In the ever-subjective world of books and the reviews that may or may not define them, trying to come up with a year-end listing of books that stand out is a seemingly impossible task. Even using the loosely defined category of 2016 notable sports books, which can mean many things.
The second annual Sports Biblio list of notable sports books does have this parameter: Books published in the calendar year 2016. That’s why you will not see below some of the books that have been garnering acclaim by the brand-name sports book award houses, some of which cover the previous year (William Hill in the U.K., ESPN/PEN in the U.S.)
What does follow is an incredibly subjective and seemingly random list of 15 sports books published around the world during the year 2016 on a variety of subjects, and that generally received some noteworthy critical attention.
As in the 2015 list, this doesn’t necessarily mean best-sellers, although some of these selections have been on various best-seller lists. I narrowed these choices down to some reviews as well as my own sense of books that might withstand the test of time.
This is the first of several posts detailing 2016 notable sports books: Others will have more selections in the categories of sports biography/memoir, sports history and sports and the arts/culture.
In 2015 I limited this list to American sports but that was a mistake. I have a number of readers from around the world who have been terrific guides to books published in their countries, and about sports that are popular there, and I’m glad to be globalizing this list here with their assistance.
Feel free to let me know what you think and add your suggestions and recommendations. Happy reading!
“Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution,” by Jonathan Abrams (Crown Archetype)—A profile of the last NBA stars who jumped straight to high school, and how they changed the sport, “Boys to Men” was lauded well before LeBron James guided the Cleveland Cavaliers to the city’s first sports championship in more than 40 years. • Reviews: The Atlantic | Slate | Hardwood Paroxysm
“Today We Die A Little! The Inimitable Emil Zátopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time,” by Richard Askwith (Nation Books)—One of two biographies of the Czech Olympic gold medal distance runner, and included on numerous award long- and shortlists, which delved into his tragic post-running life for speaking out against the Communist regime in Prague. • Reviews: The Guardian (U.K.) | The Independent | Let’s Run
“Lost Champions: Four Men, Two Teams, and the Breaking of Pro Football’s Color Line,” by Gretchen Atwood (Bloomsbury USA)—An underappreciated piece of history about the integration of U.S. sports is the subject of this former sports journalist’s first book. In 1946, a year before Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, four African-Americans broke the color line in the NFL, which was hardly the behemoth sports entity it is today. • Reviews: WSJ | CS Monitor | Publishers Weekly
“Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present,” by Gail Buckland (Knopf)—The noted photographic historian wrote this companion book to a Brooklyn Museum exhibit that she curated, and she makes a passionate case for the work of Neil Leifer, Robert Riger, Walter Iooss Jr., et al, as nothing short of artistry. • Reviews: NYT | Boston Globe | American Photo
“Players: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution,” by Matthew Futterman (Simon & Schuster)—The origins of the moderns sports industry are traced to lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Mark McCormack, who represented Arnold Palmer as the first pro sports agent in the early 1960s and ignited the rise of athlete power as money poured into the world of sports like never before. • Reviews: Financial Times | The Millions | Sports Biblio
“The Games: A Global History of the Olympics,” by David Goldblatt (W.W. Norton & Co.)—The award-wining author takes his usual encyclopedic approach to sports history, this time the evolution of the modern games and the International Olympic Committee. His analysis takes aim at decades of disorganization, doping, graft, and the shoddy treatment of athletes, women and racial minorities. It’s not new territory, but Goldblatt’s thorough telling was published as many controversies swirled around the staging of the Rio Olympics. • Reviews: The Spectator (U.K.) | The Economist | The National (U.A.E.)
“Stroke of Genius: Victor Trumper and the Shot That Changed Cricket,” by Gideon Haigh (Penguin Books Australia)—A highly anticipated look about a single photograph—Australian batsman Victor Trumper in a 1902 test match—demonstrating the near perfection of form, skill, grace and power. While Trumper has been hailed as a legend of cricket, Haigh gives proper due to George Beldam, who took the shot that’s among the most recognizable in sports history. • Reviews: The Australian | The Leader | Wisden
“For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr,” by Duncan Hamilton (Penguin Press)—His story featured in the film “Chariots of Fire,” Liddell turned his back on athletic fame to do missionary work in China, where he died in a Japanese internment camp near the end of World War II. • Reviews: The Herald (Scotland) | Christianity Today | Wash Post
“Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA,” by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss (Portfolio)—The governing body of American intercollegiate athletics has been under siege via litigation and media criticism for what many consider its outdated notions of amateurism. The authors pile on with a well-documented recounting of key legal battles and call for further compensation for athletes, especially those in the revenue-producing sports of football and men’s basketball. • Reviews: Lincoln Journal-Star | Sports Biblio | Charlotte Observer
“A Life Well Played: My Stories,” by Arnold Palmer (St. Martin’s Press)—The golfing legend’s final memoir, published just weeks after his death, reveals that he didn’t particularly like “The King” nickname and reflects the deep humility he always felt during an iconic career and public life. • Reviews: Golf Digest | Wisconsin Golf | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
“Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre,” by Jeff Pearlman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)—The first full-scale biography of the Hall of Fame quarterback reveals him in all of his human dimensions, from his rough-hewn youth in Mississippi to his rollicking career with the Green Bay Packers, feuds with Aaron Rodgers and difficulties in his private life. • Reviews: Chicago Tribune | FanRag Sports | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“The Edge: The War against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports,” by Roger Pielke Jr. (Roaring Forties Press)—An exploration of issues involving sports governance in the wake of corruption allegations against powerful FIFA executives and ongoing doping controversies in the Olympic movement. The author, the founder of a new sports governance center at the University of Colorado, also examines battles over amateurism in college sports and match-fixing. • Reviews: Play The Game | Boulder Daily Camera
“Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football and an American Town,” by S.L. Price (Atlantic Monthly Press)—The veteran Sports Illustrated senior writer profiles the high school football hotbed of Aliquippa, Pa., hometown of Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett, a place struggling to cope with long-term economic decline and the poverty, drug abuse, violence and despair that has resulted. • Reviews: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Providence Journal
“Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History,” by Molly Schiot (Simon & Schuster)—Frustrated by rejected pitches for documentary film projects about female athletes, the author conducted her own project, starting on Instagram, that has morphed into this pictorial-focused book. Some subjects are well-known, but many are not, which adds depth to a compelling appreciation. • Reviews: Irish Times | Outside | espnW
“The Selling of the Babe: The Deal That Changed Baseball and Created a Legend,” by Glenn Stout (Thomas Dunne Books)—A richly detailed account of the business of baseball, circa 1920, and arguably the most significant transaction ever in American sports. The machinations between Red Sox owner Harry Frazee and his Yankees counterpart, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, form the basis of a fascinating look at how the game was played on and off the field, as the Black Sox fallout loomed and the Jazz Age began. • Reviews: Sports Biblio | Baseball America | Tom Hoffarth