The best sport books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about sports and why they recommend each book.

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Thinking Body, Dancing Mind

By Chungliang Al Huang,

Book cover of Thinking Body, Dancing Mind: Taosports for Extraordinary Performance in Athletics, Business, and Life

This book takes the wisdom of Tao into the world of sports, combining Chung-liang Al Huang’s calligraphy and insights as a T’ai Ji master with sports psychologist Jerry Lynch’s use of Tao principles to coach professional, Olympic, and recreational athletes. Offering lessons from the enduring wisdom of Tao, along with exercises, affirmations, and encouragement, this book helps readers transcend the limits of Western dualism to discover a new path of joy and meaning in their athletic endeavors, careers, and personal lives.


Who am I?

Diane Dreher is the author of The Tao of Inner Peace, The Tao of Personal Leadership, and The Tao of Womanhood. She has been fascinated by Eastern philosophy since her childhood in the Philippine Islands. In addition to her doctoral degree in English from UCLA and master’s in counseling from Santa Clara University, she has studied Taoism, trained in aikido, and become a reiki master. She enjoys applying the lessons of Tao in her teaching, consulting, and international coaching practice.


I wrote...

The Tao of Inner Peace

By Diane Dreher,

Book cover of The Tao of Inner Peace

What is my book about?

Drawing upon the vital lessons of the Tao Te Ching, The Tao of Inner Peace shows readers how to create greater peace in their lives by honoring their own inner rhythms, part of the overarching rhythms of nature. They will learn to see beyond current conditions, recognize the Tao’s dynamic balance of yin and yang, resolve conflict within and around them, discover new possibilities, and create greater harmony in their world.

One Last Shot

By John David Anderson,

Book cover of One Last Shot

I love how Malcolm, a kid who doesn’t like sports despite his athletic dad’s enthusiastic encouragement, finally finds a place to call his own in mini-golf. Malcolm has always felt like a loser but once he signs up for lessons and meets some friends, he slowly improves, in his game and in his opinion of himself. Unfortunately, Malcolm also carries the weight of feeling it’s up to him to keep his parents’ troubled marriage together. With tournaments and family problems mounting high, this is an exciting read. The eighteen chapters, set up like holes on a golf course, are a fun addition.


Who am I?

I’ve always been a fan of stories where the underdog makes good due to their own strength and determination. Although my book picks are all connected to sports I don’t happen to participate in, I feel the power of choosing the life you want by working hard encompasses all fields whether it be learning to sing or dance or becoming an expert in science, chess, juggling, or whatever one’s passion might be. For me, I guess it would be writing and not giving up even when it sometimes feels like playing the lottery each time one of my manuscripts is sent into cyberspace.


I wrote...

Roller Boy

By Marcia Strykowski,

Book cover of Roller Boy

What is my book about?

After his baseball dreams fall through, Mateo’s mood sinks low. What can he be good at? What will take him from that skinny little kid with the big hair to someone who matters? Mateo struggles to find his true purpose while dodging bullies, avoiding gluten, and falling for Roller City’s star skater. In doing so, he discovers he’s a pretty good skater himself. But still, roller-skating? What if his buddies find out he’s whirling around in girly skates? Anybody halfway to cool would be hanging at a skate park, on boards or blades.

Mateo keeps his sense of humor and channels his innermost strength into an incredible ride on roller skates that just might take him all the way to regionals.

Sport

By Mike Cronin,

Book cover of Sport: A Very Short Introduction

In the late 1990s I asked Mike Cronin to join me in the International Centre for Sports History and Culture that I had set up at De Montfort University. Initially he was wary. He later told me that, although he saw me as a leader in the development of sports history, he also viewed me as a strange, perhaps outdated creature: the economic historian. I welcomed him to Jurassic Park. I admire this book because Mike covers world sporting development in just 40,000 words, a task that took me over 100,000 more (but mine is cheaper by the page!). More significantly it was the starting point for my own global venture and it stimulated me to take off my economic blinkers and consider social, cultural, and political issues.


Who am I?

I love sport. I played my last game of cricket when I was 69 and, as I approach my eightieth year, I continue to play golf, confusing my partners by switching from right to left hand when chipping and putting. I like watching sport but prefer to spectate via television rather than being there. I confess I do not fully understand American sports: I cannot fathom why a hit over the fence in baseball can score 1, 2, 3, or 4 rather than the undisputed 6 of cricket; and, while I admire the strategies of American football, I wonder why a ‘touchdown’ does not actually involve touching down.


I wrote...

Games People Played: A Global History of Sports

By Wray Vamplew,

Book cover of Games People Played: A Global History of Sports

What is my book about?

My book is a record of what I believe have been significant factors and events in the development of sport, a cultural institution that matters to millions of people. I deal not with sporting results but how sport has been practised, experienced, and made meaningful by a variety of groups and individuals in different historical periods. Sport can be big business or family recreation; be discriminatory but also integrative; produce triumphs and tragedies as well as heroes and villains; and encourage the best and worst of nationalism.

I challenge the facile generalisations made about sport and look at recent revisions in our sports history knowledge, show how sporting myths have been created, and explain how sports history has been abused for political purposes.

Match Fixing and Sport

By Mike Huggins (editor), Rob Hess (editor),

Book cover of Match Fixing and Sport: Historical Perspectives

The uncertainty of the result is a bedrock of sport. Yet, although it should not be pre-determined, it does happen. Gambling interests, the very people who developed rules for many early sports, can persuade competitors (by threats or bribes) not to perform to the best of their abilities. The book shows that cheating to lose has a long history dating back to Antiquity, when fines on cheating competitors paid for statues to commemorate the gods. I have never believed in the purity of sport and its participants. Sport may well breed character, a mantra of the sports lobby, but, I suggest, not necessarily good character. The book appeals to me as it shows how historians can dig out evidence on activities which, to be successful, must be covert.


Who am I?

I love sport. I played my last game of cricket when I was 69 and, as I approach my eightieth year, I continue to play golf, confusing my partners by switching from right to left hand when chipping and putting. I like watching sport but prefer to spectate via television rather than being there. I confess I do not fully understand American sports: I cannot fathom why a hit over the fence in baseball can score 1, 2, 3, or 4 rather than the undisputed 6 of cricket; and, while I admire the strategies of American football, I wonder why a ‘touchdown’ does not actually involve touching down.


I wrote...

Games People Played: A Global History of Sports

By Wray Vamplew,

Book cover of Games People Played: A Global History of Sports

What is my book about?

My book is a record of what I believe have been significant factors and events in the development of sport, a cultural institution that matters to millions of people. I deal not with sporting results but how sport has been practised, experienced, and made meaningful by a variety of groups and individuals in different historical periods. Sport can be big business or family recreation; be discriminatory but also integrative; produce triumphs and tragedies as well as heroes and villains; and encourage the best and worst of nationalism.

I challenge the facile generalisations made about sport and look at recent revisions in our sports history knowledge, show how sporting myths have been created, and explain how sports history has been abused for political purposes.

Sport and the British

By Richard Holt,

Book cover of Sport and the British: A Modern History

Before Holt, the history of the British and their relationship with sport was just a muddy field with some green patches near the press box. Then Holt came along to drain the land, roll the turf, and set the boundaries. Most of all, he explained how modern sport was invented in the leafy streets of the suburban South and the wastes and alleyways of the industrial North. An absolute classic. First published in 1990, a new edition is on its way.


Who am I?

One reason is that I belong to Europe's leading sports institute, the International Centre for Sport History and Culture at De Montfort University in England. The other reason is that I’m mad about all history, not just sports history. I am currently a Professor of History at De Montfort University, Leicester. Before that, I was a Professor of English History at Leicester University.


I wrote...

This Sporting Life: Sport and Liberty in England, 1760-1960

By Robert Colls,

Book cover of This Sporting Life: Sport and Liberty in England, 1760-1960

What is my book about?

Apart from a truly great cover (look right) this book gets down to what it was like, for instance, to ride with Minna Burnaby and The Quorn in 1910, or fight bare-knuckle with English champion Tom Sayers in a Hampshire field in 1860, or be young, female, sporty, and up to university in the 1920s. This Sporting Life also tells how sport ran through every part of people’s lives, showing them, in actions not words, how to belong and how to be free – the two great themes of the modern era.

The Nazi Olympics

By Richard D. Mandell,

Book cover of The Nazi Olympics

A juicy account of the most dubious of the modern Olympics, held as a propaganda event in Hitler's Berlin in 1936. For classical history buffs, the most intriguing element is how the Nazis purloined certain "ancient Greek" legacies for their own purposes -- creating the pseudo-tradition of the Olympic torch being carried from Greece, for example, which remains popular to this day. (And of course, it was all captured and glorified by the director Leni Riefenstahl in her film Olympia).

Who am I?

As a historian, journalist, and travel writer, Tony Perrottet has made a career out of bringing the past to vivid life. Born in Australia, he started writing as a foreign correspondent in South America, where he covered guerrilla wars in Peru, drug running in Colombia, and military rebellions in Argentina. He continues to commute to Athens, Iceland, Tierra del Fuego, and Havana, while contributing to the Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, amongst others. He has written six books on subjects ranging from classical tourism to the Pope's "pornographic bathroom" in the Vatican, and most recently, ¡Cuba Libre!, an anecdotal account of the Cuban Revolution. His travel stories have been selected seven times for the Best American Travel Writing series, and he is a regular guest on the History Channel, where he has spoken about everything from the Crusades to the birth of disco.


I wrote...

The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games

By Tony Perrottet,

Book cover of The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games

What is my book about?

While researching a book on ancient Roman tourists, Pagan Holiday, I discovered that the classical Olympic Games were history's longest-running festival, held without fail, every four years for nearly twelve centuries. It's an astonishing record given that the modern Olympics have been canceled three times due to wars since they were restarted in Athens in 1896, and the 2021 Tokyo Games were delayed a year due to the Covid pandemic. I also realized that the ancient Greek Olympics were chaotic and sprawling events -- the Woodstock of Antiquity -- where 40,000 sports fans crowded in wretched conditions, punished by searing summer heat, plagues of flies, endless dust, and dehydration. But they were also unforgettable spectacles, combining sports with religious rituals, cultural tourism, political grandstanding, and a level of debauchery that impressed Emperor Nero when he competed in the chariot race.

In The Naked Olympics, I set out to recreate what it might really have been like to visit the festival as a competitor, a sports fan, or an official, using firsthand reports and obscure sources, including an actual Handbook for a Sports Coach used by the ancient Greeks. My aim was to peel away the layers of myth that cloud our vision of the classical world to understand the experience itself, including the round-the-clock bacchanal inside the tents of the Olympic Village, the all-male nude workouts under the statue of Eros (all athletes went naked in the Greek world), and history's first corruption scandals involving competitors. 

The Perfect Mile

By Neal Bascomb,

Book cover of The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It

Three runners on different continents simultaneously pursue the goal of running history’s first sub-four-minute mile. With little scientific research on distance running to guide them, they discover how to run fast and sustain it for four laps of a track through trial and error. While some of their training techniques have been discarded, others have since been validated by scientific research and are widely used today.

Who am I?

I have been a runner for 50 years and a coach for 30 years. From 2001-2016 I was the coach of Team USA Minnesota Distance Training Center. During that time I coached 24 U.S. National Champions, including an Olympian & 2 USATF Running Circuit Champions, at 1500 meters, 3000 meters, and 10,000 meters on the track; the mile, 10k, 15k, 10 miles, half-marathon, 20k, 25k, and marathon on the road; 4k, 6k, 8k and 10k in cross country.  Athletes I coached qualified for 30 U.S. national teams competing in IAAF World Championships in cross country, indoor track, outdoor track, and road, and achieved 73 top-three finishes in U.S. Championships. 


I wrote...

The River Road: Becoming a Runner in 1972

By Dennis Barker,

Book cover of The River Road: Becoming a Runner in 1972

What is my book about?

The River Road is an evocative novel about becoming a runner in 1972. Filled with compelling stories of runners, running, history, the 1972 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials and the Munich Olympics, it brings to life an era in which the U.S. competed for gold in nearly every distance running event. As many of the sport’s icons dominate their events in Eugene and prepare for Munich, fifteen-year-old Lenny prepares for his first season of varsity cross country. Inspired by Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine, Lenny also learns that Olympic distance runners have come from Minnesota and trained on the same River Road on which he runs. A world of running lore that he never knew existed is opened to him and helps him begin to explore and realize his own ability to run.

The Happiest Girl in the World

By Alena Dillon,

Book cover of The Happiest Girl in the World

In this novel that feels ripped straight from the headlines, the life of a young woman training as an elite gymnast is upended when her best friend confides that their doctor has assaulted her. Not only is this story timely, but it provides a glimpse into the mind-boggling discipline and talent it takes to be an Olympic gymnast.


Who am I?

My novels explore women whose contributions to culture have been relegated to the footnotes of mainstream history books, and in few areas have women been more overlooked than in sports. Because of the achievements of today’s female athletes, ranging from the many athletic opportunities available to our young daughters to the professional success of women like Serena Williams, it’s easy to think that progress for women’s sports has come a long way—and in many ways, it has, thanks to legislative protections like Title IX—but these achievements reflect over a century’s worth of sacrifice by many unheralded women athletes. Here are five books that highlight this journey.


I wrote...

Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team

By Elise Hooper,

Book cover of Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team

What is my book about?

Fast Girls is historical fiction inspired by the real-life women track stars of the late 1920s and ‘30s. Three young women—Betty Robinson, Louise Stokes, and Helen Stephens—will join with others to defy society’s expectations of what women can achieve. As tensions bring the United States and Europe closer and closer to the brink of war, these women must fight for the chance to compete as the fastest women in the world amidst the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympics in Berlin. 

Leading with the Heart

By Mike Krzyzewski, Donald T. Phillips,

Book cover of Leading with the Heart: Coach K's Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life

This book reshaped my view of leadership and what it takes to build an unbeatable team. Coach K is a proven master at maximizing both individual performance and team performance by focusing on fundamentals such as character and respect… and why success, achievement, and winning are a by-product of doing the little things right every single day. 


Who am I?

I’m a professional keynote speaker and author that has studied the pillars of high performance for most of my life. This journey started through basketball, as I was able to work with, work alongside, and observe many of the game’s top players and coaches and witness firsthand the disciplines, rituals, and routines they modeled in pursuit of optimal performance on and off the court. That transitioned into the business world where I not only watched these foundational principles be applied by executives and entrepreneurs… but I applied them to my own life and business as well. 


I wrote...

Raise Your Game: High-Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best

By Alan Stein Jr., Jon Sternfeld,

Book cover of Raise Your Game: High-Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best

What is my book about?

Raise Your Game peeks behind the curtain and shares the routines and rituals of world-class performers. Elite athletes, musicians, and entrepreneurs are at the top of their game because of the discipline they have during the Unseen Hours. They have made a commitment to establish, tweak and repeat optimal habits in everything they do. Raise Your Game examines the top leaders in sports and business and proves that success is a result of the little things we do all the time.

The basic principles provided in Raise Your Game are basic, but not easy. But the basics work. They always have and they always will. Raise Your Game will inspire and empower readers and organizations to commit to the fundamentals, respect the process, and create a winning mindset.

Roman Sports and Spectacles

By Anne Mahoney,

Book cover of Roman Sports and Spectacles: A Sourcebook

If you want to know what some Romans thought about sport and spectacle in their own words, turn to Anne Mahoney’s sourcebook, which offers translations of key literary passages and inscriptions. From Horace’s descriptions of unruly theater audiences to Ovid’s advice to young Roman men about how to pick up girls at the circus, this sourcebook brought the world of Roman spectacle to life for me. I love that she shows how the themes that make modern sport and fandom so complex—religion, gender, politics, and money—were just as relevant in ancient Rome. I always come away from reading the sources she compiles feeling that Roman sports fans are not so different from us today.


Who am I?

I love exploring new places, buildings, and artworks. Luckily, my job, as a professor of ancient Roman art history at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, allows me to do so! I am fascinated by the material culture of the Roman Empire and the ways in which buildings and objects—whether grand monuments like the Pantheon in Rome or humbler items like a terracotta figurine of a gladiator—shape how we experience the world and relate to other people. Whether I am living in Paris or Rome, excavating in Greece or Italy, or traveling elsewhere in the former lands of the Roman Empire, these topics are never far from my mind.


I wrote...

Souvenirs and the Experience of Empire in Ancient Rome

By Maggie L. Popkin,

Book cover of Souvenirs and the Experience of Empire in Ancient Rome

What is my book about?

If you think souvenirs and memorabilia are just a modern phenomenon, think again! Tourists and sports fans in the Roman Empire could purchase travel souvenirs, keepsakes of sporting events, and miniature replicas of famous statues and monuments. Straddling the spheres of religion, spectacle, leisure, and politics, ancient Roman souvenirs allow us to look beyond our traditional sources of Roman history and catch a glimpse of the experiences, interests, imaginations, and aspirations of ordinary people living in the empire from Britain to Syria, and everywhere between. Ancient souvenirs shaped how people “saw” places, people, and events they might never see in person, and they allowed sub-elites to participate, even if vicariously, in an empire-wide culture of travel, leisure, and spectacle.

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