Craving sports? These books will jog your competitive edge

Al Woodworth on April 21, 2020

Craving the thrill of sports? Here are 10 books to jog your competitive edge

Sports are a stage for human drama, where we can come together and celebrate wins, sacrifices, teamwork, where adrenaline and excitement run free and the human body is on full display. There's nothing like the anticipation of a start line, the power of a crew team rowing in unison, the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, the last point of a tennis match, the glory of a touchdown, and the celebration of a win. So to provide a little bit of competition in this time of swallowed whistles, here are 10 books—fiction and nonfiction—to catapult you into the games that we love, in all of their drama and glory.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Chad Harbach’s novel dominated the headlines in 2011 when it first published—and we loved it: we named it a Best Book of September, and later the Best Book the Year. Henry Skrimshander is a college shortstop phenom—destined for the big leagues. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, his life and the fate of four others in his college community are upended. Baseball is the backbone of this page-turning book, but it is also about how we are shaped by our mistakes—bad throws, bad swings, bad relationships, bad decisions. The best part about the book is that Harbach knows baseball—and just like rooting for your favorite team, you will sit on the edge of your seat and pump your fist as the Harpooners come to bat.

Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask by Jon Pessah

But if you’re in the mood for baseball stories more grounded in fact—check out some of the new nonfiction books publishing this spring, including Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask, a rousing biography of Yogi Berra, winner of 10 World Series and one of the most quoted players of all time; and The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves by Keith Law, which dissects some of the best and worst calls in modern baseball and the decisions behind them.

Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant

Mamba Mentality is Kobe Bryant’s personal perspective on his life and career on the basketball court—it’s revealing, candid, inspirational and filled with photographs from on and off the court. In an interview he did with the Amazon Book Review, he talked about the secret to his success: "a mindset that extends way beyond basketball or sports. It’s simple, if you have a goal or a dream, you need to apply the Mamba Mentality to achieve it. Everything worth achieving needs total focus and dedication."

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

For young basketball fans and players, be sure to check out Kwame Alexander’s award winning Crossover series about basketball, family, and competition on and off the court.

Smokin' Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier by Mark Kram Jr.

History will remember the rivalry of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali as one for the ages, a trilogy of extraordinary fights that transcended the world of sports and crossed into a socio-cultural drama that divided the country. Frazier was a much more complex figure than just his rivalry with Ali would suggest. In this riveting portrayal, Kram unlinks Frazier from Ali and for the first time gives a full-bodied accounting of Frazier’s life. —Jon Foro

Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen

In what might be the best football book ever written, Cohen breathlessly recounts the thrilling narrative of the Bears' 1985 championship season. It's a story filled with outsized characters and unbelievable-but-true anecdotes gleaned from extensive interviews with the players themselves. It's a story about fathers and sons, love and loyalty, hope and redemption, and pain and joy. —Jon Foro

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman's Beartown is a complex novel set in a small, hockey-mad town that battles every day to stay relevant in a modernizing world. When a crime splits the town between those who believe a teen hockey star and those who believe the teen girl who's accused him, the question of right and wrong and seeing only what we want to believe forces everyone to reconsider what's important. The girl's mom is a marvel, a mix of lawyer and raging mama bear, and yet the whole town, from actual parents to the hockey coaches to the owner of the town's roughest bar, come to rethink how they are raising the town's youth.

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi was groomed to play tennis. By the age of 22, he had already won the first of eight grand slams and achieved wealth, celebrity, and the game’s highest honors. He’d go on to marry Brooke Shields and yet, as he reached the pinnacle of the tennis world, it all came crashing down. In Open, Andre Agassi leaves it all on the court, so to speak. From the dizzying highs (in more ways than one) to the PR stunts, his battle with addiction and fame, he gives the play by play of his successes, mistakes, and, yes, the matches he played.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Centered around the life of Joe Rantz—a farmboy from the Pacific Northwest who was literally abandoned as a child—and set during the Great Depression, The Boys in the Boat is a character-driven story with a natural crescendo that will have you racing to the finish. In 1936, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team raced its way to the Berlin Olympics for an opportunity to challenge the greatest in the world. How this team, largely composed of rowers from “foggy coastal villages, damp dairy farms, and smoky lumber towns all over the state,” managed to work together and sacrifice toward their goal of defeating Hitler’s feared racers is half the story. The other half is equally fascinating, as Brown seamlessly weaves in the story of crew itself. This is fast-paced and emotional nonfiction about determination, bonds built by teamwork, and what it takes to achieve glory. —Chris Schluep

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

Named Amazon’s Best Book of 2001, Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit tells the thrilling story of a horse that defied the odds and captivated the nation during one of the greatest summers of horse racing. From the heart-thundering races around the track, to the competition between jockeys, and the story behind the family that owned and raced Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand’s story is one of the most exciting books I’ve read about the thrill of a race, the rush of adrenaline, and the triumph of winning.

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