45 books like The Professional

By W.C. Heinz,

Here are 45 books that The Professional fans have personally recommended if you like The Professional. 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 Contender

Jonathan Starke Author Of You've Got Something Coming

From my list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters.

Who am I?

All these pugilistic narratives touch on people in hardship moving through dark spaces in their lives. I care about people on the fringes. I’ve known many people who have little or nothing. For a lot of my life, I’ve had little. I used to box. When something’s in your blood, you think about it every day. I can’t remember a day I haven’t thought about boxing. Once you’ve done it, it’s hard not to want to go back. You try to just pretend it away, but when it’s in you, it’s got hold. Because I understand this so well, feel it, have lived it, I absorb these boxing stories in a different kind of way. 

Jonathan's book list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters

Jonathan Starke Why did Jonathan love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of Fat City

Jonathan Starke Author Of You've Got Something Coming

From my list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters.

Who am I?

All these pugilistic narratives touch on people in hardship moving through dark spaces in their lives. I care about people on the fringes. I’ve known many people who have little or nothing. For a lot of my life, I’ve had little. I used to box. When something’s in your blood, you think about it every day. I can’t remember a day I haven’t thought about boxing. Once you’ve done it, it’s hard not to want to go back. You try to just pretend it away, but when it’s in you, it’s got hold. Because I understand this so well, feel it, have lived it, I absorb these boxing stories in a different kind of way. 

Jonathan's book list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters

Jonathan Starke Why did Jonathan love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of Rope Burns

Jonathan Starke Author Of You've Got Something Coming

From my list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters.

Who am I?

All these pugilistic narratives touch on people in hardship moving through dark spaces in their lives. I care about people on the fringes. I’ve known many people who have little or nothing. For a lot of my life, I’ve had little. I used to box. When something’s in your blood, you think about it every day. I can’t remember a day I haven’t thought about boxing. Once you’ve done it, it’s hard not to want to go back. You try to just pretend it away, but when it’s in you, it’s got hold. Because I understand this so well, feel it, have lived it, I absorb these boxing stories in a different kind of way. 

Jonathan's book list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters

Jonathan Starke Why did Jonathan love this book?

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.

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.…


Book cover of Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine

Jonathan Starke Author Of You've Got Something Coming

From my list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters.

Who am I?

All these pugilistic narratives touch on people in hardship moving through dark spaces in their lives. I care about people on the fringes. I’ve known many people who have little or nothing. For a lot of my life, I’ve had little. I used to box. When something’s in your blood, you think about it every day. I can’t remember a day I haven’t thought about boxing. Once you’ve done it, it’s hard not to want to go back. You try to just pretend it away, but when it’s in you, it’s got hold. Because I understand this so well, feel it, have lived it, I absorb these boxing stories in a different kind of way. 

Jonathan's book list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters

Jonathan Starke Why did Jonathan love this book?

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. 

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…


Book cover of Boxing's Greatest Fighters

Mark Allen Baker Author Of The World Colored Heavyweight Championship, 1876-1937

From my list on any fan of boxing.

Who am I?

Having written over twenty-five books, including ten books on boxing, I have been involved with the sport through my work as a historian for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I also sit on the Board of Directors Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame and have penned biographies on five members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. My name is Mark Allen Baker, and I am a historian and award-winning author.

Mark's book list on any fan of boxing

Mark Allen Baker Why did Mark love this book?

"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!

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…


Book cover of The Devil and Sonny Liston

Claudia Keenan Author Of Waking Dreamers, Unexpected American Lives: 1880-1980

From my list on on American culture that will surprise you.

Who am I?

Claudia Keenan is a historian of education whose interest in American culture was awakened during her doctoral studies, when she researched the lives of mid-twentieth-century educators. Growing up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., she developed a strong affinity with place and time among the beautiful old homes and avenues lined with elms, set against a backdrop of racial strife and ethnic politics. She continues to reconstruct and interpret American lives on her blog, and has recently finished a book about Henry Collins Brown, founder of the Museum of the City of New York. Claudia received a BA from the University of Chicago and a PhD from New York University.

Claudia's book list on on American culture that will surprise you

Claudia Keenan Why did Claudia love this book?

“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. 

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.


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

Mark Allen Baker Author Of The World Colored Heavyweight Championship, 1876-1937

From my list on any fan of boxing.

Who am I?

Having written over twenty-five books, including ten books on boxing, I have been involved with the sport through my work as a historian for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I also sit on the Board of Directors Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame and have penned biographies on five members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. My name is Mark Allen Baker, and I am a historian and award-winning author.

Mark's book list on any fan of boxing

Mark Allen Baker Why did Mark love this book?

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.

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”…


Book cover of Real

Kathryn C. Kelly Author Of Savage Suit

From my list on billionaire romances on my keeper shelf.

Who am I?

I’ve been reading romance since I was a teenager and writing them just as long. I have given workshops and panels, written a chapter on romance novels in a Kathryn Falk book, and was once the VP of SOLA. I have read thousands of books but few are memorable enough to become my favorites.

Kathryn's book list on billionaire romances on my keeper shelf

Kathryn C. Kelly Why did Kathryn love this book?

I had never read a book about professional boxer, fiction or nonfiction. The subject never interested me. I watched one or two fights on TV. The last was decades ago with the infamous Mike Tyson ear-chomping incident.

When Real by Katy Evan began appearing in my recommended reads, it was a hard no for me. Then, I began seeing the reviews about Remington Tate, a disgraced former boxer who is now a star on the dangerous Underground Circuit.

When I read the book, it instantly captivated me because of Ms. Evan’s descriptions and the emotions she captures. His simple, “I’m Remington,” to Brooke after a brutal fight in the ring won me over and I’ve been a fan ever since.

By Katy Evans,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Brooke Dumas has reinvented herself after a shattered Olympic dream and is now a sports rehab specialist. Dragged to watch an underground fight by her best friend, Melanie, she never expected her life would change when she met Remington Tate "Riptide" - a famous underground fighter who has danger written all over him. Given his reputation, she's convinced he's only interested in a one night stand when he summons her backstage but he hires her as his sports rehab specialist instead. Traveling together, Brooke's physical and emotional attraction to the enigmatic Remy tests her boundaries. She wants him more than…


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

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of Leora's Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression

From my list on surprising stories about the Great Depression.

Who am I?

I am the author of two books (the first book was Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II), a blogger, an Iowa historian, and a regular contributor to Our American Stories. I’ve woven letters and newspaper clippings, along with memoirs and family stories, into the narratives of the lives of Clabe and Leora Wilson. As their oldest granddaughter, I also enjoy giving programs, as well as TV and radio interviews, about the Wilson family.

Joy's book list on surprising stories about the Great Depression

Joy Neal Kidney Why did Joy love this book?

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…

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…


Book cover of Go: A Coming of Age Novel

Milena Michiko Flašar Author Of Mr Kato Plays Family

From my list on diving into modern Japan from someone half Japanese.

Who am I?

As someone half-Japanese who grew up in Austria, I've spent the last few years making sense of my relationship to my mother’s homeland. My mother spoke Japanese to us children from an early age, and we spent many childhood summers with our grandparents in Okayama. Because of this, my mother's home feels intimate and familiar to me. But it is also distant and foreign, and it is precisely this unknown, the seemingly exotic and mysterious, that I hope to approach through reading. For me, Japan is a kind of poetic space I set my characters in. In my last three books Japan was both the setting and the secret protagonist.

Milena's book list on diving into modern Japan from someone half Japanese

Milena Michiko Flašar Why did Milena love this book?

This is a fast-paced story about a young man named Sugehara.

He is a so-called Zainichi Chosenjin who falls in love with a Japanese woman. Through him, the North Korean minority is given a face and a voice, and what the reader learns, namely, that every step he takes is a step against an invisible wall of racism and marginalization, is more evident here than practically anywhere else.

“Go!” you want to scream at him. “Run up against the wall! Knock it down!” The weight of the subject matter goes hand in hand with language that masterfully expresses the hunted but determined nature of the main character and his closest circle.

Not a book that can be put lightly aside after reading. It stays with you for a long time, and its reverberations – of Sugehara’s running, of his footsteps – remain in the ether for a long time, like…

By Kazuki Kaneshiro, Takami Nieda (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

A Freeman Award Winner for Young Adult Literature

For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in boxing, sports journalism, and coming of age?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about boxing, sports journalism, and coming of age.

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