From cricket pitches to tennis courts, writing about sports is not just about keeping records of the matches, but also an exploration of an athlete’s mind. And like great sportspeople themselves, rare and truly special is the writer who does justice to the sentiments involved in sporting contests. These are the books we keep going back to to relive unforgettable achievements and athletic philosophies from various sports arenas:
Strokes of Genius – L. Jon Wertheim
They’ll always have London. Even though tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal no longer seem to be moulded from molecules of invincibility, the 2008 final at Wimbledon has a permanent place in recollections of tennis greatness. Divided into five chapters (one for each set), the book does justice to the epic 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 score line, which ended in favour of Nadal. Between marvellous descriptions of the magical rallies, Wertheim shines a light on the personalities of these two tennis legends with delectable writing and unparalleled insight.
Open – Andre Agassi with J.R. Moehringer
With all the flair of his tennis attire from the 90s, eight-time grand slam champ Agassi lays bare the scars in his journey through the tennis trenches with generous dollops of glamour. Detailing his days under the strict coaching glare of his father and Nick Bollettieri’s academy in Florida, Open featured the most explosive revelation about crystal meth before Breaking Bad staked its claim, and also a few sneering swipes at arch rival Pete Sampras and a contemplation of the zigzag meanderings of his love life.
The Secret Race – Tyler Hamilton with Daniel Coyle
In this confessional published just months before the revelations of world cycling’s massive drug scandal, Tyler Hamilton tells the world about life in Lance Armstrong’s inner circle. The former professional cyclist speaks honestly and clearly about the choices he made, his own participation in the sport’s organised crime, and the depression he battled thereafter. A gripping account of the years that had the entire world fooled.
Beyond a Boundary – C.L.R. James
A cricket classic for the ages, Trinidadian writer C.L.R James paints a comprehensive picture of the political, social and historical threads of the game. Bringing in race and class, and the interplay between an English game and its Caribbean counterpart, this is far more than just a personal account of one man’s memories of the sport.
Pundits from Pakistan – Rahul Bhattacharya
Taking in the sights, sounds, runs and wickets as the Indian cricket team toured Pakistan for the first time since 1989 in 2003-04, Pundits from Pakistan encompasses narratives that move far beyond the sport itself. The author peels away myriad layers of Pakistani society as he comes across a range of memorable characters and masterfully conveys the emotions that come attached with such a tour. Interspersed with these reflections are reports of the tour’s five ODIs and three Tests, along with the various routes taken by the history of this rivalry.
Soccer in Sun and Shadow – Eduardo Galeano (translated by Mark Fried)
Bursting with quotable lines, Soccer in Sun and Shadow chronicles football history with a style that will have you riveted. The 150 mini chapters hold together pages dripping with love for the game, with some extraordinary anecdotes from the game.
I Think Therefore I Play – Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato
Andrea Pirlo is a thinker. Who knew? The Italian football star sheds light on life in the modern game with a deadpan humour that compels this book to be read in one sitting. From Playstation battles with colleagues to pre-match bathroom rituals that his teammates won’t thank him for revealing, this is unlike any run-of-the-mill sportsperson’s autobiography. Sample this: “Roy Hodgson mispronounced my name. He called me Pirla (dickhead), perhaps understanding my true nature more than other managers.”
Born to Run – Christopher McDougall
Taking a cue from a Mexican running tribe, Christopher McDougall discovers just what it takes to run impossibly long distances at a stretch. Hint: it isn’t the perfect pair of shoes. The Tarahumara seem to suffer from no illness or injury as they clock up hundreds of miles (yes, three figures) with bare feet. Born to Run travels from science labs to the Sierra Madre’s Copper Canyon, with some striking personalities showing how ultra-marathons should be run.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
An evocative exploration of the acts of running and writing, this memoir is an inspiring read that looks at one through the other. Murakami ponders over the meaning of life through these two prisms, making his way past triathlons and the original marathon route in Greece from Marathon to Athens. Detailing his training regimen as well as his writing discipline, he discovers the finer points of the relationship between putting words on paper and raising dust on the running track in classic Murakami prose.
The Meaning of Sport – Simon Barnes
The former chief sportswriter of The Times sets about to answer the most basic question for us fans: Why do we watch sport? Observing the endurance of athletes from the best seat in the house by virtue of his profession, the author waxes philosophical about achievements in the sporting arena and shares the insights he has gained through interactions with legends.