The best football books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about football and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

A Fan's Notes

By Frederick Exley,

Book cover of A Fan's Notes

Exley was an immensely talented but deeply troubled writer who was able to turn his lifelong obsession with New York Giants superstar Frank Gifford into one of the best novels of post-war America. Starting with his days attending the University of Southern California in the same class as golden boy tailback Gifford, Exley’s patently autobiographical protagonist unwisely measures his own tortured life against that of the football icon. The result is a poignant and hilarious story that provides the most penetrating account ever written of what it means to be a fan. “Life isn't all a goddam football game!” Exley’s hero cries at one point. “You won't always get the girl! Life is rejection and pain and loss.” Exley’s genius is to transform that loss into an undisputed literary victory.  


Who am I?

I’m a novelist (Human Capital, The New City, and Security) with a lifelong passion for sports, from my boyhood days as a Yankees fan during their woebegone late Sixties years, to my career as the father of an All-ACC wide receiver.  In my youth, I was a workmanlike catcher, mediocre quarterback, and hard-working 800-meter runner who came this close to breaking two minutes.  These days, I mainly enjoy watching great moments in sports history on YouTube.  Through it all, I have always believed that sports are about much more than wins, losses, records, and titles.


I wrote...

Something like the Gods: A Cultural History of the Athlete from Achilles to LeBron

By Stephen Amidon,

Book cover of Something like the Gods: A Cultural History of the Athlete from Achilles to LeBron

What is my book about?

Why is the athlete so important to us? Few public figures can dominate the public imagination with such power and authority. Even in our cynical times, when celebrities can be debunked at the speed of light, many still look to athletes as models for our moral and emotional lives. An aging fastballer goes for a few last wins in his final season, and he becomes an exemplar for our daily struggles against time.

Drawing from art, literature, politics, and history, Something like the Gods explores the powerful grip the athlete has always held on the Western imagination. Amidon examines the archetype of the competitor as it evolved from antiquity to the present day, from athlete-warriors such as Achilles and Ulysses to global media icons like Ali, Jordan, and Tiger Woods.

Friday Night Lights

By H.G. Bissinger,

Book cover of Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

If you’re in the know, you understand the tagline used in my book list. It comes from the TV show inspired by this amazing work of journalism. I first read Friday Night Lights in college 25 years ago as a sociology/history assignment. A major sports fan, I was excited to see a book about high school football on my required list. This book, though...it’s about so much more. This inside look at a year spent with one of the most dominant Texas high school football programs delves into the politics of small towns, the pressure put on young athletes, personal identity, and what happens when the one thing that seems to matter more than oil in Texas is stripped away—playing days.

While I do love the movie and show this book inspired, it’s Bissinger’s book that deserves to be made mandatory reading for the blunt, heartbreaking, and semi-hopeful portrait it…


Who am I?

I was born into a household that loved sports. My brother was a track star, and I was his Tomboy little sister who eagerly took his old shirts and jackets and wore them proudly. I played hard myself, and even dabbled in sports reporting as a journalist. I’ve always found the stories behind the sport to be the richest part, though. I love the characters—real or fiction. Every person on a field, on the court, on the ice, in the water, has a story to tell. I think that same sense goes for small towns too, and so I gravitate to books that blend the two. Now, if you can throw in a love story, I say that’s a trifecta!


I wrote...

The Hard Count

By Ginger Scott,

Book cover of The Hard Count

What is my book about?

Football and private school politics can break the toughest souls. I would know; I’m Reagan Prescott—coach’s daughter, sister to the prodigal son, the perfect family. Lies. Nico Medina is the boy from West End. Our worlds are eleven miles apart, and where each is beautiful, the other is ugly. 

In our twisted worlds, a boy from West End is the only shining light. And he owns my heart completely.

Short Stories

By Irwin Shaw,

Book cover of Short Stories: Five Decades

Like Cheever, Shaw was a fellow New Yorker contributor but his work is grittier than Cheever’s and was best summed up in The New York Times: “[Shaw] has a primitive skill possessed by very few sophisticated men.” Winner of two O. Henry awards, I would say he is the “meat and potatoes” short story master - but it’s Prime USDA.

Who am I?

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I’ve been obsessed with the romance and “bygone world” of Manhattan in the 40s and 50s since I was a kid. Working in bookstores through high school and college, I quickly gravitated towards The New Yorker magazine which introduced me to John Cheever, Irwin Shaw, and many wonderful authors. Whether it was books or magazines, I couldn’t imagine a more interesting career than working in the New York publishing world - until I went there for job interviews and heard how little they paid. Back in Los Angeles, I figured out how to join from afar without having to live with six roommates on the Lower East Side.


I wrote...

Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs

By Robert Trachtenberg,

Book cover of Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs

What is my book about?

From leading men to comedians, ballet dancers to quarterbacks, war veterans to Broadway veterans, Red-Blooded American Male features more than 100 imaginative, striking, and sexy portraits from award-winning photographer Robert Trachtenberg. Pithy captions about each shoot accompany the photographs, giving readers a peek behind the curtain of a famed portrait photographer’s creative process and his world-renowned photographs.

Gridiron Gourmet

By Maria J. Veri, Rita Liberti,

Book cover of Gridiron Gourmet: Gender and Food at the Football Tailgate

Gridiron Gourmet likewise returns to a world somewhat familiar to me. Having grown up American, with a father and brother seriously enamored of football, I understood a certain amount about American ideas of sports and manhood. Football (and other men’s sports) had also played an important role in the community of Bushler Bay (on the Olympic Peninsula), where I had lived and conducted ethnographic research among loggers in the 1970s. At that time, folks there had seen football as one important avenue for young men to learn teamwork, competition, and discipline – traits considered key in making a livelihood. Gridiron Gourmet builds on my own understanding, adding the current emphasis on foods men consider appropriate and ‘manly’ to eat. Although I had some sense of this preference, this book clarifies common perspectives among American men in much more detail.


Who am I?

I began studying women’s lives in college (1960s), but recently realized that I (like others) passed myself off as a gender specialist, but had been ignoring men’s roles, beliefs, and behaviour in gender dynamics. I was put off by the studies that too consistently showed men as always violent and controlling. Many studies emphasized men at war, men abusing women, and gay men with HIV/AIDS; there seemed no recognition of positive masculine traits. Recognizing also that men had different ideals about their own masculinity in different places, I examined men’s lives among international elites and in communities in the US, Sumatra, and Indonesia, where I’d done ethnographic research. 


I wrote...

Masculinities in Forests: Representations of Diversity

By Carol J. Pierce Colfer,

Book cover of Masculinities in Forests: Representations of Diversity

What is my book about?

This book captures elements of my half-century studying gender from an ethnographic perspective. I have re-analyzed my own gender research, focusing in this book on the varying masculinities I have observed. Specifically, the book looks at men’s lives in the Olympic Peninsula logging community of Bushler Bay in the 1970s (and again in 2017); the multi-ethnic (Javanese, Sundanese, and Minangkabau) transmigration communities of Sitiung in West Sumatra in the 1980s; the Kenyah Dayak communities of Long Segar and Long Anai in East Kalimantan between 1979 and the early 2000s (and again in 2019); and the world of international forestry research between 1995 and 2010. The book describes the variations in gender relations and in habitat from place to place and from time to time.

The Bad-Tempered Ladybird

By Eric Carle,

Book cover of The Bad-Tempered Ladybird

I love all books by Eric Carle. I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to my children when they were young, as well as The Very Quiet Cricket, which is a firm favourite. This book is very funny and plays with paper, design, and type. It is brightly coloured and his inimitable illustrative style is fantastic. Using different paper sizes, flaps, die-cuts, etc. has always interested me and makes story time fun for kids too.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by color since childhood. I am not a very talkative person by nature and have always found that I communicate well through my illustrations. I have worked both as an illustrator and graphic designer. Through combining illustration with design, I learnt that I have the knack for distilling a complex idea into a simple image, or series of images. My illustrations combine visual trickery with simplicity, designed to make you think and smile. When my children were young, I decided to create picture books like this. The books in this list do the same. I hope you enjoy them!


I wrote...

Magic Colors

By Patrick George,

Book cover of Magic Colors

What is my book about?

This is a book about colors and color mixing. It is also a book full of surprises with ‘magic’ transparent pages. Its aim is to show today’s younger generation that you don’t need an iPad to create magical effects. If this book were designed on an iPad, it wouldn’t have the same impact as it does on paper. By combining a transparent page and a paper page, I show what happens when you mix two colors and also how a picture can magically change simply by flipping over a transparent page onto a paper one. It is like tapping a screen and watching the image change, instead we do it with paper.

The System

By Jeff Benedict, Armen Keteyian,

Book cover of The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football

I originally read this as research for my own novel and I’m so glad I did. Not all of it is about scandal, in fact my favorite parts highlighted how sports can be used to bring out the best in us. In fact, that’s what sports did for me. I loved that it also sheds light on the machinations we don’t see that are used to drive the sport. And, yes, I was horrified by some of the stories: horrified by the sexual assaults and furthermore by the rationalizations and the coverups. The feeling I had reading The System: we all want to dress ourselves in virtue, but all we really want is to win and for some, there is no price that’s too high.


Who am I?

Like all of us, I was raised on promises, and now I’ve veered off to another perspective. I love football. I played in high school, college, and for a brief time, in the NFL (didn’t make the final roster!) Philosophy has been a life-long pursuit, but I didn’t find what I was looking for: the truth. Except for the existentialists, most of it is a mere history of how mankind thought. But philosophy has taught me how to examine the essence of important issues. That’s why I wrote a book about tribalism, because to me, tribalism is the strongest dynamic in humanity and morality is subordinate to tribalism.


I wrote...

Sins of the Tribe

By Mark A. Salter,

Book cover of Sins of the Tribe

What is my book about?

Sins of the Tribe explores the impact of intense tribalism and its resulting dehumanization in a setting that’s popular, wildly flawed, and hiding in plain sight: college football. Sins of the Tribe also examines these hard truths: morality is subordinate to tribalism and the need for domination through violent proxies is real. 

Champions Way

By Mike McIntire,

Book cover of Champions Way: Football, Florida, and the Lost Soul of College Sports

I’m conflicted, two of my three kids went to Florida State and this book holds nothing back about the crimes and sins that have taken place at FSU. I felt like I was witness to a crime scene; the crimes were academic, cultural, and truly criminal. I completely believe that our higher education system is critical to our country, yet what takes place at these schools is an outrage. This is a book written by a talented journalist who took me on an objective tour of the hypocrisy we are willing to allow for our tribe to dominate.


Who am I?

Like all of us, I was raised on promises, and now I’ve veered off to another perspective. I love football. I played in high school, college, and for a brief time, in the NFL (didn’t make the final roster!) Philosophy has been a life-long pursuit, but I didn’t find what I was looking for: the truth. Except for the existentialists, most of it is a mere history of how mankind thought. But philosophy has taught me how to examine the essence of important issues. That’s why I wrote a book about tribalism, because to me, tribalism is the strongest dynamic in humanity and morality is subordinate to tribalism.


I wrote...

Sins of the Tribe

By Mark A. Salter,

Book cover of Sins of the Tribe

What is my book about?

Sins of the Tribe explores the impact of intense tribalism and its resulting dehumanization in a setting that’s popular, wildly flawed, and hiding in plain sight: college football. Sins of the Tribe also examines these hard truths: morality is subordinate to tribalism and the need for domination through violent proxies is real. 

Before the Ever After

By Jacqueline Woodson,

Book cover of Before the Ever After

This book lets young readers know that not every ending is neatly tied up in a bow. It helps readers understand that pro sports can cause serious injury to players and affect the lives of their families. Even if you aren’t a football fan, you can relate to the conflicting emotions of the main character ZJ as he comes to terms with the changes he sees in his football-hero father after numerous concussions. A thought-provoking subject that is sure to spark conversations.


Who am I?

I love the way verse novels eliminate unnecessary background and scene-setting. They cut straight to the heart of conflict and emotions. We instantly feel what the characters feel. The lyrical flow of words, figurative language, and freedom to arrange the poems in different ways on the pages taps into a different creativity for an author. Each poem stands alone, telling its own story. While writing Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully, eleven-year-old Jack insisted I tell the story his way. Raw, unflinching, unfiltered. I am in love with this form and plan to write more novels in this format. The book is a 2021 NCTE notable verse novel.


I wrote...

Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully

By Darlene Beck Jacobson,

Book cover of Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully

What is my book about?

Eleven-year-old Jack misses his Dad who is MIA in Vietnam. The last thing Jack wants to do is spend summer with his grandparents. Mom believes it will be good for them all – Jack, his sister Katy, Mom, Gran and Pops – to be together while they wait for word about Dad. Jack expects the worst summer of his life. The first summer without Dad, friends, his room, and all the things that remind him of Dad. When Jack meets a girl named Jill - a girl with a brother who makes trouble for both of them – things they believe are turned upside down. Welcome to a summer of fishing, camping, bullies, and a fish who grants wishes. A fish that could be the answer to Jack’s problem.

Dairy Queen

By Catherine Gilbert Murdock,

Book cover of Dairy Queen

You’d have a hard time finding a funnier, more captivating first-person narrator than D.J. Swank. Growing up on her family’s farm, hoisting hay bales, and playing pick-up football with her brothers, it’s no wonder D.J. has the strength, ability, and desire to play on her high school’s football team. The two things I love most about this book are D.J.’s sheer joy in physical movement and Murdock’s depiction of how the hard work required to master sports skills can build self-confidence and a sense of achievement in young people. The characters are a bit older than those in most middle-grade books, but with nothing more controversial than the drinking of a beer, this is a book kids in the upper range of middle grade will love.


Who am I?

I was a very active kid – the kind of kid who was constantly told to sit still and be quiet. Growing up in the 1960s, I had few opportunities to engage in athletics, other than neighborhood games of tag and kick-the-can. But when I got to high school, our school district had just begun offering competitive sports for girls. Finally, my energy and athletic ability were appreciated (at least by my coaches and teammates). So I guess it was inevitable that when I began writing books for young readers, I would start with a book about a girl who loves sports.


I wrote...

Nikki on the Line

By Barbara Carroll Roberts,

Book cover of Nikki on the Line

What is my book about?

When our sports-loving son was growing up in the early 2000s, he devoured stacks and stacks of books about boys who play sports. When our sports-loving daughter was growing up, a few years behind him, she stopped reading for pleasure when she got to sixth grade. Why? Because she couldn’t find more than a handful of books about girls like her – girls whose whole world revolved around sports. That’s why I wrote Nikki on the Line. My research for this book was simply my daily life – the hundreds of hours I spent inside gyms, watching our daughter and her teammates practice and compete. And the hundreds more I spent rebounding for her while she shot – and shot and shot – on our driveway hoop. 

The Real All Americans

By Sally Jenkins,

Book cover of The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation

In 1907, at the Carlisle Indian School (Carlisle, PA), a scrappy Native American football team coached by Pop Warner invented the passing game and revolutionized the game of football as it was being played by the Ivy League schools with deadly results. (So many players were dying from injuries, President Teddy Roosevelt almost banned the game in 1905.) Sally Jenkins’ book is eye-opening history that throws open the doors to the Carlisle Indian School and grippingly tells the story of how the “Carlisle Redmen,” as they were called, became the darling of the nation, and eventually took on Harvard in a legendary 1912 game pitting two young running backs against each other: Jim Thorpe and Dwight Eisenhower.

If you’re a football fan and/or have an interest in Native American history, this book entertains with Pop Warner’s famous trick plays (e.g., the “hidden ball trick”) and the Harvard boys performing the…


Who am I?

I’m an author of YA fiction who spent his earlier years “wiggling dollies” (as the Brits say) in the trenches of Jim Henson’s Muppet world and then spent a decade writing children’s television of the PBS kind. After writing my first kids’ novel (Out of Patience), I never looked back. OK, I did glance back for the inspiration for a second novel…


I wrote...

Suck It Up

By Brian Meehl,

Book cover of Suck It Up

What is my book about?

While writing for a kids’ TV series, The Magic School Bus, I became amused by the level of political correctness and censorship for children. It led me to the question: “What will be the last minority to be recognized and embraced by our multicultural society?” My answer: vampires. They’re a persecuted bunch with special needs, and they suffer from the hate crime of staking.


Suck it Up is the story of a teenage boy, Morning McCobb, who’s a rather wimpy vampire; he drinks a soy-blood substitute called Blood Lite. Morning is selected as the first Undead American to come out of the casket and prove that vampires are citizen worthy. Of course, he falls in love with a mortal girl, triggering his baser instincts, and the troubles begin.

Or, view all 14 books about football

New book lists related to football

All book lists related to football

Bookshelves related to football