94 books like Heaven Is a Playground

By Rick Telander,

Here are 94 books that Heaven Is a Playground fans have personally recommended if you like Heaven Is a Playground. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams

Michael D'Orso Author Of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

From my list on capturing the cultural aspects of basketball.

Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.

Michael's book list on capturing the cultural aspects of basketball

Michael D'Orso Why did Michael love this book?

This book is similar to mine, following a team of high school basketball players through a season, but it’s set in an urban environment: Brooklyn’s Coney Island. The boys it focuses on are African-American, the off-court struggles they and their community face (crime, violence, drug use, the lure of the streets, and the corruption of college basketball recruiters) differ from those that challenge the kids in remote Alaska, but the joy and solace they find in the game itself are the same. The writing is terrific—lucidly and intimately bringing to life the four boys whose lives it focuses on.

By Darcy Frey,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Last Shot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Darcy Frey chronicles the aspirations of four young men as they navigate the NCAA recruitment process, their only hope of escape from a life of crime, poverty, and despair.

It ought to be just a game, but basketball on the playgrounds of Coney Island is much more than that. In The Last Shot, the aspirations of a few of the neighborhood's most promising players reveal that what they have going for them (athletic talent, grace, and years of dedication) may not be enough to defeat what's working against them: woefully inadequate schooling, family circumstances that are often desperate, and the…


Book cover of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle

Michael D'Orso Author Of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

From my list on capturing the cultural aspects of basketball.

Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.

Michael's book list on capturing the cultural aspects of basketball

Michael D'Orso Why did Michael love this book?

While this book mirrors the template of Darcy Frey’s book and my own, following a high school basketball team through an entire season, the setting—an upper-class, genteel community of white suburbanites in Amherst, Massachusetts—is a world away from that of those stories, and, most importantly, the athletes are female. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, through her elegant writing, brings a piercing understanding of the obstacles these girls face in the wake of Title IX as they prove their toughness, perseverance, and abilities in a sport traditionally dominated by men. 

By Madeleine Blais,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in 1995 to huge critical acclaim and a finalist for the NBCC Award for Nonfiction, Madeleine Blais's In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle is a modern sports writing classic. Now expanded and updated with a new epilogue, Blais's book tells the story of a season in the life of the Amherst Lady Hurricanes, a powerhouse girls' high school basketball team from a small western Massachusetts college town. The Hurricanes were a talented team with a near-perfect record, but for five straight years, when it came to the crunch of the playoffs, they somehow lacked the scrappy, hard-driving…


Book cover of A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton

Michael D'Orso Author Of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

From my list on capturing the cultural aspects of basketball.

Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.

Michael's book list on capturing the cultural aspects of basketball

Michael D'Orso Why did Michael love this book?

Bill Bradley was as far from a typical college and NBA superstar as can possibly be imagined. He was 6’5” but could barely dunk. In a race between the tortoise and the hare, he would be the tortoise. Yet, with an uncanny set of shooting, passing, and rebounding skills, he became the nation’s top high school prospect, with more than 70 colleges, including every powerhouse in the sport, offering him a scholarship. Instead, he chose to play at lowly Princeton, in one of the game’s weakest conferences—the Ivy League—where he averaged more than 30 points a game over the course of his career, becoming a two-time first-team All-American and, in his senior season, national player of the year, leading the Tigers to the 1965 NCAA tournament’s Final Four, in which he scored an unheard of 58 points against Wichita State and was named the tournament’s MVP—the only player to this…

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Sense of Where You Are as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book from the legendary New Yorker writer John McPhee, tells about Bill Bradley when he was the best basketball player Princeton had ever seen.

When John McPhee met Bill Bradley, both were at the beginning of their careers. In A Sense of Where You Are,
McPhee delineates for the reader the training and techniques that made Bradley the extraordinary athlete he was, and this part of the book is a blueprint of superlative basketball. But athletic prowess alone would not explain Bradley's magnetism, which is in the quality of the man himself—his self-discipline, his rationality, and his sense…


Book cover of Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man

Michael D'Orso Author Of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

From my list on capturing the cultural aspects of basketball.

Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.

Michael's book list on capturing the cultural aspects of basketball

Michael D'Orso Why did Michael love this book?

In this thoughtful, philosophical autobiography, the winningest player in NBA history uses his storied career with the Boston Celtics as a cogent window into the broken promises—mostly racial—of the American Dream. Co-written with historian Taylor Branch, whose trilogy on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., won the Pulitzer Prize, Russell, who has devoted as much of his life to activism in the cause of social justice as to the game of basketball, shares the life lessons he has learned on the court, from his schoolboy days in Louisiana to his All-American stint at the University of Seattle, to his record-setting career with the Celtics, where he won an astounding eleven championship rings in thirteen years. This book was published in 1979, but its insights are as relevant and penetrating today as they were then.

By William F. Russell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The perceptive, controversial, and idiosyncratic basketball star recounts the decisive events of his life and career, offers an inside look at professional basketball, and sounds off about freedom, race, marriage, religion, and American culture


Book cover of The City Game: Triumph, Scandal, and a Legendary Basketball Team

Jeffrey S. Gurock Author Of Marty Glickman: The Life of an American Jewish Sports Legend

From my list on American Jews and sports.

Who am I?

I am a professor of American Jewish history who has written extensively on how sports have impacted the lives of American Jews. I have been especially interested in how the acceptance or rejection of Jews in the sports arena has underscored that group’s place within this country’s society. I have been likewise intrigued by how the call of athleticism has challenged their ethnic and religious identity. The saga of Marty Glickman, a story of adversity and triumph, speaks boldly to critical issues that this minority group has faced.

Jeffrey's book list on American Jews and sports

Jeffrey S. Gurock Why did Jeffrey love this book?

Tragically, in 1951, players on the City College basketball team – Jews and African Americans – were caught up in a point-shaving scandal that rocked the city and the Jewish community.

Goodman tells this sad story comprehensively and unsparingly, and took me back into the neighborhoods where these athletes grew up and detailed how organized crime figures seduced them. He also notes importantly how this corruption of basketball which was then seen as a “Jewish sport” fed antisemitic attitudes against Jews.

By Matthew Goodman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The City Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The powerful story of a college basketball team who carried an era’s brightest hopes—racial harmony, social mobility, and the triumph of the underdog—but whose success was soon followed by a shocking downfall

“A masterpiece of American storytelling.”—Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Devil in the Grove

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST SPORTS BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

The unlikeliest of champions, the 1949–50 City College Beavers were extraordinary by every measure. New York’s City College was a tuition-free, merit-based college in Harlem known far more for its intellectual achievements and political radicalism than its…


Book cover of Nemesis

Hannah Wunsch Author Of The Autumn Ghost: How the Battle Against a Polio Epidemic Revolutionized Modern Medical Care

From my list on medical history that reads like fiction.

Who am I?

As a critical care doctor, I love pausing when taking care of patients in a modern ICU to reflect on how far we’ve come in the care we can provide. I want to be entertained while learning about the past, and so I seek out books on medical history that find the wonder and the beauty (and the bizarre and chilling) and make it come alive. I get excited when medical history can be shared in a way that isn’t dry, or academic. These books all do that for me and capture some part of that crazy journey through time. 

Hannah's book list on medical history that reads like fiction

Hannah Wunsch Why did Hannah love this book?

This is actually fiction that reads like non-fiction! It is the story of a polio epidemic in the 1940s in New Jersey and how it infiltrates a summer camp.

For me, the book completely captures, better than any real descriptions, the fear of polio, and the way it completely upended lives. It’s a great story, and it is the book that made me want to learn more about this complex and terrifying disease – and also made me so grateful for the polio vaccine.

By Philip Roth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 'the stifling heat of equatorial Newark', a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, life-long disability, even death. This is the startling and surprising theme of Roth's wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely-knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.

At the centre of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful, twenty-three-year old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and a weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him…


Book cover of Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion

Shastri Akella Author Of The Sea Elephants

From my list on international queer heroes.

Who am I?

When I first wrote The Sea Elephants, my protagonist (Shagun) and I were both asexual. My writing professor read the novel and said it’s dying to be a gay love story. Eventually, when I came out and rewrote the book from my newfound identity of queerness, I searched for queer stories that, like mine, were set outside the US or had non-American leads. And I realized that this is a significant gap that needs to be bridged. I felt a tremendous sense of solidarity with the books I did find. They made me feel less alone. Later, as an assistant professor of English, I’ve taught all of these books.

Shastri's book list on international queer heroes

Shastri Akella Why did Shastri love this book?

The rare South Asian diasporic novel with a queer lead, Bushra Rehman’s novel is set in the 1980s New York and follows Razia, a second generation Pakistani-American girl living in Queens as she finds strong female friendship with Taslima and eventually falls in love with Angela. But being Pakistani-American means, for Razia, making a difficult choice: home or love.

This novel will resonate deeply with anyone who loves New York or has found themselves on the fringes of their families because of who they are.

By Bushra Rehman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Razia Mirza grows up amid the wild grape vines and backyard sunflowers of Corona, Queens, with her best friend, Saima, by her side. When a family rift drives the girls apart, Razia's heart is broken. She finds solace in Taslima, a new girl in her close knit Pakistani-American community. They embark on a series of small rebellions: listening to scandalous music, wearing mini skirts, and cutting school to explore the city.

When Razia is accepted to Stuyvesant, a prestigious high school in Manhattan, the gulf between the person she is and the daughter her parents want her to be, widens.…


Book cover of The Gem Thief

Linda Shenton Matchett Author Of Spies & Sweethearts

From my list on historical female protagonists in unusual jobs.

Who am I?

As a former Human Resources executive I’m fascinated by the history of women in the workforce, especially in jobs that have traditionally been held by men. I was first drawn into the topic as a writer of WWII novels. Through memoirs, autobiographies, and oral history interviews I learned firsthand about women who entered the workforce to take the place of men who were serving in combat or the defense industry. In an effort to spotlight the women of this era as well as those who have gone before, many of my protagonists hold unusual jobs such as spy, war correspondent, pilot, doctor, restaurant owner, and gold miner. 

Linda's book list on historical female protagonists in unusual jobs

Linda Shenton Matchett Why did Linda love this book?

Having worked for a jewelry designer in the Washington, DC area, The Gem Thief caught my eye. The story took me back to my days in the shop (good memories!), and the author has obviously done her research, because her accuracy is impeccable. I liked all of the characters, but I bonded with one of the secondary characters so much that I felt we could be friends in “real life.” I’ve been to New York City often, so I also enjoyed revisiting the city. The book was both comfortable because of all the associations to “past lives,” and exciting as I turned pages wondering what would happen next.

By Sian Ann Bessey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

2018 HONORABLE Mention for Romance Forward INDIES Winners Gracie Miller is a small-town girl who has landed her dream job in New York City. As jewelry designer for one of the most prestigious jewelers in the world, she completed a particularly stunning piece, a custom setting for a large pink diamond. But when her billionaire client Mrs. Katsaros comes to repair a minor issue with the setting, Gracie is horrified to realize it is not the ring she created. Someone has forged her design, and the priceless diamond is gone.

Mrs. Katsaros has no desire to bring media attention to…


Book cover of The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker

Alex Witchel Author Of All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments

From my list on to read in the waiting room.

Who am I?

I am the oldest of four children and was always close to my mom. She was a trailblazer, earning her doctorate in educational psychology in 1963 and teaching at the college level. In her early 70’s her memory started to falter, and she lived with dementia for 10 years before she died. I was a reporter at The New York Times and had published three books by that point. My fourth became All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments. I spent years in doctors’ and hospital’s waiting rooms and these are some of the books that helped make that time not only tolerable but sometimes, even joyful. 

Alex's book list on to read in the waiting room

Alex Witchel Why did Alex love this book?

“I saw a little boy on the street today, and he cried so eloquently that I will never forget him.” Maeve Brennan wrote for the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town section as ‘The Long-Winded Lady’ from 1954 to 1968. She roamed the city’s streets, bars, and restaurants, eyes wide open, weaving stories of vivid emotional detail from the most seemingly mundane moments. None of these are too long – in the waiting room concentration can be fleeting – but each sketch engages. Her story of the crying boy ends this way: “He might have been the last bird in the world, except that if he had been the last bird there would have been no one to hear him.”

By Maeve Brennan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Of all the incomparable stable of journalists who wrote for The New Yorker during its glory days in the Fifties and Sixties,” writes The Independent, “the most distinctive was Irish-born Maeve Brennan.” From 1954 to 1981, Maeve Brennan wrote for The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” column under the pen name “The Long-Winded Lady.” Her unforgettable sketches—prose snapshots of life in small restaurants, cheap hotels, and crowded streets of Times Square and the Village—together form a timeless, bittersweet tribute to what she called the “most reckless, most ambitious, most confused, most comical, the saddest and coldest and most human…


Book cover of A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York

John Oller Author Of Rogues' Gallery: The Birth of Modern Policing and Organized Crime in Gilded Age New York

From my list on crime and punishment in the Gilded Age.

Who am I?

I’d written modern true crime before—a book that helped solve a 40-year-old cold case—and wanted to try my hand at historical true crime. I live in Manhattan, home to the greatest crime stories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so I was able to see the actual locations where the grisliest murders, the biggest bank heists, and the crookedest con games took place. What really drew me in, though, were the many colorful, unforgettable characters, both good and bad, cops and robbers, who walked the bustling streets of Old New York during the fascinating era known as the Gilded Age. 

John's book list on crime and punishment in the Gilded Age

John Oller Why did John love this book?

If you read one biography/memoir of a Gilded Age criminal, make it this one. It tells the story (often in his own words) of the celebrated pickpocket George Appo, an odd little half-Chinese, half-Irish, one-eyed fellow who could make $800 in a few days when most working men made less than that in a year. Appo would rivet New Yorkers when he testified about his second career as a “green goods” con man, working to swindle gullible out-of-towners who came to buy purported counterfeit money at a discount, only to discover that there was nothing but sawdust inside the packages they carried away. Appo refused to name names, though, as he was a self-described “good fellow.”  

By Timothy J. Gilfoyle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Pickpocket's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In George Appo's world, child pickpockets swarmed the crowded streets, addicts drifted in furtive opium dens, and expert swindlers worked the lucrative green-goods game. On a good night Appo made as much as a skilled laborer made in a year. Bad nights left him with more than a dozen scars and over a decade in prisons from the Tombs and Sing Sing to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he reunited with another inmate, his father. The child of Irish and Chinese immigrants, Appo grew up in the notorious Five Points and Chinatown neighborhoods. He rose as…


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