A friend asked me recently for book recommendations in the sports genre, particularly cricket, some time ago and I wrote a long note in reply which was calculated to impress. One must not let these opportunities slip by, particularly when people actually ask you to pontificate. I have decided to preserve my note for posterity in this blog, only slightly modified.
My interests in the sports book genre are mostly the ones about chess, cricket, boxing and running. I do read books on other sports but mostly stick to these.
The most recent book I read on sports was “Redemption Song” by Mark Marquse. This is a remarkable book which weaves Mohammed Ali’s boxing career with the cultural and historical events of the American sixties. It mentions the black movement in all its forms around the world- Mandela and Malcolm X and Viv Richards and the Dalit movement. But it is not a hard core sports book- boxing takes second place to the larger picture.
Another good boxing book was “The Fight” by Norman Mailer. It describes the run up to a single fight and the fight itself, Ali with Foreman, the rumble in the jungle.
“Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall is a book on running, specifically long distance running. It talks of ultra marathoners and the Tarahumara tribesmen of Mexico and is an entertaining read, although it does contain some specious pseudoscientific reasonings. Another running book I enjoyed was Murakami’s autobiographical “What I Talk About When I’m Talking of Running.”
The “Picador Book of Cricket” edited by Ramachandra Guha is a grand collection. It contains articles by the great writers of the game including people like Neville Cardus, and is a great start if one wants to read cricket seriously. I’m yet to read Guha’s “A Corner of a Foreign Field”.
“Beyond a Boundary” by CLR James, which I finished recently after watching it lie around for years, is often described as the best book ever on cricket. But it is more than a cricket book. It is much like the Redemption Song in that the sports described is part of the larger West Indian political life, with racism the biggest issue of the times.
Many years ago I read Mike Brearley’s “Art of Captaincy” but can’t remember any of it. It is said to be something of a classic, like the “Art of War”. Possibly eminently forgettable.
An interesting book that I read long ago was about the 1981 England tour of India by Scyld Berry, perhaps the most boring series in history. It was called “Cricket Wallah” and I had forgotten all about it. I recently saw it mentioned in an article by Suresh Menon, and found to my surprise that I remembered entire sections of it verbatim.
P.G. Wodehouse wrote a few cricket stories which have been compiled in a book called “Wodehouse at the Wicket”. They are passable by his standards, but Wodehouse wrote about cricket when he was very young. The golf stories written in later years are much better. The “Clicking of Cuthbert” springs to mind but the golf stories are all superb.
I hate autobiographies by players as a rule- they are mostly ghost written and not very good- but “Open” by Andre Agassi is an exception. It is ghost written but is still an excellent read.
I read an autobiography by a motorcycle racer called Phil Read when I was young and I still remember most of it. It was called “Prince of Speed”. I have been hunting for it for a while in second hand book stores but haven’t yet managed to get a copy.
Two exceptional mountaineering books. One is “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer about an Everest expedition. Another by Edmund Hillary is called “From the Ocean to the Sky” and relates how he and his team which included his son followed the Ganga river upstream from the ocean to its source.
My favorite chess books are My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer and Logical Chess: Move by Move by Irving Chernev. These are technical so if you don’t play chess don’t bother.
Finally one general book on sports which I liked a lot is “The Meaning of Sports” by Simon Barnes. He dislikes boxing but apart from that he is good.
These are the sports books which come to mind without thinking about it, and for that reason must be the ones I liked best in the genre.