Whether you’re shopping for a fair weather fan or a diehard devotee, these books are a home run.
String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis, by David Foster Wallace
The Library of America has curated five of the late author’s nonfiction essays on tennis for this new collector’s edition. Among the writings is his famous New York Times essay, “Federer as Religious Experience,” considered by many to be the greatest piece of tennis journalism ever written. A decent junior player himself, Foster Wallace writes about the sport with the insight of a seasoned athlete and the fervor of a dedicated fan, bringing his literary talent to the game he loved so dearly. Foster Wallace devotees and tennis fanatics alike will appreciate this beautiful collection.
To buy: $13, amazon.com.
Ball Four: The Final Pitch, by Jim Bouton
Major League pitcher Jim Bouton chronicles the 1969 season, which he spent with the short-lived Seattle Pilots and then the Houston Astros, in this game-changing diary. Crossing lines no one had previously dared to, Bouton shares stories from inside the locker room, revealing the petty jealousies, raucous carousing, and routine drug use that were part of life as a ball player. It’s no secret now that Mickey Mantle was a heavy drinker and a ladies’ man, but when this controversial memoir came out in 1970, Bouton, who played with Mantle on the New York Yankees, found himself persona non grata within the game. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn even tried to get Bouton to declare the book untrue! While some of the revelations may seem tame today, this funny, insightful, beautifully-observed book stands the test of time.
To buy: $18, amazon.com.
Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby
This charming memoir is a must-read for anyone who has been a lifelong devotee of one particular team. The High Fidelity author documents his love affair with the English soccer club Arsenal, which began when he was 11-years-old and looking for a way to connect with his father. Over the next 24 years, his fandom blossoms into a full-blown obsession. Hornby admits he let it get in the way of relationships (yes, matches trumped christenings and weddings on more than one occasion), and he is convinced that good sex, and even fatherhood, cannot compare with the joy of watching Arsenal score a championship-winning goal: “Childbirth must be extraordinarily moving, but it doesn’t really have the crucial surprise element.” This book captures the agony and the ecstasy of being a sports fan with wit and a lot of heart.
To buy: $14, amazon.com.
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
Follow an eight-man crew from the University of Washington’s rowing team to their gold medal-winning turn at the 1936 Olympics in this utterly compelling historical account. Told through the eyes of Joe Rantz, a farm boy who was abandoned as a child, Brown tells an all-American story of working-class boys facing off against increasingly challenging foes, from their rivals at Berkeley to the upper crust snobs at a Northeast regatta to ultimately the German team at the Berlin Games. Filled with first-hand accounts, this sports history book reads more like a novel.
To buy: $11, amazon.com.
Brady Vs. Manning, by Gary Myers
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are arguably the two greatest quarterbacks of all time. And according to football reporter Gary Myers, they are also a study in contrasts. Brady is a sixth-round draft pick who Myers calls “the overachieving underdog.” Manning, the son of College Hall of Famer Archie Manning and the brother of fellow quarterback Eli Manning, is “the crown prince of football.” But both rose to the top of the game and shared a rivalry that shaped the game forever. Drawing on never-before-heard interviews with Brady and Manning, their coaches, families, teammates, and competitors, Myers delivers entertaining depictions of both men that will provide fuel for many “who was the greatest?” debates to come.
To buy: $15, amazon.com.
Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Game Are Won, by Tobias Moskowitz & L. Jon Wertheim
Freakonomics meets Moneyball in this analytical offering by Tobias Moskowitz, a behavioral economist at the University of Chicago, and L. Jon Wertheim, an editor and writer at Sports Illustrated. Using data to determine whether certain sports truisms are in fact, well, true—do home teams really have the advantage? Do defenses win championships? Is there no “I” in team?—the authors examine everything from umpire bias to why the Chicago Cubs have yet to win the World Series since 1908.
To buy: $10, amazon.com.
Dream Team, by Jack McCallum
When professional athletes were first allowed to play at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the United States didn’t hold back. Sending some of the greatest players to ever grace the NBA (Michael Jordan! Magic Johnson! Larry Bird!), the U.S. dominated the Games and went on to take gold. Sportswriter Jack McCallum takes an in-depth look at how the ultimate squad came together and changed the course of the game.
To buy: $15, amazon.com.
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Henry Skrimshander is the star shortstop at Westish College in Wisconsin. While the team had never garnered much attention, Henry’s defensive prowess has attracted scouting agents from far and wide. But when Henry accidentally beans his roommate Owen smack in the head with a misplaced throw, it starts a chain reaction that sends four other lives off course. You don’t need to be a baseball fan to fall in love with this beautifully written, impressive debut novel.
To buy: $9, amazon.com.
League of Denial, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru
This exposÃ©, along with a powerful PBS documentary to match, takes on the most pervasive problem in the NFL today: traumatic brain injuries. Two ESPN investigative reporters reveal that the NFL conducted a two-decade campaign to deny and downplay a growing body of scientific research that demonstrated a link between playing football and brain damage. Your football fan may never watch the game the same way again.
To buy: $12, amazon.com.
The Greatest Game Ever Played, by Mark Frost
Travel back to the 1913 U.S. Open when American amateur Francis Ouimet shocked the golf world by defeating British champion Harry Vardon, the most famous pro golfer of the time. In his first non-fiction work, Mark Frost makes clear the differences between Ouimet and Vardon—Ouimet was from a working-class town outside of Boston where golf was seen as a rich man’s game, while Vardon had won six British Open titles—but he also highlights their shared drive to succeed. Frost elegantly weaves history into his compelling narrative, demonstrating how this epic duel thrust the U.S. Open onto the world stage of golf.
To buy: $13, amazon.com.