The best books that go beyond the final score

Why am I passionate about this?

I immersed myself in sports when I was young. Watched every game. Knew every statistic and piece of trivia. Lived and died with my favorite teams’ fortunes. But as I aged and became a writer, the outcomes of the games mattered less and less to me. The sports themselves mattered less and less. What mattered were the stories that I could uncover and tell—stories that, by the nature of sports and competition, branched into all the themes and fields of the human condition.


I wrote...

The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality

By Mike Sielski,

Book cover of The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality

What is my book about?

This is Batman Begins for the Black Mamba. This is Kobe Bryant’s origin story, a lyrical, detailed, and intimate look at how his childhood shaped him—for good, for bad, for flawed, for fascinating—into a global superstar and cultural touchstone. Readers travel from the neighborhood streets of Southwest Philadelphia to the Bryant family’s isolation in Italy during Kobe’s childhood to the leafy suburbs of Lower Merion, where his legend was born. 

Based on hundreds of interviews and never-before-revealed interview tapes from Bryant’s teenaged years, The Rise is more than a basketball book. It’s an exploration of the identity and making of an icon and the effect of his development on those around him―the essence of the man before he truly became a man.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich

Mike Sielski Why did I love this book?

I rushed out to buy Kriegel’s bio of Pistol Pete when it hit stores in 2007.

I’d always found Maravich fascinating as a basketball player—the guy is still the all-time leading scorer in Division I men’s basketball history, and he played just three years of college ball—but didn’t know much about his life.

I wondered: How was there enough material for Kriegel to write a full-length book about him? Turns out, more than enough for Mark to write a brilliant book that, like so many great sports stories, is really about fathers and sons.

By Mark Kriegel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling Pistol is more than the biography of a ballplayer. It's the stuff of classic novels: the story of a boy transformed by his father's dream—and the cost of that dream. Even as Pete Maravich became Pistol Pete—a basketball icon for baby boomers—all the Maraviches paid a price. Now acclaimed author Mark Kriegel has brilliantly captured the saga of an American family: its rise, its apparent ruin, and, finally, its redemption.

Almost four decades have passed since Maravich entered the national consciousness as basketball's boy wizard. No one had ever played the game like the kid…


Book cover of Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Mike Sielski Why did I love this book?

One of the books that made me want to write books.

I will never forget the first time I read Hillenbrand’s description of a Tijuana racetrack where jockeys would submerge themselves into giant piles of horse manure, made sauna-like by the blazing sun, to shed weight.

One day, floodwaters from nearby mountain streams crashed through the town and the track, sweeping the piles into “a mighty shit Godzilla.” Every page of Seabiscuit is like that: tactile, with language that reads like a dream.

By Laura Hillenbrand,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Seabiscuit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of the runaway phenomenon Unbroken comes a universal underdog story about the horse who came out of nowhere to become a legend.

Seabiscuit was one of the most electrifying and popular attractions in sports history and the single biggest newsmaker in the world in 1938, receiving more coverage than FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. But his success was a surprise to the racing establishment, which had written off the crooked-legged racehorse with the sad tail. Three men changed Seabiscuit’s fortunes:

Charles Howard was a onetime bicycle repairman who introduced the automobile to…


Book cover of Giant Steps: The Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Mike Sielski Why did I love this book?

I have been reading reams of material about and by Jabbar as part of the research for my next book, and this, among his several memoirs, is my favorite.

It is raw and honest and insightful, putting the reader inside the mind and heart of one of the 20th century’s greatest and most consequential athletes. Best of all, Jabbar wrote Giant Steps in the early 1980s, when he was still an elite player for the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s difficult to imagine an athlete of his status doing something similar today, in this age of social-media image-burnishing.

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peter Knobler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The renowned basketball player shares his professional and private life and discusses his struggle to achieve a balance between the demands of being a celebrity and his own needs


Book cover of All Over But the Shoutin'

Mike Sielski Why did I love this book?

After my freshman year of college in 1994, a professor/mentor of mine gave me a copy of this book, enclosing a hand-written note in which he said he felt confident that I would someday end up on a “Pulitzer wall,” just like Bragg had at The New York Times.

I read portions and chapters of this book every year, not only because Bragg writes so beautifully but also because, though he and I come from disparate cultural and geographical backgrounds, there are aspects of his rise through daily journalism that were similar to mine.

One of those similarities: Bragg started out covering high school football. So did I. Still waiting on that Pulitzer, though.

By Rick Bragg,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked All Over But the Shoutin' as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the Pulitzer Prize–winner and bestselling author, "a grand memoir.... Bragg tells about the South with such power and bone-naked love ... he will make you cry" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

This haunting, harrowing, gloriously moving recollection of a life on the American margin is the story of Rick Bragg, who grew up dirt-poor in northeastern Alabama, seemingly destined for either the cotton mills or the penitentiary, and instead became a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for The New York Times. It is also the story of Bragg's father, a hard-drinking man with a murderous temper and the habit of running…


Book cover of Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World

Mike Sielski Why did I love this book?

Maraniss is best known for his terrific biographies of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Vince Lombardi; some consider that last one, When Pride Still Mattered, the best sports book ever written.

But Rome 1960, his narrative of the 1960 Summer Olympics, is my favorite. The reason is timing. I read it in 2008 while I was working on my second book. Each morning, I’d consume Maraniss’ smooth prose, which was fortified by the depth of his research.

Each afternoon and evening, inspired, I’d write some of my book, trying my damnedest to equal him, always falling short, of course, but thrilled in the attempt.

By David Maraniss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rome 1960 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An account of the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome reveals the competition's unexpected influence on the modern world, in a narrative synopsis that pays tribute to such athletes as Cassius Clay and Wilma Rudolph while evaluating the roles of Cold War propaganda, civil rights, and politics. 250,000 first printing.


You might also like...

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Alabama, horse racing, and basketball players?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Alabama, horse racing, and basketball players.

Alabama Explore 64 books about Alabama
Horse Racing Explore 43 books about horse racing
Basketball Players Explore 13 books about basketball players