The best books about Jews and sports

R.D. Rosen Author Of Tough Luck: Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc., and the Rise of the Modern NFL
By R.D. Rosen

Who am I?

I am an author whose works have spanned several genres, from mysteries (I won an Edgar for Strike Three You’re Dead), to psychology (I coined the word “psychobabble” and wrote a book about it), to humor (Bad Cat and Bad Dog were both bestsellers), and, more lately to nonfiction, including Such Good Girls, true story of three Jewish women who survived the Holocaust. I have worked in television as a comedian, writer, and producer, and as a senior editor in the publishing industry, but my first and enduring love is the magic of writing.

I wrote...

Tough Luck: Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc., and the Rise of the Modern NFL

By R.D. Rosen,

Book cover of Tough Luck: Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc., and the Rise of the Modern NFL

What is my book about?

It would be impossible to have stumbled on a true story that aligned with so many of my interests: professional football, organized crime, Jewish families and their secrets, and my Chicago suburban childhood.

When I discovered by chance that, in 1935, future Hall of Famer Sid Luckman’s father made New York headlines as a mobbed-up murderer who went to Sing Sing, at the same time that young Sid was making football headlines in the same papers, I was shocked that this story had been swept under the rug of history. I couldn’t not dive into this amazing saga of an 80-year-old secret. I had to gain the cooperation and confidence of Sid Luckman’s children to let me tell their father’s tragic story, which even they knew little about. 

The books I picked & why

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Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams

By Rich Cohen,

Book cover of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams

Why this book?

Cohen, whose father grew up in Brooklyn in the shadow of Murder, Inc., has written a savvy, almost affectionate portrait of a world he knew only through his dad. It was a world in which murder was cheap, and sometimes otherwise decent men learned to kill those near and dear. Although Albert Fried’s The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America is more historically detailed, Tough Jews is the more colorful introduction to the milieu of the mob and its rackets—a milieu that had Sid Luckman’s father in its clutches.

Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

By Jane Leavy,

Book cover of Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

Why this book?

This is a wonderfully readable and innovatively structured biography of one of the two greatest Jewish major leaguers in history (along with Hank Greenberg). The famously reclusive Koufax, who like Luckman grew up in Brooklyn, declined to cooperate, but Leavy alternates her second-hand chronicle of Koufax’s life with chapters recounting, inning-by-inning, the night he no-hit the Chicago Cubs in 1965. These chapters are full of fascinating tangents and “inside baseball.” Despite Koufax’s reticence, the book feels intimate, taking you inside one of the sport’s most unlikely success stories.

The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

By Nicholas Dawidoff,

Book cover of The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

Why this book?

As Dawidoff writes in this account of elusive Berg (1902-72), the major league catcher who also worked for the US as a spy, “[Hank] Greenberg punctured the stereotype that Jews were unathletic. Berg suggests that you could get a top education and be a ballplayer too.” A Princeton graduate who could speak twelve languages (but couldn’t hit in any of them), the OSS sent him to Germany during World War II to determine the state of Germany’s atomic bomb capacity. Rebuffed by the CIA after the war, the secretive, impoverished, self-consciously Jewish Berg became a world-wandering Jew. One of his prized possessions: a card that let him in for free to any major league stadium.

The Sphas: The Life and Times of Basketball's Greatest Jewish Team

By Doug Stark,

Book cover of The Sphas: The Life and Times of Basketball's Greatest Jewish Team

Why this book?

The little-known story of promoter Eddie Gottlieb’s South Philadelphia Hebrew Association team begins in the 1920s when professional basketball in this country was often played in a cage-encircled court to protect the athletes from the rabid fans in Philly and other cities in the hard-scrabble Eastern League. The unathletic Gottlieb kept the SPHAs at the top of the pack, along with Harlem’s all-Black Renaissance team. The story ends in the 1940s when helped organize the whites-only Basketball Association of American, the forerunner to the NBA. Gottlieb, who coached the original Philadelphia Warriors, spent the last 30 years of his life preparing each NBA season’s schedule by hand with a pencil and a legal pad.

Luckman at Quarterback: Football as a Sport and a Career

By Sid Luckman,

Book cover of Luckman at Quarterback: Football as a Sport and a Career

Why this book?

In 1949, while still playing for the Chicago Bears, Luckman (and a ghostwriter) penned this appealingly modest account of the quarterback’s early life. Since Luckman left no other writing behind, it’s an invaluable account of a “scrawny runt's" rise to national football celebrity by his 24th birthday. The most moving aspect of the book, for those in the know, is his silence about his father’s murder of Sid’s favorite uncle. Instead, he used a cover story for Dad’s disappearance and then kept his mouth shut for the rest of his life. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in baseball, Jewish history, and Philadelphia?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about baseball, Jewish history, and Philadelphia.

Baseball Explore 86 books about baseball
Jewish History Explore 242 books about Jewish history
Philadelphia Explore 41 books about Philadelphia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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