1. DOCTOR SOCRATES
By Andrew Downie
Pele once said about Socrates’ back-heels: “He can play backwards better than most can play forwards.” How can you not be intrigued by such a man? How can you not be interested in an athlete who was an activist, drinker, doctor, smoker, rebel, philosopher and had professors, who were fans, reschedule his exam papers so that he could play while in university.
2. BEYOND GLORY: JOE LOUIS VS. MAX SCHMELING, AND A WORLD ON THE BRINK
By David Margolick
An American, a German and a tale about race, Nazis, friendship, a looming World War and boxing. First time Schmeling wins. The rematch is in 1938, again in Yankee Stadium, and Margolick writes: “Nearly 70,000 fans would lean forward in their seats; throughout the rest of the world, a 100 million people or more – the largest audience in history for anything – would gather around their radios.”
3. THE IMPOSSIBLE CLIMB: ALEX HONNOLD, EL CAPITAN, AND THE CLIMBING LIFE
By Mark Synnott
Who is this man who climbs a 914m granite wall with no rope? Is there any athlete out there quite like him? Synnott gets under the skin of Honnold and also of a resolute, daring tribe. As a climber, Peter Croft, puts it: “The great thing about a climbing hero is that they’re doing something for no good reason at all. To put that much on the line, to work so hard for something that doesn’t have any quantifiable value, it’s just this wonderful, crazy, uniquely human thing.”
4. THE RIVALS
By Johnette Howard
Federer v Nadal: 40 meetings. Djokovic v Nadal: 55 contests. Small-time stuff. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova played 80 times. They’re both driven, competitive women who train to beat each other, are stylistically different, unalike as people and yet pals. When Evert was going through a divorce, guess who invited her for the Christmas holidays? Navratilova.
5. ANQUETIL, ALONE
By Paul Fournel
A unique account of a complex athlete who won the Tour de France five times between 1957 and 1964. Take a sample of who Jacques Anquetil is: “I only have to feel that a wall is keeping me prisoner to want to jump over it. It’s a reflex… If we’re not to go out at night, I go out. If flirting is outlawed, I flirt. Cycling is not my sport. I didn’t choose it; the bike chose me. I don’t love the bike, the bike loves me. It’s going to pay for it.”
6. ENDURANCE: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND TIMES OF EMIL ZATOPEK
By Rick Broadbent
The politics, the rivals, the generosity, the hard times, it’s all there. Before one Olympics, Zatopek’s daily training for 10 days was 60x400m fast, followed by 200m slow. In 1952, in a single Games, he won the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon. No wonder that in 2013, Runner’s World named him the greatest runner of all time.
7. THE BOYS OF SUMMER
By Roger Kahn
The best way to appreciate a foreign sport is to wander through it with a superior writer. Kahn had me in the second page itself, when he wrote: “You may glory in a team triumphant but you fall in love with a team in defeat.” His book, about the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, was ranked No. 2 in Sports Illustrated’s 2002 list of the Top 100 Sports Books.
8. TIGER WOODS
By Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian
There are never enough books to explain gifted humans, especially complicated, distant, dazzling athletes like Woods. This finely reported book is grim, revealing, poignant and raises multiple issues: How pushy should a parent be? What is the cost of single-mindedness? How much pressure do we heap on the famous? Nothing about genius is simple.
By Alex Ferguson with Michael Moritz
In the team bath, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister are raving about a Leeds player named Eric Cantona. Ferguson, also in the bath, is doing something important: Listening. It’s the title of his first chapter. Everything we discuss about football – discipline, drive, complacency – Ferguson touches on with insight and illustrates with a story. Even his dislike for long hair. When Karel Poborsky joined, he wrote that the Czech arrived “looking as though he was going to play for Led Zeppelin rather than United”. Yup, Fergie knows rock ‘n’ roll.
10. UNSTOPPABLE: MY LIFE SO FAR
By Maria Sharapova
You don’t have to like her, but this book will make you somewhat understand her. It is a book about dreaming, sacrifice, journeys, hardship, sharing a living room couch with a father, not giving up and never being apologetic. Writing about herself when playing in the 10-and-under category, she explains: “Even then, I tried to set myself apart. No emotion. No fear. Like ice. I was not friends with the other girls because that would make me softer, easier to beat.”
TOMORROW: E-sports streams to watch
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