While television shows, video games, and pop culture moves deeper into a technological society, there’s still nothing that beats a good book in a quiet space. You become invested in characters, feel empathy towards a narrator, and the time it takes to digest a story seems to stick with you a little bit longer.
When it comes to sports, there’s no shortage of incredibles stories from all over the world like George Plimpton’s Paper Lion, which details his attempt at being an “average joe” in the NFL. The link between all these stories is the thrill of competition and the agony in defeat. They’re emotions anyone who’s ever been close to a sport understands, but the journey that accompanies them makes the whole story come alive.
Ten of the best sports books sitting on my shelf have shaped how I see, understand and watch sports. With writers like Michael Lewis gave us iconic stories like The Blind Side and Moneyball, there are so many choose from, but these are my favorites.
You’d be doing yourself a favor to buy one for yourself, another for a sibling, a third for a friend, and then trade with each other when you finish them off.
1. The Great American Novel, Philip Roth
While the “Great American Novel” also refers to the broader idea that a book of high-merit accurately depicts the culture of a specific time, Roth’s book takes a dive into the culture of baseball while twisting fantasy and reality into one incredible read. The Port Ruppert Mundys become a traveling baseball team after giving up their home stadium to the U.S. government during World War II. An eclectic group of players has their season chronicled, despite the whole thing being expunged through a Communist plot. This book is reflection of the way we see sports today, and it’s a fun read for anyone willing to put down all 450+ pages.
2. Never Die Easy, Walter Payton and Don Yaeger
The man they called “Sweetness” may be the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, but there’s so much more to Walter Payton when you hear it in his own words. With the help of Don Yaegar, this book is a testament to how hard of worker Payton really was, and how impactful his life was off of the football field up until the tragic end to his life at just 45-years-old. This book is a incredible read for anyone who watched the Hall of Fame running back play, and an even better story for those of us who didn’t, but don’t know the full story behind Sweetness’ greatness.
3. Quite Strength, Tony Dungy
Subtitled “The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life,” the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach details his life in football, his heavily religious life off the field, and the struggles that came when his oldest son committed suicide that shocked the family. Tony Dungy gives us a peek into life as an NFL coach and serves as a reminder that a successful work-life balance can be achieved leaning on patience and faith.
4. The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn
In an incredible retelling of life and baseball in the 1950’s, Roger Kahn details what it was like growing up in Brooklyn, New York and watching the iconic Brooklyn Dodgers during the golden era of baseball. Not only is this a first-person account of a Dodgers fan who watched his team dominate the National League, make several World Series over several years before packing up and heading west to Los Angeles, it offers insights into where players on that team ended up, including Don Larsen, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson.
5. Where Dreams Die Hard, Carlton Stowers
In a world where 11-man football dominates headlines, the game of six-man football is all but forgotten aside from high school football in small towns, like the ones explored by Stowers over the course of one season. Stowers follows the Penelope High Wolverines, a town of just 211 people, in their team’s chase to make something of this lost game. “Where Dreams Die Hard” is a reminder of how important sports can be to any given community and the kids who play them, even in the most unlikely of places.
6. Shoe Dog, Phil Knight
The founder of Nike came from modest beginnings, and Knight’s detailed nonfiction account of how he built his billion-dollar company from the ground up is awe-inspiring. Growing up in Oregon, Knight chronicles how he came up with his “crazy idea” to sell Japanese running shoes in the United States. Knight’s journey, juggling work-ethic with the thought that this might not work, and his struggles with various business partners all the while competing as a fledgling company in an unknown market is an awesome sports read, but also a prime example of how to become a successful entrepreneur.
7. Open, Andre Agassi
In a list of great sports novels, “Open” might be the most eye-opening into what it means when sports becomes a prison for the soul. Andre Agassi, a career Grand Slam winner who was the top-ranked men’s tennis player in the world, writes an incredible story of how he felt “trapped” by the sport that made him famous from the time his father forced him into grueling practices as a child, which led to a life of confusion, unhappiness, brief drug use and uncertainty throughout his professional career. If you’re a sports parent, this is a must-read from one of the all-time greats.
8. Dream Season, Bob Cowser, Jr.
If your sports career came and went in a flash, you’ve probably thought about what it would be like to go back and play again. When Bob Cowser, a college English professor joins one of the country’s most-prodigious semi-professional football teams, the reality of what it means to go back and play comes to life. Cowser details his journey back into sports, an incredible insight into the between balance life as a father and husband, football, and teaching, as well as chronicling the season of the Watertown Red & Black. It’s an incredible memoir for anyone curious about the “What If?” in life.
9. Alone on the Wall, Alex Honnold with David Roberts
Free climbing is one of the most incredible athletic feats to see, and one of the world’s premier free climbers, Alex Honnold, details the seven greatest achievements in his extraordinary life on the edge. From insights into the physical tools that free climbing takes on the body to the mental acrobatics you go through when holding onto the side of a mountain with no cables or wires, the book is a teeth-clenching read that excites all the way through. It’s a testament to what the human body is capable of, even in the face of extreme, imminent danger.
10. Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam
For an aspiring writer, or even the casual sports fan, award-winning journalist David Halberstam puts together a collection of his works over the years that ranges from the casual fisherman to the monumental impact of Muhammad Ali’s life. This book offers something for fans of any sport looking for stories that run deeper than the box score. Halberstam’s career including covering the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and American culture as a whole, and although this sampling is only brief glimpse of his second career as a sports journalist, it’s as educational and insightful as any of the best books you’ll ever pick up.