The best books for sports fans

Who am I?

As a New York Times Bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and visiting professor at Dartmouth College, who has written for the biggest newspapers and magazines worldwide, I look for interesting untold stories for my books. As a result, I spent the past five years researching the topic of sports fandom, what makes people fans, and how it affects them and our society.


I wrote...

Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding

By Larry Olmsted,

Book cover of Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding

What is my book about?

200 million Americans and billions more worldwide are sports fans, more than belong to any organized religion or any other collective group. Sports fandom is simply the biggest social structure on earth. So, what does fandom do to us, to our brains, our health, our perceptions, our relationships, careers, and such? What does it do to society, affecting tolerance, racism, politics, the peace process and international relations? What vital roles has sports fandom played in history? How does it, again and again, provide post-traumatic healing for communities, cities, and entire countries after natural and manmade disasters? 

I have deeply researched all these angles, using very current scientific research, and found the effects of sports fandom in our lives to be overwhelmingly positive. In the spectator sports equation, more than 99.9% of participants are fans, yet thousands of books have been written on athletes, teams, and coaches, with virtually nothing else on fans.

The books I picked & why

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Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

By John Carlin,

Book cover of Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

Why this book?

One of the many benefits of sports fandom I researched is its use in international affairs, nation-building, and the peace process. There is no better example of this than what has been called the “South African Miracle,” and in this great book, veteran English journalist Carlin, who was in the country for years covering its politics, shows how the late great Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize winner and South Africa’s first black President, used the intense fandom behind the nation’s beloved spectator sport, rugby, to ease the transition from apartheid to democracy and prevent an almost inevitable Civil War. The book was later the basis for the Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon movie Invictus.

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

By John Carlin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Playing the Enemy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Read the book that inspired the Academy Award and Golden Globe winning 2009 film INVICTUS featuring Morgan Freeman and Matt Daymon, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Beginning in a jail cell and ending in a rugby tournament- the true story of how the most inspiring charm offensive in history brought South Africa together. After being released from prison and winning South Africa's first free election, Nelson Mandela presided over a country still deeply divided by fifty years of apartheid. His plan was ambitious if not far-fetched: use the national rugby team, the Springboks-long an embodiment of white-supremacist rule-to embody and engage…


The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL

By Mark Bowden,

Book cover of The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL

Why this book?

I’m a big fan of bestselling author, journalist, and incredible researcher Mark Bowden, but this is easily his least well-known work. For those not up for the 1000+ pages of Guests of the Ayatollah or Killing Pablo (the basis for the Netflix series Narcos) or the staggering intensity of his true war tale Blackhawk Down, this is a more digestible choice. It simultaneously showcases three very different things about sports in America. First, how the NFL ascended to primacy using the new medium of television to surpass baseball and become the most popular sport. Secondly, how nationally televised sporting events became an integral part of our social fabric and the biggest broadcasts of any kind. Finally, for football fans, Bowden explains the seismic transition in the passing game, elevating the sport from an art to a science.

The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL

By Mark Bowden,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the remarkable story of the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Colts and the Giants - considered by many to be the greatest American football game ever played - from Mark Bowden, bestselling author of "Black Hawk Down". On December 28, 1958, the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts met under the lights of Yankee Stadium for the American NFL Championship game. Played in front of sixty-four thousand fans and millions of television viewers around the country, the game would be remembered as the greatest in football history. On the field and roaming the sidelines were seventeen future…


Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania

By Warren St. John,

Book cover of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania

Why this book?

Journalist and college football fan St. John takes us on a hilarious and eye-opening ride into the most passionate end of fandom. Through his entire season spent following his team on the road in an RV, St. John gives readers a deep immersion into the world of ultra-passionate fans, introducing characters who do things like skip their daughter’s wedding and risk missing heart transplant surgery to attend football games. We learn about NCAA licensed logo funeral caskets and such, while he paints an often funny and always vivid picture of the highly devoted sports fandom, all through the lens of a single legendary football program, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania

By Warren St. John,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is it about sports that turns otherwise sane people into raving lunatics? Why does winning compel people to tear down goal posts, and losing, to drown themselves in bad keg beer? In short, why do fans care?

In search of answers, Warren St. John seeks out the roving community of RVers who follow the Alabama Crimson Tide from game to game. A movable feast of Weber grills and Igloo coolers, these are hard-core football fans who arrive on Wednesday for Saturday’s game: The Reeses, who skipped their own daughter’s wedding because it coincided with a Bama game; Ray Pradat,…


Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

By James McManus,

Book cover of Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

Why this book?

Some books seem almost too good to be true, and that’s the case when journalist McManus enters the World Series of Poker in order to use the first-person experience to anchor his book about Las Vegas poker culture. In almost impossible fashion he ends up at the final table – something unlikely to ever happen again - taking readers along for the exciting ride. He parallels the action with several other plotlines, including the mysterious and very Vegas-esque murder of tournament host Ted Binion, the progress of women competitors in the sport, and the rapid growth of poker. A classic of the genre, it also demonstrates why sports fans love an underdog, and how with sport’s uncertainty of outcome, truly anything can happen, making the Cinderella story vital to the nature of sports fandom.

Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

By James McManus,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Positively Fifth Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A steamy chronicle of life in Las Vegas investigates the murder of poker player Ted Binion, revealing a secret world of kinky sex, black magic, and science lurking at the heart of gambling's world series.


The Greatest Game Ever Played: Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and the Birth of Modern Golf

By Mark Frost,

Book cover of The Greatest Game Ever Played: Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and the Birth of Modern Golf

Why this book?

No one watches an NFL game and decides to put on a helmet and get knocked down, but once in a rare while, fans are so moved as spectators that they get off the couch and become participants. This increased activity is important to a largely sedentary nation with an obesity epidemic and there are several historical examples of this “participation effect,” when spectators become players, but none bigger than golf. Before this Cinderella story, golf was an elite niche sport and the vast majority of courses private. “Normal” people simply did not play. But when Francis Quimet, a 20-year-old caddie and son of a handyman reached the US Open final (then match play format), it electrified the public. This changed golf forever, sparking millions to take up the game and thousands of courses, overwhelmingly public, to be built. If not for the dramatic 1913 US Open, golf today might be as popular as dressage.

The Greatest Game Ever Played: Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and the Birth of Modern Golf

By Mark Frost,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This fascinating narrative chronicles the birth of the modern game of golf, told through the story of Harry Vardon and Francis Ouimet. These men, in pursuit of their passion for a sport that had captivated them since childhood, lifted themselves out of their lives of common poverty and broke down rigid social barriers, transforming the game of golf into one of the most widely played sports in the world today.

Vardon and Ouimet were two men from different generations and vastly different corners of the world whose lives, unbeknown to them at the time, bore remarkable similarities, setting them on…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the NFL, golf, and California?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the NFL, golf, and California.

The NFL Explore 12 books about the NFL
Golf Explore 24 books about golf
California Explore 253 books about California

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Quiet, The Biggest Bluff, and Untamed if you like this list.