The most recommended sports biographies

Who picked these books? Meet our 259 experts.

259 authors created a book list connected to sports biographies, and here are their favorite sports biographies books.
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Book cover of Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time

Nicholas Smith Author Of Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers

From my list on running history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I get it, to most people running isn’t fun, but its simplicity can be deceptive. To some, running (especially when done in nature) can be a spiritual act. To others, it (along with its cousin jogging) should’ve been included in the Geneva Conventions. Me? I’ve been running since the third grade and watching running for even longer. Growing up, the Olympics were required viewing and an interest in running naturally flowed from it. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy the great many books out there about runners and their impact on sports, culture, and world events. 

Nicholas' book list on running history

Nicholas Smith Why did Nicholas love this book?

There has never been (nor will there likely be) a runner like Emil Zatopek. His crowning achievement, a gold medal in the 5000m, 10000m, and the marathon in a single Olympics, has never been equaled, before or since. Yet the “greatest runner of all time” was more than just medals. Besides his Rocky Balboa-esque training regimen, Zapotek stood up to Soviet tanks during the Prague Spring. For this action, the runner was punished for years with a string of humiliating and strenuous jobs, before finally having his image rehabilitated in 1989. Known for his pithy quotes, the title of the book comes from a line he is said to have expressed to his fellow competitors before a race. 

By Richard Askwith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Today We Die a Little! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to enjoy something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon." --Emil Zatopek For a decade after the Second World War, Emil Zatopek--"the Czech locomotive"--redefined the sport of distance running, pushing back the frontiers of what was considered possible. He won five Olympic medals, set eighteen world records, and went undefeated in the 10,000-metre race for six years. His dominance has never been equaled. In the darkest days of the Cold War, he stood for a spirit of generous friendship that transcended nationality and politics.…

Book cover of Mischief in Patagonia

Nicholas Coghlan Author Of Winter in Fireland: A Patagonian Sailing Adventure

From my list on sailing in Patagonia.

Why am I passionate about this?

My first experience of sailing was in an open dinghy in the North Sea in winter; the second was capsizing in the path of a hovercraft at Cowes. I was put off for years. But once Jenny and I moved to spectacular British Columbia, we were inspired to try again. In 1985 we left on what would become a 4-year circumnavigation of the world; more recently and over several years we made our way back under sail from Cape Town to BC, spending a year in Patagonian waters. My other (paying) career has been as a diplomat, which is everything long-distance-sailing is not: people, rules, compromises, convention. Over the years, things have more-or-less balanced out.

Nicholas' book list on sailing in Patagonia

Nicholas Coghlan Why did Nicholas love this book?

Bill Tilman was a war hero and an accomplished Himalayan climber – reaching 27,000 feet on Everest without oxygen in 1938 – who turned in later life to sailing as a means of accessing obscure mountain ranges. In 1956 he sailed his Bristol Channel pilot cutter (Mischief) from England to the Chilean channels and made the first successful crossing of the Patagonian ice cap. Tilman was likely not easy to get on with – he tolerates no women on board, and on this particular cruise we never learn the first name of his deputy – but his writing is erudite and amusingly self-deprecating. This narrative concludes with the dry comment: “Ships are all right – it's the men in them.” Tilman sailed to the very end. He disappeared at sea in 1977, in his eightieth year, en route to climb a remote island peak in Antarctica. Would that…

By H. W. Tilman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'So I began thinking again of those two white blanks on the map, of penguins and humming birds, of the pampas and of gauchos, in short, of Patagonia, a place where, one was told, the natives’ heads steam when they eat marmalade.'

So responded H. W. ‘Bill’ Tilman to his own realisation that the Himalaya were too high for a mountaineer now well into his fifties. He would trade extremes of altitude for the romance of the sea with, at his journey’s end, mountains and glaciers at a smaller scale; and the less explored they were, the better he would…

Book cover of North of Highway Eight

Walter Rhein Author Of The Reader of Acheron

From my list on from criminally oppressed and exploited authors.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been working professionally as a writer for twenty-five years. I’m nothing close to a household name, but a number of my articles have gone viral throughout the years. I’ve had educators reach out to mention they’ve taught my work at both the high school and college levels. Writing is an occupation of passion, and the authors I’ve mentioned are all talented and passionate about their craft. It’s rare to find people who speak the truth anywhere in our society. These writers don’t just speak the truth, they make it sing.

Walter's book list on from criminally oppressed and exploited authors

Walter Rhein Why did Walter love this book?

Dan Woll is an exceptional author who writes about outdoor life in Northern Wisconsin. He’s an avid runner, cyclist, and climber. This collection features an account of the Barneveld tornado that blew through Wisconsin back in 1984. Woll’s work is filled with both humor and wisdom. This is a great book for anyone with a passion for the outdoors.

By Dan Woll,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dan Woll, co-author of Death on Cache Lake is back with more tales of adventure in the Northwoods. This time, they’re true! You will love this book if you’ve ever paddled a canoe on a wild river, climbed a mountain, cycled lonely country roads, or sat by a roaring campfire while a solitary loon cries on a moonlit lake.

Book cover of Chasing Dreams: The True Story of the Youngest Female Tevis Cup Champion

Merri Melde Author Of Tevis Cup Magic: Taking on the World’s Toughest 100 Mile Endurance Ride

From Merri's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Horse lover Traveler Hiker Photographer Raven fanatic

Merri's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Merri Melde Why did Merri love this book?

Even if I didn’t love horses and endurance riding, I would be captivated by Sonoma Blakeley’s journey toward becoming the youngest winner of the famous 100-mile Tevis Cup Endurance ride. Her passionate love of horses, her focused dedication to training, and her adventurous rides are all familiar to me.

While so many teens are distracted by other things in life, Sanoma had a dream that she fiercely followed until she accomplished it. I love how she appreciated and relied on her family to help get her there. It makes an inspiring story, culminating in the exciting, gripping 14 hours and 20 minutes of her pivotal Tevis Cup ride.

And how can you not root for a girl with a horse named Goober?

By Sanoma Blakeley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Thrilling and Emotional Memoir from Endurance Horse Racing Legend Sanoma Blakeley

Chasing Dreams: The True Story of the Youngest Female Tevis Cup Champion is the incredible, action-packed memoir of Sanoma Blakeley's 2019 Tevis Cup championship, won while riding her beloved horse Goober, and the tale of how she became the youngest woman to ever become a Tevis Cup champion. Beginning her endurance riding career at the age of seven, Blakeley writes about the years of training and teamwork required to win the most challenging and famous 100-mile horse race in the world aboard a horse she had originally acquired…

Book cover of The Horse God Built: The Untold Story of Secretariat, the World's Greatest Racehorse

Janet Jones Author Of Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship

From my list on horse-and-human teams.

Why am I passionate about this?

Horses have helped me negotiate the world since early childhood. I’ve worked as a horse trainer, show competitor, catch rider, barn grunt, and riding instructor. As a UCLA-trained brain scientist and full professor, I also taught human perception, language, memory, and thought for almost 25 years. Combining these interests produced an “aha” moment, leading to my development of brain-based horsemanship. Successful horse-and-human teams require an understanding of how prey and predator brains interact. With that understanding, both species learn to communicate mutually via body language. We humans cooperate in this fashion and degree with no other species of prey animal—it’s a rare and special bond! 

Janet's book list on horse-and-human teams

Janet Jones Why did Janet love this book?

The beautiful true story of Eddie Sweat, the groom who bonded with Secretariat for life throughout the horse’s racing career, stallion service, and retirement. Sweat was the son of a tenant farmer in South Carolina, the sixth of nine children in a poor family. His daily efforts and devotion to the finest racehorse of all time were largely ignored until this book came out in 2007 long after Secretariat died. This story took me for a heartwarming ride that reminded me of true horsemanship and the roles of the most important (but lowest paid) people on a performance horse’s successful team.

By Lawrence Scanlan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Most of us know the legend of Secretariat, the tall, handsome chestnut racehorse whose string of honours runs long and rich: the only two-year-old ever to win Horse of the Year, in 1972; winner in 1973 of the Triple Crown, his times in all three races still unsurpassed; featured on the cover of "Time", "Newsweek", and "Sports Illustrated"; the only horse listed on ESPN's top fifty athletes of the twentieth century (ahead of Mickey Mantle). His final race at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack is a touchstone memory for horse lovers everywhere. Yet while Secretariat will be remembered forever, one man, Eddie…

Book cover of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero

R. Scott Mackey Author Of Courage Matters

From my list on baseball about flawed people trying their best.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve played the game of baseball, rooted for its teams, and even written a book about baseball (and the protagonist in my novels is a baseball nut), so I’m more than a casual observer of the sport. I’ve read more than two hundred baseball books–fiction and non-fiction–in my life. As such it was nearly impossible to come up with my top five books on the sport. I’m recommending these five because they transcend the subject of baseball, exploring universal themes with exemplary writing that evokes deep feelings within the reader. Whether you like baseball or not, if you love fine writing you can’t go wrong with any of these works. 

R. Scott's book list on baseball about flawed people trying their best

R. Scott Mackey Why did R. Scott love this book?

Maraniss writes books that are meticulously researched while still providing sweeping perspectives. This biography about one of baseball’s greatest players is no exception. Born in rural Puerto Rico, Clemente became one of the first–and greatest–Latino players in the major leagues. His unique grace, dignity and charity for others helped him rise above simply being a “baseball player” to become a symbol of an era. Clemente’s death in a 1972 airplane crash while on a mission to deliver food and supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua was both tragic and revealtory about the goodness of the man.

By David Maraniss,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Discover the remarkable life of Roberto Clemente—one of the most accomplished—and beloved—baseball heroes of his generation from Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss.

On New Year’s Eve 1972, following eighteen magnificent seasons in the major leagues, Roberto Clemente died a hero’s death, killed in a plane crash as he attempted to deliver food and medical supplies to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake. David Maraniss now brings the great baseball player brilliantly back to life in Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero, a book destined to become a modern classic. Much like his acclaimed biography of Vince Lombardi, When…

Book cover of The Rider

Kathleen Jowitt Author Of A Spoke in the Wheel

From my list on cycling novels that put you right in the heart of the action.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a cyclist and a cycling fan. I’ve commuted through the Surrey countryside by tricycle and explored the cycling city of Cambridge by bike. I’ve stood at the side of the road to cheer on the Olympic road race, the Tour de France and the Tour of Britain, and the World Road Cycling Championships. I kept on cycling until I was eight and a half months pregnant and was reading a biography of Beryl Burton when I went into labour. There aren’t a lot of cycling novels out there, but I’m proud of having added one to that small number.

Kathleen's book list on cycling novels that put you right in the heart of the action

Kathleen Jowitt Why did Kathleen love this book?

It takes a certain kind of person to succeed in the sport of cycling, and The Rider is possibly the closest I’ll ever get to understanding that mindset. This book tops every list of recommendations of cycling novels that I’ve ever seen and with good reason.

Told in the first person, it’s completely immersive. We follow the narrator through a single day’s race, and we feel all of it as he does: the slog, the suffering, the drive to win. I might have wondered why he kept going, but the simple act of reading the book answers that question: you can’t stop. I barely drew breath.

By Tim Krabbé,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

At the start of the 137-kilometre Tour de Mont Aigoual, Tim Krabbe glances up from his bike to assess the crowd of spectators. 'Non-racers,' he writes. 'The emptiness of those lives shocks me.' Immediate and gripping from the first page, we race with the author as he struggles up the hills and clings on during descents in the unforgiving French mountains.

Originally published in 1978, The Rider is a modern-day classic that is recognised as one of the best books ever written about the sport. Brilliantly conceived and best read at a break-neck pace, it is a loving, imaginative and…

Book cover of To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth

Christine Reed Author Of Alone in Wonderland

From my list on outdoor adventures by and about women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I got interested in long-distance backpacking in my mid-twenties, looking for an escape from the messy life I had created for myself. I wanted to reinvent myself, and a blog about the Appalachian Trail suggested a perfect solution. After 650 miles on the trail and the death of my mother, I knew I would never be the same. In the years since, I have hiked the Wonderland Trail (as featured in Alone in Wonderland) and the Colorado Trail. Backpacking has become more than an escape – it has become home.

Christine's book list on outdoor adventures by and about women

Christine Reed Why did Christine love this book?

Vanessa O'Brien recounts her journey from busy businesswoman to badass mountaineer. She is now the fastest woman to complete the seven summits (both versions just in case you had anything to say about that!) She's brash and gutsy, doesn't hold back what she really thinks, and addresses some of the human and environmental issues facing the world's biggest and ever increasingly popular peaks.

By Vanessa O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To the Greatest Heights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Vanessa O'Brien was made redundant in 2008 as part of the recession, she moved to Hong Kong with her husband for his career and resigned herself to being 'just the wife'. There she was, aged 46, bored, uninspired, unemployed. Was this going to be how she was going to live the rest of her life?

One night in the infamous Kee Club, over shots of tequila, a friend suggested O'Brien climb Everest, and that was the start of an epic journey she never looked back from as she climbed Everest, K2 and many other mountains.

This is her inspirational…

Book cover of The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth

David Kruh Author Of Inseparable: An Alcatraz Escape Adventure

From David's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author History lover Writer Geek Reader Gardner

David's 3 favorite reads in 2023

David Kruh Why did David love this book?

In The Big Bam Montville peels back the onion of legend and apocryphal stories to tell us the story – warts and booze and babes and all – of one of the most important figures of the 20th century... not just in sports, but in America.

This book is more than just the stories or the anecdotes. This book is a joy because of the way Montville writes. He is lyrical and poetic without being syrupy. Honest and probing without being cruel. When I grow up, I want to write like Leigh Montville.

By Leigh Montville,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

National Bestseller

He was the Sultan of Swat. The Caliph of Clout. The Wizard of Whack. The Bambino. And simply, to his teammates, the Big Bam. 

Babe Ruth was more than baseball’s original superstar. For eighty-five years, he has remained the sport’s reigning titan. He has been named Athlete of the Century . . . more than once. But who was this large, loud, enigmatic man? Why is so little known about his childhood, his private life, and his inner thoughts? In The Big Bam, Leigh Montville, whose recent New York Times bestselling biography of Ted Williams garnered glowing reviews…

Book cover of Staying the Course: A Runner's Toughest Race

Paul C. Clerici Author Of Born to Coach: The Story of Bill Squires, the Legendary Coach of the Greatest Generation of American Distance Runners

From my list on the sport of running.

Why am I passionate about this?

Born and raised in the Boston area, I’ve always loved history and running. Fortunately, I’ve been able to combine those passions for decades as a newspaper sports editor, magazine writer, and author, who has covered the sport for decades; runner, who has run hundreds of races, from the mile to the marathon, including 43 marathons (Boston 23 times); and public speaker and media guest about the sport. I enjoy delving deep into the history of races, athletes, records, etc. – everything within the sport – which has afforded me the great pleasure to meet, interview, and become friends with many Olympians, champions, record-setters, and Hall of Famers.

Paul's book list on the sport of running

Paul C. Clerici Why did Paul love this book?

If there is ever a life full of lessons on never giving up, it’s Dick Beardsley’s. One of America’s greatest and most accomplished marathoners, he is a multiple champion record-setter and made the Guinness Book of World Records when he ran 13 marathon PRs in a row. With tremendous honesty, he details in his book how a succession of tractor and car accidents and drug dependency nearly cost him his life on several occasions. It is a book about running, tragedy, survival, and redemption. He also wrote the foreword for one of my books.

By Dick Beardsley, Maureen Anderson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For a moment Dick Beardsley became the most famous runner in the world by losing a race. In the 1982 Boston Marathon, Beardsley, foiled by a motorcycle that cut him off, finished two seconds behind Alberto Salazar in one of the most memorable contests in marathon history. Staying the Course recounts that race and the difficult years that followed, including his recovery from a near-fatal farm accident, his subsequent addiction to painkillers, and a public arrest for forging prescriptions. His story of overcoming obstacles speaks to anyone who loves competition, who has survived catastrophe, or who has pursued a seemingly…