Though there are many more biographies and memoirs written by sports persons the world over, these eight are my personal favourites. There are few more that I have on my TBR, but these are the ones that I have ‘read’, sometimes ‘reread’ and now ‘recommend’. These are inspirational stories about athletes who have entertained us … broken records … brought glory to our countries and mankind … pushed the limits … and made a name for themselves in history. Have you read any, or are there any that you have loved and would like to recommend to us? Do write and let us know.
King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero by David Remnick
There were mythic sports figures before him–Jack Johnson, Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio–but when Cassius Clay burst onto the sports scene from his native Louisville in the 1950s, he broke the mold. He changed the world of sports and went on to change the world itself. As Muhammad Ali, he would become the most recognized face on the planet. Ali was a transcendent athlete and entertainer, a heavyweight Fred Astaire, a rapper before rap was born. He was a mirror of his era, a dynamic figure in the racial and cultural battles of his time. This unforgettable story of his rise and self-creation, told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, places Ali in a heritage of great American originals.
Cassius Clay grew up in the Jim Crow South and came of athletic age when boxers were at the mercy of the mob. From the start, Clay rebelled against everything and everyone who would keep him and his people down. He refused the old stereotypes and refused the glad hand of the mob. And, to the confusion and fury of white sportswriters, who were far more comfortable with the self-effacing Joe Louis, Clay came forward as a rebel, insistent on his political views, on his new religion, and, eventually, on a new name. His rebellion nearly cost him the chance to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.
King of the World features some of the pivotal figures of the 1960s–Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, John F. Kennedy–and its pivotal events: the civil rights movement, political assassinations, the war in Vietnam. Muhammad Ali is a great hero and a beloved figure in American life. King of the World takes us back to the days when his life was a series of battles, inside the ring and out. A master storyteller at the height of his powers, David Remnick has written a book worthy of America’s most dynamic modern hero.
Open by Andre Agassi, J.R. Moehringer
From Andre Agassi, one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court, a beautiful, haunting autobiography.
Agassi’s incredibly rigorous training begins when he is just a child. By the age of thirteen, he is banished to a Florida tennis camp that feels like a prison camp. Lonely, scared, a ninth-grade dropout, he rebels in ways that will soon make him a 1980s icon. He dyes his hair, pierces his ears, dresses like a punk rocker. By the time he turns pro at sixteen, his new look promises to change tennis forever, as does his lightning-fast return.
And yet, despite his raw talent, he struggles early on. We feel his confusion as he loses to the world’s best, his greater confusion as he starts to win. After stumbling in three Grand Slam finals, Agassi shocks the world, and himself, by capturing the 1992 Wimbledon. Overnight he becomes a fan favorite and a media target.
Agassi brings a near-photographic memory to every pivotal match and every relationship. Never before has the inner game of tennis and the outer game of fame been so precisely limned. Alongside vivid portraits of rivals from several generations—Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer—Agassi gives unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. He reveals a shattering loss of confidence. And he recounts his spectacular resurrection, a comeback climaxing with his epic run at the 1999 French Open and his march to become the oldest man ever ranked number one.
In clear, taut prose, Agassi evokes his loyal brother, his wise coach, his gentle trainer, all the people who help him regain his balance and find love at last with Stefanie Graf. Inspired by her quiet strength, he fights through crippling pain from a deteriorating spine to remain a dangerous opponent in the twenty-first and final year of his career. Entering his last tournament in 2006, he’s hailed for completing a stunning metamorphosis, from nonconformist to elder statesman, from dropout to education advocate. And still he’s not done. At a U.S. Open for the ages, he makes a courageous last stand, then delivers one of the most stirring farewells ever heard in a sporting arena.
With its breakneck tempo and raw candor, Open will be read and cherished for years. A treat for ardent fans, it will also captivate readers who know nothing about tennis. Like Agassi’s game, it sets a new standard for grace, style, speed, and power
Milkha Singh has led a life dominated by running, running, running… From a boy who narrowly escaped death during Partition (most of his family was not so lucky), to a juvenile delinquent who stole and outran the police, to a young Army recruit who ran his very first race to win special privileges for himself (a daily glass of milk). After that first race, Milkha Singh became an athlete by default. And what followed was the stuff legends are made of.
In this remarkably candid autobiography, Milkha Singh shares the amazing highs of winning India’s first ever gold in athletics at the Commonwealth Games, the unbridled joy of being hailed as the ‘Flying Sikh’ in Pakistan, as well as the shattering low of failure at the Olympics.
Simple yet ambitious, famous yet grounded, Milkha Singh was a man who defined his own destiny and remained committed to running. And yet, remarkably for a man whose life was dominated by sports, he continues to remain disillusioned with the way sports is run…
Powerful and gripping, The Race of My Life documents the journey of an impoverished refugee who rose to become one of the most towering figures in Indian sports.
Harold Larwood by Duncan Hamilton
Harold Larwood is an England cricketing legend. During the MCC’s notorious 1932–3 Ashes tour of Australia, his “Bodyline” bowling left Australia’s batsmen bruised and battered, halved the batting average of the great Don Bradman—and gave England a 4–1 series victory. But the diplomatic row that followed brought Anglo-Australian relations to the brink of collapse. Larwood was used as a scapegoat by the MCC, which demanded he apologize for bowling Bodyline. Arguing that he had simply obeyed the instructions of his captain, Douglas Jardine, Larwood refused. He never played for England again. The Bodyline saga has been told before, but Larwood’s story has not. Using materials provided by the fast bowler’s family, Duncan Hamilton has created an intimate and compelling portrait of Larwood’s life: from his mining village upbringing, through the trauma of 1932–3 and its bitter aftermath, to his emigration to Australia, where he and his family found happiness. A moving recreation of the triumph, betrayal and redemption of a working-class hero, Harold Larwood will enthrall not only cricket fans, but all those who relish biographical writing of the highest quality.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
Seabiscuit was one of the most electrifying and popular attractions in sports history and the single biggest newsmaker in the world in 1938, receiving more coverage than FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. But his success was a surprise to the racing establishment, which had written off the crooked-legged racehorse with the sad tail. Three men changed Seabiscuit’s fortunes:
Charles Howard was a onetime bicycle repairman who introduced the automobile to the western United States and became an overnight millionaire. When he needed a trainer for his new racehorses, he hired Tom Smith, a mysterious mustang breaker from the Colorado plains. Smith urged Howard to buy Seabiscuit for a bargain-basement price, then hired as his jockey Red Pollard, a failed boxer who was blind in one eye, half-crippled, and prone to quoting passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over four years, these unlikely partners survived a phenomenal run of bad fortune, conspiracy, and severe injury to transform Seabiscuit from a neurotic, pathologically indolent also-ran into an American sports icon.
Author Laura Hillenbrand brilliantly re-creates a universal underdog story, one that proves life is a horse race.
The Death of Ayrton Senna by Richard Williams
Richard Williams leaves no stone unturned as he examines the life and the untimely death of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna.; he gets deep into the psyche of this complex Brazilian as he analyses his character and attempts to discover the reasons behind the driver’s burning desire to win. It was, Williams believes, a desire which a precious few drivers have–an inherent belief within Senna that he had the divine right to victory.
Senna’s faults are covered as equally as the good side to his persona, and the author manages to accurately define the Brazilian hero’s character like no other has.
The events leading up to and in the months and years following Senna’s fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix are examined in detail. The views of various experts and Formula One drivers are revealed in the book and many of their thoughts about the remarkable driver make a fascinating read.
Williams gets closer than anyone else to producing the ultimate story of a racing driver whose thirst for success and unparalleled ability led him to the heights of his chosen discipline–and ultimately his death.
This all-encompassing examination of the death of a superstar and a legend in his own right is an intimate yet pragmatic volume that will satisfy the reader’s desire to discover the explanations of what really led to the death of the most thrilling driver of modern times.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.
Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.
With a sharp wit and wild exuberance, McDougall takes us from the high-tech science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultrarunners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to the climactic race in the Copper Canyons. Born to Run is that rare book that will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that the secret to happiness is right at your feet, and that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.
I Think Therefore I Play by Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Alciato, Mark Palmer
Andrea Pirlo is one of the finest footballers of his generation – a World Cup and Champions League winning playmaker who has redefined his position at the base of midfield, and one of the most deadly free-kick takers the game has known. This is his story, in his words.
It is written with a level of humour and insight which confound his image as a dead-eyed assassin on the field of play. All the big names are in there: Lippi, Ancelotti, Conte, Maldini, Shevchenko, Seedorf, Buffon, Kaka, Nesta, Balotelli, Costacurta, Gattuso, Berlusconi and Ronaldo (“the real one”). But they’re not always in their work clothes. We hear Berlusconi playing the piano and telling “various types of jokes” at Milan’s training ground. We see Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi drawing Nesta’s ire as they take him on a mystery tour of the German countryside in a hire car days before a World Cup semi-final. And we smell the aftermath of Filippo Inzaghi’s graphically-described pre-match routine. With the 2014 World Cup being his last international tournament, this is a timely salute to a special talent who may yet have one final chapter left to write.
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