The best American sports journalism books

Why am I passionate about this?

As a sports reporter since 1990, my never-ending passion for reading and studying the best sports journalism is captured in these five books. The art of column writing, while capturing the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the intricacies of every game under the sun, is celebrated in these books by David Halberstam, Paul Zimmerman, Red Smith, Dave Anderson, and Dave Kindred. My voracious reading of sports columns plus magazine profiles, online essays, and thousands of books, has given me a great appreciation for authors who capture the essence of competition and reveal the biggest and smallest examples of themes unique to teams and eras, iconoclasts and forgotten figures.

I wrote...

Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg

By Ed Odeven,

Book cover of Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg

What is my book about?

From the early 1950s to the present day, Jerry Izenberg has written about championship teams and Olympic icons, baseball and football superstars, and boxing legends. Along the way he became one of the best American sports columnists. 

Izenberg talks about his close friendship with Muhammad Ali, about meeting Nelson Mandela at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and the one question he always wanted to ask Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He shares tales about newspaper mentors and colleagues, including Red Smith and Shirley Povich, Jim Murray and Stanley Woodward. He reflects on racism and race relations in the 20th century through the prism of sports. He brings horse races from the 1970s to life, reminiscing about Secretariat and Canonero II.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam

Ed Odeven Why did I love this book?

David Halberstam, who died in an auto accident in 2007 while doing research for a book about the 1958 NFL championship game, wrote with clarity and perpetual curiosity about all sports. This posthumous anthology highlights his diverse mix of stories. For example, horse racing in Warsaw in the 1960s, American slugger Reggie Smith’s experience as a pro baseball player in Japan in the 1980s, a character study of NBA coaching great Pat Riley in the 1990s, fishing with pals in Argentina as a septuagenarian in the 21st century. And Halberstam’s probing search for the soul of sports is underlined in the “Anatomy of a Champion,” detailed reportage on American fencers and their quest for Olympic glory. This book's mesmerizing range of sporting topics and the author's incredible eye for details captured my attention from start to finish.

By David Halberstam, Glenn Stout (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everything They Had as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Sometimes sports mirrors society, sometimes it allows us to understand the larger society a little better. But mostly, it is a world of entertainment of talented and driven young men and women who do certain things with both skill and passion."--David Halberstam David Halberstam was a distinguished journalist and historian of American politics. He was also a sports writer. Everything They Had brings together for the first time his articles from newspapers and magazines, a wide-ranging collection edited by Glenn Stout, selected over the full scope of Halberstam's five decades as one of America's most honored journalists. These are dazzling…

Book cover of Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer

Ed Odeven Why did I love this book?

Paul Zimmerman, aka “Dr. Z,” was a walking encyclopedia of NFL (and American football) knowledge. In addition to comprehensive coverage of players and coaches, teams and seasons, and big games, his humor and sophistical analytical asides graced the pages of Sports Illustrated for decades. Before that, he was a great reporter for the New York Post. Dr. Z’s memoir pulls back the curtain on his life and his path to prominence as a journalist. Decades before his memoir, Dr. Z brought forthright language to simple and complex football themes in his timeless tome, The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football. Dr. Z’s all-time rankings of NFL players, coaches, and teams and behind-the-scenes tales about Vince Lombardi, Johnny Unitas, and others grab your attention.

For me, and anyone else who loves football, Zimmerman's unparalleled knowledge of the subject and remarkable memory of plays, players and coaches and games spanning decades, this book is a priceless addition to any library.

By Paul Zimmerman, Peter King (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dr. Z as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During his nearly 50 years of sportswriting, including 28 at Sports Illustrated, readers of Dr. Z came to expect a certain alchemical, trademark blend: words which were caustic and wry, at times self-deprecating or even puzzling, but always devilishly smart with arresting honesty. A complex package, that's the Doctor. The one-time sparring partner of Ernest Hemingway, Paul Zimmerman is one of the modern era's groundbreaking football minds, a man who methodically charted every play while generating copious notes, a human precursor to the data analytics websites of today. In 2008, Zimmerman had nearly completed work on his personal memoirs when…

Book cover of The Red Smith Reader

Ed Odeven Why did I love this book?

John Schulian, one of the premier American sports journalists from the 1970s to the present, has recommended The Red Smith Reader with unsparing enthusiasm: “Quite simply the most thorough collection ever of the master’s work... a joy to everyone who picks it up.” A compilation of 131 Smith columns published in 1982, the year of his death, the book showcases his literary prose, which elevated the profession. The biggest games (Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Reggie Jackson’s three home runs on three consecutive at-bats in the 1977 Fall Classic) and individuals (Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Secretariat) are the foundation of Smith’s invaluable contributions to the understanding and appreciation of sports culture. His profiles of boxing and horse racing trainers are also exceptionally astute portraits.

Red Smith was a deadline artist, crafting timeless columns. As a fan of good writing and an admirer of his literary approach to journalism, this tome has served as a valuable educational tool for me, and it is a handy reference guide on sports history of the 20th century as seen through Smith's views.

By Dave Anderson (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Red Smith Reader as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1976, Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith is considered one of the greatest sportswriters ever to live. Put alongside Ring Lardner, Red Smith was beloved by those who read him because of his crisp writing and critical views.

Originally released in 1982, The Red Smith Reader is a wonderful collection of 131 columns with subjects ranging from baseball and fishing to golf, basketball, tennis, and boxing. As John Leonard of the New York Times appropriately stated, “Red Smith was to sports what Homer was to war.”

With a fantastic foreword by his son, successful journalist Terence Smith,…

Book cover of Sports of Our Times

Ed Odeven Why did I love this book?

Published in 1979, Anderson’s collection of columns preserves seminal sports moments, primarily from that decade. Anderson’s on-deadline work for The New York Times revisits Hank Aaron’s 715th MLB home run, which broke Babe Ruth’s all-time record. He was in the right place at the right time for an interview with Negro Leagues pitching legend Satchel Paige in 1976, a column in which the old fireballer praised Slim Jones, Bob Feller, and Dizzy Dean as the “best pitches I ever saw.” Jimmy Connors, Joe Namath, Gordie Howe, Julius Erving, and Muhammad Ali are among the icons that Anderson highlights with exceptional portraiture, capturing Howe’s career as he approaches his 50th birthday. Anderson also produces a splendid profile of Wilt Chamberlain playing volleyball.

Like many of the premier sports journalists of the post-World War II era, Anderson traveled widely and covered prominent events throughout the United States and around the world, and I enjoyed the variety of places and personalities highlighted in this text. This collection captured the essence of sports personalities he observed and/or interacted with and historic events with equal eloquence.

By Dave Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sports of Our Times as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship

Ed Odeven Why did I love this book?

In this dual biography about the nexus of Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell’s cultural significance and friendship, the backdrop of their seemingly omnipresent place on the American and global media landscape in the 1960s and ‘70s is explored with great detail in the paths they forged, individually and collectively. Kindred does his homework in finding rich anecdotes from the boxer and broadcaster’s upbringings in Louisville and New York City, respectively. What’s more, there are recurring details about their interactions before, during, and after many of Ali’s biggest fights. It’s a fascinating character study of larger-than-life personalities with massive egos, as well as Cosell’s support of Ali’s right to oppose the Vietnam War. The alternating focus on Ali and Cosell gives Kindred a flexible format to deliver a literary knockout.

It is a rare gift to have the ability to tell the life stories of two iconic figures in the same book while also reporting on interconnected careers and their separate journeys, bouncing back and forth between Ali and Cosell and shared Ali-Cosell tales. Kindred handles these mental calisthenics with aplomb and produced a book that helps us to better understand the nexus of their friendship and what it represented in the greater context of their lives and careers.

By Dave Kindred,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sound and Fury as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell were must-see TV long before that phrase became ubiquitous. Individually interesting, together they were mesmerizing. They were profoundly different -- young and old, black and white, a Muslim and a Jew, Ali barely literate and Cosell an editor of his university's law review. Yet they had in common forces that made them unforgettable: Both were, above all, performers who covered up their deep personal insecurities by demanding -- loudly and often -- public acclaim. Theirs was an extraordinary alliance that produced drama, comedy, controversy, and a mutual respect that helped shape both men's lives.


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Book cover of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

Joe Mahoney Author Of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Broadcaster Family man Dog person Aspiring martial artist

Joe's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's public broadcaster. It's for people who love CBC Radio, those interested in the history of Canadian Broadcasting, and those who want to hear about close encounters with numerous luminaries such as Margaret Atwood, J. Michael Straczynski, Stuart McLean, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gzowski, and more. And it's for people who want to know how to make radio.

Crafted with gentle humour and thoughtfulness, this is more than just a glimpse into the internal workings of CBC Radio. It's also a prose ode to the people and shows that make CBC Radio great.

By Joe Mahoney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Adventures in the Radio Trade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In dozens of amiable, frequently humorous vignettes... Mahoney fondly recalls his career as a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio technician in this memoir... amusing and highly informative."
— Kirkus Reviews

"What a wonderful book! If you love CBC Radio, you'll love Adventures in the Radio Trade. Joe Mahoney's honest, wise, and funny stories from his three decades in broadcasting make for absolutely delightful reading!
— Robert J. Sawyer, author of The Oppenheimer Alternative''

"No other book makes me love the CBC more."
— Gary Dunford, Page Six
Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's…

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