Have you ever started to read a book, when out of nowhere your spouse asks you something, which indicates that multiple hours have passed?
The beauty of a truly great book is that you get lost in the story. It might be the pull of a character, the recollection of personal memories, or the way in which it's written. Great writers have the ability to pull you in, plant ideas in your mind, and make you feel something.
Hopefully you're here because you want to feel something. Our goal with today's article is to truly pull out stories that moved and changed us.
Ranking the Top 10 Sports Books Ever Written
There have been so many excellent sports books written over the years that simply picking ten was incredibly challenging. However, all of these stood out in some way, whether it was the story itself, a character that we just couldn't get enough of, or the incredible vulnerability that was shared in a book like Open.
We first aimed to select books from different sports so we had some diversity. The next three pieces of criteria were the following:
1. They had to tell unique, authentic stories.
2. While they're classified as sports books, they couldn't be written purely about the sports aspect. Each book had to contain some of that beautiful balance of how sports intersects with real life.
3. They were all simply hard to put down. Granted, this is a subjective measure, but anyone that's been pulled into a story where you lose track of the world around you knows what I'm talking about.
With that said, please enjoy the best sports books of all time.
The Top 10 Sports Books
"It's the best book I've ever written, and the best story I've ever found." - Michael Lewis
1. "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis: This book tells the story of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, and his efforts to build a competitive baseball team on a shoestring budget using analytics. Not surprisingly, this book was also featured on our list of best baseball books.
Why it's elite: While sports analytics existed before this book, Michael Lewis really tore the cover off. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of this book. Think about the evolution of analytics in sports since then. To shed light on something "new" in sports is hard to do. Mix that with entertaining characters and a storyline that people care about, and you have a winner.
2. The Breaks of the Game
“A good team was simply a group of very disparate athletes who assembled each day from radically different lives and—with luck—for one shared moment put aside their differences, their dislikes, their egos and their rivalries, harnessing their energies towards a common goal.” - David Halberstam
2. "The Breaks of the Game" by David Halberstam: This book chronicles the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers, a team that was expected to contend for the NBA championship but ultimately fell short.
Why it's elite: Halberstam is one of the greatest writers ever with more than 20 books to his name. His ability to take basketball and everything that surrounds it to paint a realistic portrait of what playing in the NBA is actually like was eye-opening to a lot of people. A season in the NBA isn't just basketball; players are at the epicenter of one of the greatest shows on earth.
Take two minutes to watch the video below on David's incredible career.
“Now that I've won a slam, I know something very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn't feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn't last long as the bad. Not even close.” - Andre Agassi
3. "Open" by Andre Agassi: In this memoir, tennis legend Andre Agassi writes about his life and career, including his tumultuous relationship with the sport and his struggles with mental health. This topped our list of best motivational books.
Why it's elite: This book is so raw and honest that it makes you uncomfortable at times. Agassi's life story and the way that it's told are pure gold. I don't think I've read another biography that's quite like this one.
4. Friday Night Lights
“Athletics lasts for such a short period of time. It ends for people. But while it lasts, it creates this make-believe world where normal rules don’t apply. We build this false atmosphere. When it’s over and the harsh reality sets in, that’s the real joke we play on people. . . . Everybody wants to experience that superlative moment, and being an athlete can give you that. It’s Camelot for them. But there’s even life after it.” - H.G. Bissinger
4. "Friday Night Lights" by H.G. Bissinger: This book follows the 1988 Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas, as they make a run at the state championship. For more on this book and other top football books, check out our list here.
Why it's elite: There's a dichotomy to this story that's so uplifting, yet so sad. These guys are born in a place where their lives are built around football. Every town resident lives through a group of high school boys, who certainly try to deflect that pressure but are also just trying to figure out how they fit in. There are so many takeaways from this book about culture, parenting, coaching, and trying your best.
5. The Boys in the Boat
“It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.” - Daniel James Brown
5. "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown: This book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 crew team and their journey to the Berlin Olympics. For more on this book and other favorites about the Olympics, check out our article here.
Why it's elite: Time and place can dramatically change stories, and this one is incredible given the state of Germany in 1936. While world relations are in a much better place today, that wasn't always the case, and you feel it in this book. Sports can change history; these 9 men helped shape American history.
6. The Perfect Mile
“A man who sets out to become an artist at the mile is something like a man who sets out to discover the most graceful method of being hanged. No matter how logical his plans, he can not carry them out without physical suffering.” - Neal Bascomb
6. "The Perfect Mile" by Neal Bascomb: This book follows the story of three runners – Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee – as they race to be the first to run a mile in under four minutes.
Why it's elite: How many times have you heard the name Roger Bannister? He's become the poster child for achieving what has never been done. Yet, I never really knew much about him until I read this book.
7. The Game
“I feel nothing, I hear nothing, my eyes watch the puck, my body moves—like a goalie moves, like I move; I don’t tell it to move or how to move or where, I don’t know it’s moving, I don’t feel it move—yet it moves. And when my eyes watch the puck, I see things I don’t know I’m seeing. I see Larson and Nedomansky as they come on the ice, I see them away from the puck unthreatening and uninvolved. I see something in the way a shooter holds his stick, in the way his body angles and turns, in the way he’s being checked, in what he’s done before that tells me what he’ll do—and my body moves. I let it move. I trust it and the unconscious mind that moves it.” - Ken Dryden
7. "The Game" by Ken Dryden: In this book, former NHL goaltender Ken Dryden reflects on his career and the role that hockey played in his life. For more on this book and other hockey favorites, check out our article here.
Why it's elite: Similar to The Breaks of the Game, Dryden takes hockey fans on incredible journey through his life playing hockey. He played during an era where you can feel the love of the game come through the pages. While he certainly could've talked up his own career (he won 5 Stanley Cups), this book is really about everyone else that was a part of the journey and made it memorable.
“It's easy to talk to a horse if you understand his language. Horses stay the same from the day they are born until the day they die. They are only changed by the way people treat them.” - Laura Hillenbrand
8. "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand: This book tells the story of the undersized racehorse Seabiscuit and his unlikely rise to the top of the sport in the 1930s.
Why it's elite: Seabiscuit was the most talked about topic in the world in 1938. But what makes this book special are the people, from Seabiscuit's owner to his trainer to his jockey. Hillenbrand does a phenomenal job at recreating what it was like in the 1930's, so much so, that I felt as if I were there.
9. Into Thin Air
“Getting to the top of any given mountain was considered much less important than how one got there: prestige was earned by tackling the most unforgiving routes with minimal equipment, in the boldest style imaginable.” - Jon Krakauer
9. "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer: This book tells the story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, in which eight climbers died during a single storm. We profiled another Krakauer book in our article, A New Year, A New Truth.
Why it's elite: Krakauer is one of my favorite authors for his investigative approach to the truth. His passion for the outdoors shines through in all of his books, but in particular, this one, where writing about the mountains seems to come straight from his soul.
10. Shoeless Joe
“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That's why they say, "the game is never over until the last man is out." Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.” - W.P. Kinsella
10. "Shoeless Joe" by W.P. Kinsella: This book was the inspiration for the movie, Field of Dreams, and is a powerful story about the love of baseball.
Why it's elite: I absolutely loved the movie that I was afraid the book would be a let down. It's phenomenal and gets at the very essence of a figure who has seemingly transcended time.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
Check out healthy energy drinks from Celsius: