The best books about the history of sport which understand how sport and history cannot be separated

John Foot Author Of Calcio: A History of Italian Football
By John Foot

Who am I?

I am a historian and journalist. I lived in Italy for over twenty years, immersing myself in the culture of that country—in every form. I decided to write Calcio after becoming aware of the centrality of football to Italian culture and politics, and around the time of the rise of a football entrepreneur to political power—Silvio Berlusconi. The book took me three years, led me to visit numerous cities, stadiums, and regions, and interview dozens of journalists, experts, and players. It was a love letter and a warning—dedicated to ‘my father who loves football, and my son, who hates it.'

I wrote...

Calcio: A History of Italian Football

By John Foot,

Book cover of Calcio: A History of Italian Football

What is my book about?

A history of Italian football which ranges across the beauty and the ugliness of the game, and its importance for culture, politics, and history in that country. Italy cannot be understood without understanding its football. This book tells the story of triumph and tragedy, of four world cups, of geniuses and villains, of scandals and violence, of rivalries and moments of beauty and grace, and crazy fans and out-of-control ultrà. At the heart of the book are the connections between politics, money, and Italian football—from fascism to FIAT to Silvio Berlusconi and beyond. Monumental and fascinating, this book has been called ‘the bible of Italian football’.

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The books I picked & why

Beyond a Boundary

By C.L.R. James,

Book cover of Beyond a Boundary

Why did I love this book?

The greatest of all sporting books which are not really about sport. An inspiration for me, a brilliant, mesmerising study of west Indian cricket, politics, history, and colonialism. It contains the immortal line, "What do they know of cricket that only cricket know?" This book taught me how important sport is, how you can only understand it if you understand the context, and how historians have so often overlooked all this. 

By C.L.R. James,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Beyond a Boundary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This new edition of C. L. R. James's classic Beyond a Boundary celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of one of the greatest books on sport and culture ever written. Named one of the Top 50 Sports Books of All Time by Sports Illustrated "Beyond a Boundary ...should find its place on the team with Izaak Walton, Ivan Turgenev, A. J. Liebling, and Ernest Hemingway."-Derek Walcott, The New York Times Book Review "As a player, James the writer was able to see in cricket a metaphor for art and politics, the collective experience providing a focus for group effort and individual performance...[In]…

Book cover of The Age of Football: Soccer and the 21st Century

Why did I love this book?

A maestro. David Goldblatt is the king of football historians. His books are crazy in their scope and brilliant in their execution. The age of football ranges across politics, history, culture in an account that is comprehensive, terrifying, and exhilarating in equal measure. Essential reading to understand the world we live in today. Always within reach on my desk.

By David Goldblatt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Age of Football proves that whether you call it football or soccer, you can't make sense of the modern world without understanding its most popular sport. With breathtaking scope and an unparalleled knowledge of the game, David Goldblatt-author of the best-selling The Ball Is Round-charts soccer's global cultural ascent, economic transformation, and deep politicization.

Book cover of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life

Why did I love this book?

How do you explain a football-mad country? Which has produced the greatest players, the most extraordinary teams, and a whole way of playing the game itself. Bellos dives deep into the Brazilian passion for football, ranging far and wide in an engaging style that is open to all experiences and tells us more about Brazil than many dry, academic studies ever could. I would never have written my own book if I hadn’t read this.

By Alex Bellos,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Brazilian football team is one of the modern wonders of the world. At its best it exudes a skill, flamboyance and romantic pull like nothing else on earth. Football is how the world sees Brazil and how Brazilians see themselves. The game symbolises racial harmony, flamboyance, youth, innovation and skill, and yet football is also a microcosm of Latin America's largest country and contains all of its contradictions. Travelling extensively from the Uruguayan border to the northeastern backlands, from the coastal cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to the Amazon jungle-Bellos shows how Brazil changed football and…

Book cover of The Death of Marco Pantani: A Biography

Why did I love this book?

A masterful, brave, and melancholic study of a doomed sporting genius. This book is a perfect example of a classic sporting history genre, the biography, which touches on Italian culture, the importance of cycling, the pressure of the media, the conspiracy theories often employed by fans and journalists. A book that was crucial for my study of Italian cycling—and also influenced my book.

By Matt Rendell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The intimate biography of the charismatic Tour de France winner Marco Pantani, now updated to include the 2014 and 2015 investigation into Pantani's death.

National Sporting Club Book of the Year

Shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award

'An exhaustively detailed and beautiful book . . . a fitting, ambivalent tribute - to the man, and to the dark heart of the sport he loved' Independent

On Valentine's day 2004, Marco Pantani was found dead in a cheap hotel. It defied belief: Pantani, having won the rare double of the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de…

Book cover of Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

Why did I love this book?

A superb and gripping account of the hold that American Football has over a small town in the USA. In telling the story of a season, Bissinger captures the glory, tragedy, and futility of sport, and its connection to racial politics, ambition, local rivalries, and a passionate fan base. Led to a brilliant TV series. Elegiac and path-breaking.

By H.G. Bissinger,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Friday Night Lights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 25th anniversary edition of the #1 New York Times bestseller and Sports Illustrated 's best football book of all time, with a new afterword by the authorReturn once again to the timeless account of the Permian Panthers of Odessa,the winningest high-school football team in Texas history. Socially and racially divided, Odessa isn't known to be a place big on dreams, but every Friday night from September to December, when the Panthers play football, dreams can come true.With frankness and compassion, H. G. Bissinger unforgettably captures a season in the life of Odessa and shows how single-minded devotion to the…

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