The best books about football from a quarterback turned novelist

Why am I passionate about this?

I scored my first touchdown at nine and went on to play quarterback at both the collegiate and professional levels. By twenty-six, I was the head coach of a backwoods high school in Arkansas. My debut novel, Don’t Know Tough, is a football-centric thriller and was named one of the “Best Crime Novels” of 2022 by the New York Times. After that book's publication, I’ve had readers reach out and ask about my favorite football novels, so I was thrilled to get the chance to compile them all into one list. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have. 


I wrote...

Don't Know Tough

By Eli Cranor,

Book cover of Don't Know Tough

What is my book about?

A mashup of Friday Night Lights and Netflix’s Ozark series, Don’t Know Tough is about a high school football player with an explosively troubled home life, an idealistic coach who thinks he can save him, and a murder that threatens to tear their Arkansas town apart on the eve of the playoffs. 

Hailed as “one of the best debuts of 2022” by The New York Times and “a major work from a bright, young talent” by USA TodayDon’t Know Tough is a searing Southern gothic that peels back the curtain on America’s most popular sport.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Prophet

Eli Cranor Why did I love this book?

The Prophet was the first time I’d ever encountered a football thriller. I was still coaching high school football when I read this book, and it scared the bejesus out of me! Koryta spent a year following a high school football team around before writing this book. He absolutely nails the strain the game can have on the families of the men who devote their lives to coaching it.

By Michael Koryta,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Adam Austin hasn't spoken to his brother in years. When they were teenagers, their sister was abducted and murdered, and their devastated family never recovered. Now Adam keeps to himself, scraping by as a bail bondsman, working so close to the town's criminal fringes that he sometimes seems a part of them.

Kent Austin is the beloved coach of the local high school football team, a religious man and hero in the community. After years of near misses, Kent's team has a shot at the state championship, a welcome point of pride in a town that has had its share…


Book cover of North Dallas Forty

Eli Cranor Why did I love this book?

A philosophy professor during my senior year in college recommended this book to me. I was the university’s quarterback, and also an English major, and for whatever reason he thought this book would be a good fit. Boy, was he right! This is one of the few books that I have actually read in one sitting. Gent’s descriptions of players as cogs in a machine are spot on and highlight the ugly—and often overlooked—side of football.

By Peter Gent,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked North Dallas Forty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

National Bestseller: The “powerful novel” about the hidden side of pro football, written by a former NFL player (Newsweek).
 On the field, the men who play football are gladiators, titans, and every other kind of cliché. But when they leave the locker room they are only men. Peter Gent’s classic novel looks at the seedy underbelly of the pro game, chronicling eight days in the life of Phil Elliott, an aging receiver for the Texas team. Running on a mixture of painkillers and cortisone as he tries to keep his fading legs strong, Elliott tries to get every ounce of…


Book cover of The Innocents

Eli Cranor Why did I love this book?

Ace Atkins played defensive end for Auburn. His picture once graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. His dad coached for the 49ers. In other words, Ace knows football, and that fact is on full display in The Innocents. Although the plot doesn’t center around football, this novel features one of the best depictions of a Southern, sleazeball coach you’ll ever find in fiction. Oh, and it’s a part of Ace’s Quinn Colson series. So if you like it, there’s more where that came from!

By Ace Atkins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Quinn Colson returns to Jericho, Mississippi, and gets pulled back into a world of greed and violence in this gritty, darkly comic tale from New York Times bestselling Southern crime master Ace Atkins.
 
After being voted out of office and returning to the war zone he’d left behind, Quinn Colson is back in Jericho, trying to fix things with his still-married high school girlfriend and retired Hollywood stuntman father. Quinn knows he doesn't owe his hometown a damn thing, but he can't resist the pull of becoming a lawman again and accepts a badge from his former colleague, foul-mouthed acting…


Book cover of End Zone

Eli Cranor Why did I love this book?

A lesser-known DeLillo book, End Zone is way up there on my list. I read this book when I first started trying to write about football. DeLillo paints a vivid picture of the locker room, the dorm room, and the crazy characters often found inside both. There are also some wild bits about nuclear threats and metaphors about football as war. Perfect for readers looking for a gridiron book with more “literary” leanings.

By Don DeLillo,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked End Zone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The second novel by Don DeLillo, author of White Noise (winner of the National Book Award) and The Silence

At Logos College in West Texas, huge young men, vacuum-packed into shoulder pads and shiny helmets, play football with intense passion. During an uncharacteristic winning season, the perplexed and distracted running back Gary Harkness has periodic fits of nuclear glee; he is fueled and shielded by his fear of and fascination with nuclear conflict. Among oddly afflicted and recognizable players, the terminologies of football and nuclear war--the language of end zones--become interchangeable, and their meaning deteriorates as the collegiate year runs…


Book cover of A Feast of Snakes

Eli Cranor Why did I love this book?

A Feast of Snakes is about a washed-up high school football star. It’s heart-wrenching and hilarious. So much so, I can remember reading lines out loud to my wife more than once when I first encountered this book. Set in Georgia, Crews’s home state, this novel also features the “Rattlesnake Roundup," which I can promise, you won’t want to miss.

By Harry Crews,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Feast of Snakes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of such novels as "Blood and Grits" and "Childhood" comes a wildly weird and breathtakingly original visit to the rural South that reveals the exotic subculture that erupts in all its glory at the Rattlesnake Roundup in Mystic, Georgia. "No number of adjectives in the thesaurus can do full justice to the dazzlingly bizarre nature of Crews' creations"-- "Washington Post Book World"


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By K.R. Wilson,

Book cover of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

K.R. Wilson Author Of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Reader History enthusiast Occasional composer Sometime chorister

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What is my book about?

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What is this book about?

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