10 books like The Professional

By W.C. Heinz,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Professional. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Contender

By Robert Lipsyte,

Book cover of The Contender

The mantra for this novel could be that the effort matters more than anything—the attempt, the trying. Winning is something, but it’s not everything. Brooks, a high-school dropout, has to find his way in a world where his closest friend is dying from drug addiction, his household is broken, and street thugs are after him. Against all odds, if you love something and want it, the pursuit of that dream can help those who chase it with enough intensity to possibly overcome the hardship. When so many boxing stories are written with utter bleakness, there is light here.

The Contender

By Robert Lipsyte,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The breakthrough modern sports novel The Contender shows readers the true meaning of being a hero.

This acclaimed novel by celebrated sportswriter Robert Lipsyte, the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in YA fiction, is the story of a young boxer in Harlem who overcomes hardships and finds hope in the ring on his path to becoming a contender.

Alfred Brooks is scared. He’s a high-school dropout, and his grocery store job is leading nowhere. His best friend is sinking further and further into drug addiction. Some street kids are after him for something he didn’t…


Fat City

By Leonard Gardner,

Book cover of Fat City

I first picked up this novel the year I started boxing. It follows the rough lives of Billy Tully and Ernie Munger, two boxers living in separate but parallel worlds—Tully an aging boxer fooled into thinking he can relive a few more glory days and Munger figuring out the hard lessons of what it means to lose. I love how this novel amplifies people eking out difficult lives who spend most of their time in dive bars, cheap motels, and seedy parts of town engaging with dubious, colorful characters. The writing is sparse, direct, sad, and unsentimental. Here Gardner is always pursuing a tough reality.

Fat City

By Leonard Gardner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fat City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Tremendous' Geoff Dyer

'A pitch-perfect account of boxing, blue-collar bewilderment and the battle of the sexes' San Francisco Chronicle

A major cult film directed by John Huston

Stockton, California: a town of dark bars and lunchrooms, cheap hotels and farm labourers scratching a living. When two men meet in the Lido Gym - the ex-boxer Billy Tully and the novice Ernie Munger - their brief sparring session sets a fateful story in motion, initiating young Munger into the "company of men" and luring Tully back into training.

Fat City is a vivid novel of defiance and struggle, of the potent…


Rope Burns

By F.X. Toole,

Book cover of Rope Burns

This is the most beautiful, touching, and emotional book about boxing, penned by a cut man who didn’t stumble into writing until he was in his sixties. Toole’s prose is sharp, lean, commanding, and coming from the mouth of truth. His gritty characters tell it and show it like it is, and it’s Toole’s ability to demonstrate the love trainers have for their boxers and passion for the pursuit of boxing, along with all the big hearts and often unseen vulnerability in the sport, that makes this story collection so open and heavy and heartfelt and breathing and alive.

Rope Burns

By F.X. Toole,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Ring magic is different from the magic of the theatre, because the curtain never comes down - because the blood in the ring is real blood, and the broken noses and the broken hearts are real, and sometimes they are broken forever. Boxing is the magic of men in combat, the magic of will, and skill, and pain, and the risking of everything so you can respect yourself for the rest of your life.'The hermetic world of boxing is notoriously difficult for outsiders to understand, though it has provided a source of fascination to numerous writers, including Norman Mailer, A.J.…


Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine

By Thom Jones,

Book cover of Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine

The importance of these stories lies within the relatable concept of how people choose to medicate—through pills, alcohol, sex, distance, lies, boxing. Jones’s characters are full of grit and sharp tongues, broken bones, each pursuing a way out of the mediocre feeling of their existences. Some want to chase greatness, while most just dream of coming up out of the hole for a moment in hopes of seeing the light. What Jones teaches is that there’s always redemption in the beauty of the attempt. 

Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine

By Thom Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Faber Stories, a landmark series of individual volumes, presents masters of the short story form at work in a range of genres and styles.

He met Liston's gaze but found it almost impossible to sustain eye contact. Soon it became an exercise in the control of fear. Sonny Liston gave Kid Dynamite the slightest hint of a smile and winked.

In the build-up to a fight, Kid Dynamite's head swirls - with thoughts of his estranged father, his difficult relationship with his stepfather, the time he met his hero, and the sense that his own life is reaching a moment…


Boxing's Greatest Fighters

By Bert Randolph Sugar,

Book cover of Boxing's Greatest Fighters

"Who was/is the best...?" Perhaps in no sport is the question more asked and argued over than in boxing. And in boxing perhaps none is more qualified to answer the question than Bert Randolph Sugar. And while some fans may express outrage that Rocky Marciano barely makes the top twenty, and Marvin Hagler staggers into the top seventy-five, others will nod eagerly when they read that Harry Greb and Benny Leonard were better than just about anybody. Every fight fan on the planet, and maybe other planets as well, is familiar with the work of this prolific pugilistic pundit whose publications not only inform but entertain as well. Yep, it was Bert who put the Sugar in the sweet science!

Boxing's Greatest Fighters

By Bert Randolph Sugar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boxing's Greatest Fighters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Easily the most enduring of all sports questions is "Who was/is the best . . . ?" Perhaps in no sport is the question more asked and argued over than in boxing. And in boxing perhaps none is more qualified to answer the question than Bert Randolph Sugar.In Boxing's Greatest Fighters, not only does the former publisher of Ring Magazine tell us who the best fighters were, he lists them in order.Could Sugar Ray Robinson have beaten Muhammad Ali? Could Sugar Ray Leonard have beaten Sonny Liston? The answer, most experts agree, would be "no." But what if, as Bert…


The Devil and Sonny Liston

By Nick Tosches,

Book cover of The Devil and Sonny Liston

“A ghost story, a haunting unto itself”—thus, music journalist Nick Tosches opens his tough tale of the boxer Sonny Liston, two-time heavyweight champion of the world. Born in 1932 into a family of tenant farmers that lived on the border of Arkansas and Mississippi, Liston grew up with violence, reinforced by an early stint in prison. Deftly, Tosches conjures the grim, ruthless culture of professional boxing during the 1950s and 60s. Most poignantly, he shows that Liston never possessed his own life—not in the fields from which he fled as a youth and not as a winner in the ring. He was always owned by white men who operated a fundamentally racist business. For readers interested in Black cultural history, this is a timely book. 

The Devil and Sonny Liston

By Nick Tosches,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A biography of the controversial fighter follows Liston from the mean streets, where he was a petty criminal, to the heavyweight championship and his life as a pawn of organized crime. By the author of Power on Earth. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.


Tunney

By Jack Cavanaugh,

Book cover of Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ and His Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey

Among the legendary athletes of the 1920s, the unquestioned halcyon days of sports, stands Gene Tunney, the boxer who upset Jack Dempsey in spectacular fashion, notched a 77—1 record as a prizefighter, and later avenged his sole setback (to a fearless and highly unorthodox fighter named Harry Greb). Yet within a few years of retiring from the ring, Tunney willingly receded into the background. To this day, Gene Tunney’s name is most often recognized only in conjunction with his epic “long count” second bout with Dempsey. Living nearly half his life in the state of Connecticut, Mr. Tunney was the first boxer I ever corresponded with. Author Jack Cavanaugh, also from Connecticut, crafts this priceless book.

Tunney

By Jack Cavanaugh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Among the legendary athletes of the 1920s, the unquestioned halcyon days of sports, stands Gene Tunney, the boxer who upset Jack Dempsey in spectacular fashion, notched a 77—1 record as a prizefighter, and later avenged his sole setback (to a fearless and highly unorthodox fighter named Harry Greb). Yet within a few years of retiring from the ring, Tunney willingly receded into the background, renouncing the image of jock celebrity that became the stock in trade of so many of his contemporaries. To this day, Gene Tunney’s name is most often recognized only in conjunction with his epic “long count”…


Cinderella Man

By Jeremy Schaap,

Book cover of Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History

Boxing was such a popular sport during the Great Depression. My grandparents’ family regularly listened to “the fights” on the radio. Dubbed “Cinderella Man” by writer Damon Runyon, James J. Braddock, with 24 losses, won one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing championship history. He defeated Max Baer on June 13, 1935, in Long Island City, New York, for the world title in a unanimous decision after a grueling 15 rounds.

The next day, Leora Wilson wrote her two sons who’d joined the Navy during the Depression, “Expect you may have heard the Braddock and Baer fight. I’m glad Braddock won–he needs the money for his family.” Not only that, but Braddock had been “on the dole” at one point, an underdog in many ways. He was so embarrassed at needing help to feed his three children that he paid back the money he’d received from the government. A…

Cinderella Man

By Jeremy Schaap,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A riveting tale of perseverance in the face of hardship, Cinderella Man is the chronicle of the boxer James J. Braddock, whose exceptional story of achievement against all odds was the subject of a major motion picture. Braddock, dubbed the Cinderella Man, staged the greatest comeback in fighting history, rising in the span of twelve months from the relief rolls to a face-off against the heavyweight champion, Max Baer.

Against the gritty backdrop of Depression-era New York, Schaap paints a vivid picture of the fight world in its golden age, evoking a time when boxing resonated with a country trying…


Alburquerque

By Rudolfo Anaya,

Book cover of Alburquerque

I was a fan of Anaya’s well-known novel, Bless Me, Ultima, and was intrigued that this title’s spelling itself was significant, returning the first ‘r’ to the city name a century after it was dropped by a white station owner. Anaya blends fantasy with history, examining the myth of racial purity and offering a different take on being a New Mexican and our connection to the land. He also departs from a familiar depiction of Albuquerque as a sleepy western town and paints it as a vibrant metropolis with all the associated political machinations. Mostly though, I felt a strong connection with the protagonist, an up-and-coming boxer who learns he was adopted and questions the definition of identity. 

Alburquerque

By Rudolfo Anaya,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book is a winner of PEN Center West Award for Fiction. Abran Gonzalez is a homeboy from the barrio, a young boxer whose world is shattered forever the night he is summoned to his mother's deathbed. He learns he is the son of an unknown Mexican man - a man he is desperately compelled to find. His quest will bring him in contact with many unpleasant characters.


The Fight

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of The Fight

One of the best sports books ever written? Judge for yourself, but I think it is certainly among the best. Even if you don’t like boxing or martial arts, you’ll enjoy this eminently readable book about “the rumble in the jungle” in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, two heroic athletes in conflict. Although there are moments of self-deprecating humor and Mailer’s usual philosophical concerns, Mailer focuses squarely on the two athletes, their training camps and trainers, the people around them, and the experience of being in Africa. And then of course there is the fight itself, described in vivid and inventive detail that I found is as riveting to other readers as it is to me. The philosophical/metaphysical concerns here are part and parcel of those Mailer developed through his sixty years as a writer, but they are introduced in an easily digestible style and seem to me…

The Fight

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From one of the major innovators of New Journalism, Norman Mailer's The Fight is the real-life story of a clash between two of the world's greatest boxers, both in and out of the ring, published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Norman Mailer's The Fight focuses on the 1974 World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in Kinshasa, Zaire. Muhammad Ali met George Foreman in the ring. Foreman's genius employed silence, serenity and cunning. He had never been defeated. His hands were his instrument, and 'he kept them in his pockets the way a hunter lays his rifle back into its velvet case'. Together the…


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