides, and perpetuates training for one race held only one time per year. The only event I can compare it to in the States is the Army-Navy football game, where winning that match-up determines success or failure for the season.

However, this book, a journal kept by 2 bright and lively lads who competed against each other in the boat race as brothers, brings home precisely the stakes involved in winning the Oxford-Cambridge race: nothing short of success in this race will mean success for the year for the coaches, the old boys, and the crew members.

Shortly after I purchased and began reading this book. I discovered a video on U Tube of a researcher in business psychology, who worked out (some) and spent time with one of these crews in order to understand the psyhchology underlying the crew. This researcher gave lectures to business executives demonstrating how those qualities necessary to successfully constitute the crew might be applied to successful strategies by the business teams.

As this book makes potently clear, the fastest or even the strongest rowers do not always complement the others in the 8-oar skull, and so the successful 8 plus cox requires something more.

I found the book terrific, although that may have resulted from an interest in the subject matter and sports psychology.

By the way, does one know that the blue blazer given each memeber of the
Cambridge 'Blue" crew has no identifying crest patched on, unlke the other sports clubs.

Don't you want to know why? This is just one detail found in this book that gives the story cred. The writing is plain, detailed, and straighforward (no Walter Scott here), but the details are fascinating.
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on 8 September 2009
This is a great sports story - given it was the closest Boat Race ever and had brothers competing against each other for the first time in 100 years - but the real story here is that of the all-consuming lifestyle that is training for The Boat Race. Readers will get a close-up look at the student-athlete experience at Oxford & Cambridge, with a healthy emphasis on the 'athlete' portion, and will better understand the obsessive nature of all elite athletes.

David and James did a superb job of conveying the mounting pressure on the rowers at Oxford and Cambridge, with everything riding on the result of a single race at the end of seven months of training. Readers gain insight on the ups and downs that are part of the selection process for the 8 seats in each crew. It took me a little time to get used to the back and forth format between the brothers' points of view, but once I got used to the rhythm, I really enjoyed it, and I think any fan of The Boat Race would enjoy it too.
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on 8 June 2010
This book is awesome and truly inspiring to any reader. This is a vivid and very well written account of the incredible efforts that David and James went through, not just as bothers competing against each other but also the sacrifice to themselves, friends, families and careers to be part of this amazing race.

After reading this book, next time you go down the gym I will guarantee you will take a long look at those rowing machines and a smile will come to your face as you recall the events of one of the best books you are likely to ever read.
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on 11 April 2010
This is not the best book on the Boat Race (that would have to be 'Boat Race', by Daniel Topolski - far far better than the dreadful ghost-written 'True Blue') and not even the best recent book (unlike one other reviewer I found Mark de Rond's book much more interesting). But it is a good read, told from the unusual perspective of two brothers, David and James Livingstone, racing against each other in this event for the first time since 1901.

The 2003 race, of course, was an absolute classic, surpassing even the 1980 and 1952, and indeed the 2002 races (every one of them won by Oxford) for sheer drama. I replay it from time to time even now, and can still hardly believe the closeness with Cambridge losing by one foot, finally overtaking Oxford a foot or two past the finishing line. Even during the race itself, but still in retrospect, the sheer intensity of racing that David showed at 6 in the Oxford crew is awesome. I have never seen anyone race as hard as he was doing two or three minutes into the race and to keep on at that intensity for a further 15 minutes is barely credible.

But the account of the race itself left me wondering, less than convinced. I raced in rowing many times (including once side by side over the Boat Race course - not on the big day though!) and more than 100 times as a runner. Afterwards I have found it very hard to remember very much at all, beyond a memory of numbing pain, a wish to stop and a fear of giving into that wish. There are little snapshots - for instance an exchange of words with a fellow competitor at the 16 mile marker in a marathon, a vivid moment underneath a crane in a final at a regatta - but no more than that. And there is a reason for this: all the blood available to the body is being sent to meet the oxygen needs of the working muscles and non-essential organs, including the brain, get starved of blood and so of oxygen. Thinking slows down. Indeed James tells of his vision disappearing at the finish line, with his hearing long gone. I cannot claim absolute knowledge on this, but many other people who have raced hard also tell of this experience.

So, in one of the most intense races in a ludicrously high intensity event in a very high intensity sport, after an intensity of racing that few of us ever experience (beyond what I could ever imagine myself doing for sure), how come the almost perfect memory of what happened - and from both brothers? And the memory is not just of what happened but of what was passing through the brothers' minds as it happened. Permit me some scepticism.

But still - it makes a good read for sure.

The details of training sound very realistic although sometimes quite gross - e.g. the residue left under the erg by a previous participant in a 5k erg trial that needed to be cleared up by the next to suffer - and I had the opportunity to check out this grisly detail with someone who rowed for Goldie (the Cambridge 2nd VIII) that year - absolutely true.

I really liked the ending, with the two Livingstones and Ben and Matt Smith (there were two pairs of brothers in the race) taking a IV for fun down the tideway. So despite the reservations about the miraculous feat of memory, a good read and I have no hesitation in recommending.
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on 18 April 2009
I think I've read most of what's been written in the rarefied field of rowing biographies and it's strange that the two best of the genre should have come from the same stable, Hampton School. Martin Cross the Hampton school master whose "Olympic Obsession" did more than any sporting biography I've read to explain the altered mental state of a winner at the top level and now this cleverly planned and beautifully written account of a relationship played out around the events of a singular English sporting tradition. These are two extraordinary and gifted young men at two great institutions who choose to imprison themselves in the completely blinkered uncompromising world of top level university rowing and for 285 pages you inhabit the same prison. If the sheer torture of the physical regime is not enough to exhaust you, the emotional trip certainly will. What becomes apparent is that if the result had been different they would both have been the worse for it and probably if the margin of victory had been greater some of the same might have applied. But they both gained something from the result and the events of the day, created a foundation from which to develop the rest of their lives and their own relationship. Finally and like all the best stories, the ending had me once again reaching the hankies. Excellent.
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on 22 May 2009
'Blood over Water' is an engrossing true story of longstanding sibling rivalry pushed to extremes by two brothers rowing against one another in the Oxford Cambridge boat race. The emotional, physical and academic strain of competing against peers, rivals and family is told by both brothers in alternating narratives, allowing a unique insight into the mindsets and emotions of both sides. Despite having seen the 2003 race that the story focuses on, I tore through the final chapters as if somehow the outcome might change, as I rooted for both brothers in a bittersweet race where only one could win.

I'm not a rower but found the descriptions of training, diet and drinking rituals really interesting, and at times very funny. I had a tear in my eye at the end as both reflected on their lives since the race and how their relationship has developed and changed after such an intense rivalry.
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on 20 June 2011
A moving and inspirational account of what it takes to succeed in one of the most mentally and phsically demanding sports there is. From club rower to wannabe nat champ to the heady world of the boat race and world champs you cannot fail to be inspired to try harder, to push the pain barrier, to sharpen those catches.
This book leads the reader through the life challenges any sportsman or woman has to overcome to succeed.
A fantastic story, a fantastic acheivement by everyone in both crews.
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on 25 January 2016
Compelling read for rowers and non-rowers alike. Gripping read right to the end which gives you a real insight to all the training and intensity from selection to race preparation and the race itself.
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