We all miss the way sports used to be, but what better way to reconnect than with one of the best sports books of all time? The greatest books transport you to another world, and sports books are no exception.
Take a deep dive into the life of your favorite players, coaches and legends through a classic sports biography, memoir or even a playbook. Sports novels are another great way to experience your favorite game in a new way, especially when told through the lens of a sports fanatic who also happens to be a novelist. Or, if you’re more interested in bettering yourself, coaches like Pete Carrol have written how-to guides to help you improve your mental game on and off the field. Whatever it is you love about sports, be it the entertainment factor, the history or hometown pride, there’s a book here for you.
Get back into the game with the best sports books ever written. These 25 books are also great gifts for sports fans. So whether you love baseball, basketball, football or more obscure sports like trail running, we’ve got something for every type of player and fan.
1. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
What better way to start a new hobby than with one of the most beloved American brands? Reading about the beginning and lasting legacy of Nike is an astute form of sports knowledge and entertainment. You’ll have plenty of fun facts and trivia to impress your friends with by the time we can all watch a game together again. Knight went on to sell his Nike shoes from the back of his car to being a worldwide phenomenon. His story is intriguing and brilliantly told: you won’t regret picking up a copy of this enthralling life story of the man behind the brand.
2. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
If you’re an avid runner, then you probably have plenty of running memoirs and advice books but Christopher McDougall’s exploration of the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico’s Copper Canyon is the ultimate adventure story. McDougall set out to discover why his foot was hurting and discovered an entirely new (to him) way of running from the Tarahumara’s ancient practice. They can run for hundreds of miles without stopping, chasing deer and Olympic marathoners with equal glee, but what’s their secret? Why have we all been running wrong this entire time? McDougall’s book explores all of these questions and seeks to answer his own initial question of why he’s been taught the wrong techniques his entire life. Pick up this book if you’re interested in a new way of running and to explore an untold history.
3. The Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant
Famous all-star player Kobe Bryant’s book has been an all-time favorite since its publication in 2018. The basketball star goes on to explain his role in the game and how he personally approaches it with a strong mindset and something called “the Mamba Mentality” which he cites is his key to success. A teacher, mentor, and fan favorite, Bryant has given the world a gift with this book, a how-to guide for young players around the world to play in his style. As one of the most successful and creative players, Bryant has a thing or two to say to young people or anyone seeking to find their way into the game. A great book for any basketball fan and aspiring player.
4. One Line Drive: A Life-Threatening Injury and a Faith Fueled Comeback by Daniel Ponce De Leon and Tom Zenner
At once a horrific story of injury and an amazing recovery story, Daniel Ponce De Leon was drafted four times by the MLB, only to take a hard one line drive to the skull that landed him in the hospital. Told with the help of writer Tom Zenner, De Leon’s story is a tale of how faith can take us as far as we want to go. The book follows De Leon’s miraculous recovery 14 months later to show one of the most impressive baseball pitching debuts in history. A great read for anyone seeking encouragement that your dreams are never over.
5. I Came as a Shadow: An Autobiography by John Thompson
Georgetown University’s famous basketball coach has finally gifted us with a book of personal secrets. Having spent the last three decades inside the lives of famous players, on the front lines of racial disparity, and coming to terms with his childhood in the Jim Crow south, Thompson opens up and lets readers in. You won’t want to miss this autobiography for all of it’s insider stories, basketball lore, and plain good history. A great book for any basketball hopeful or fan.
6. Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
Rich Roll may be known best for his podcast but it all started with the book. His inspirational story covers the transformation he made from slightly overweight and not exercising, abusing alcohol and feeling depressed to becoming an Ironman athlete. His story is at once an inspiring tale and a cautionary one, foretelling what we can let happen to our bodies but also how we are capable of so much wonderful change. This is a great book for anyone on the cusp of changing their life or for those who are realizing they need to.
7. The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell by Lonnie Wheeler
The historical legend that is Cool Papa Bell is a baseball player rich in stories and history. Born to sharecroppers in the south, baseball saved him from a life working in the slaughterhouses. A player known for his speed, Bell’s story is told by baseball writer and historian Lonnie Wheeler, who charts his ups and downs throughout the US during racial disparity and Bell’s escape to Mexico and the Dominican Republic to be free of the MLB color line. This is a fantastic story for all baseball fans and contains legends and lore you won’t want to miss.
8. Montana: The Biography of Football’s Joe Cool by Keith Dunnavant
This epic football biography covers the life of the legend Joe Cool, one of the most famous and influential players out there. Writer Keith Dunnavant takes readers along for a sweeping view of the life and struggles of Joe Cool as he portrays a keen-eyed portrait of the man who again and again defied the odds of the game. This competitive player’s life was a routine of tension on and off the field from back surgery to the father who pushed him to the college coach who nearly got rid of him and every football fan who’s ever played a sport will relate to his harrowing journey. An excellent choice for anyone missing out on the action.
9. QB: My Life Behind the Spiral by Steve Young and Jeff Benedict
Steve Young started out as an eighth-string quarterback at BYU — slim chances of ever getting to the big leagues but his story changed when he became All American and was the first pick of drafting season. But the more intense and deeply personal story of Young comes with the revealing of his anxiety and the consequences that led him to almost leave the NFL forever. An instant New York Times Bestseller, Young’s story is a lesson for all young sports players about mental health and where the intensity can lead you, on and off the field.
10. Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian
The inspiration for the HBO series directed by Alex Gibeny, the real untold story of Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers that ever lived. Dive deeper than ever before for the harrowing account of the superstar’s childhood, relationship with his father, and his narrow focus on golf and how he came to be the best player in history. As the most famous player in 2009, to the terrible Thanksgiving Day crash that set his personal and professional life over a cliff, who is Tiger Woods, really? A fantastic story told by two excellent sports writers, this is a great book for any fan of Woods looking to continue the story.
11. Talking to GOATs: The Moments You Remember and the Stories You ever Heard by Jim Gray
Jim Gray is one of the best sports historians and sportscaster of all time and he’s written an enticing tell-all book about his adventures with and around some of the best players during some of the best games in the world. Why not read about the juiciest tales in sports lore by anyone other than Jim Gray? From his view on the sidelines to the dugout, Gray has written memorable tales from his career as a sportscaster to insider never heard before stories. A great book for any sports junkie with a keen ear for legendary players.
12. Gods at Play: An Eyewitness Account of Great Moments in American Sports by Tom Callahan
A prolific sports writer and columnist for Time magazine, Tom Callahan witnessed many memorable moments in US sports history and has decided to document the stories for everyone to read. Told in vignette-style prose, Callahan writes about the smaller scenes that no one else witnessed to the heavy hitters like Muhammad Ali fighting George Foreman in Zaire. He keeps his stories interesting and intriguing, leaving the reader wanting more and more. Callahan was a great witness to sports history and every avid fan will enjoy this book.
13. Best American Sports Writing 2020 edited by Glenn Stout and Jackie Macmullan
These pieces are the best sports writing published in 2020 and edited by the esteemed Glenn Stout and Jackie MacMullan. Take a tour through the past year and relive your favorite moments again and again through some of the best journalism from around the world. A few stories include “For People Suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Baseball Brings Back Fun Memories” by Bill Plaschke in which the journalist Plaschke interviews patients and observes their fondness for the game brighten their eyes to Bryan Burrough following a man-eating tiger hunt in India. More than just play-by-play coverage of your favorite games in the States, the Best American Sports Writing follows journalists as they travel the world and bring back intriguing stories for their audience. A must-have for any sports fan.
14. Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life by Bill Madden
A biography of one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Tom Seaver, recounts the life and achievements of baseball’s favorite star. One of only two pitchers with 300 wins, 3,000 strikeouts, and an ERA under 3.00, he was a twelve-time All-Star and inducted into the Hall of Fame with the highest ever percentage at the time. Seaver was quite the popular player among fans and teammates alike, often putting the success of the team over his own personal glory. Bill Madden sweeps through his life and career with excellent storytelling, finding the true joy that baseball and its amazing players to the fans at home. A must-have biography for any baseball buff.
15. Alone on the Wall: Alex Honnold and the Ultimate Limits of Adventure by Alex Honnold and David Roberts
We all gasped at the film Free Solo, right? If not, head to Disney Plus and watch it immediately. Well, guess what, it’s the same guy, and this is the book he wrote along with David Roberts that explores seven of his most insane climbs, From Yosemite’s breathtaking Half Dome to Mexico’s El Sendero Luminoso, follow along as Honnold explores the why and how he free climbs all of these giants alone. He gets across the singular focus and drive it takes to look morality in the face every time he goes for a climb and takes us on his harrowing journey through the world’s best climbs. A great read for anyone seeking adventure and thrills.
16. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
Surfer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist William Finnegan explores the different surfing locales around the world and with them, the local people and culture. Take a trip with Finnegan as he surfs his way to paradise and offers insights on humility, surfing, and traveling. He gives us stories of his childhood growing up in Hawaii, being in an all-white gang when his best friend was Hawaiian, dropping LSD while surfing one of the biggest waves in the world on Maui, and traversing the black market in Indonesia, all while keeping the reader engaged. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2016, this will forever remain a popular book, one of the best on surfing ever written.
17. It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong
The legendary Lance Armstrong may be America’s most controversial athlete of all time, and his tell-all book is an intriguing read into the life of the strong cyclist. If you’re at all curious about what happened before and after Lance’s big scandal in the early aughts, to his early racing career, to his battle with cancer, then you’re in for a treat. If you’re a cycling fan or not, this is an epic sports book for any endurance junkie who’s interested in other’s lives in and around the sport that has focused their life.
18. Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui
If you’re a curious swimmer, you’ll enjoy Bonnie Tsui’s exploration of the history of humans swimming, our collective obsession with water and the idea of relaxation it comes with, and of course, the long laps some of us enjoy. Why do people swim? Why do we enjoy it? Tsui explores these questions as well as her own love of swimming in this comprehensive look at our history as a whole with water. A truly beautiful book that any swimmer will love it and want to share with their friends.
19. To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret by Jedidiah Jenkins
At once a cycling journey and a spiritual journey, Jenkins quits his job on the eve of turning 30 in search of a more profound existence. As his journey unfolds, we see him begin to question his relationship with God, his family, and his sexuality. He goes on many curious adventures that are breathtaking to read and that won’t let you put the book down. Travel along with Jenkins as he makes his way through South America while tackling his own ideas of religion and the power of family. A truly engaging read for anyone who wants to cycle across a continent and survey their own life and its trajectory.
20. Miracle in Lake Placid: The Greatest Hockey Story Ever Told by John Gilbert
One of the best-known stories in US hockey history as told by journalist John Gilbert, Miracle in Lake Placid is a book of the great details and the aftermath of the player’s lives. What happened after that fateful game with the Soviets? How did hockey change in our collective memory? The effects that rippled out to reach a generation of readers is here in one epic book. This is the story you’ll want to give any hockey fan in your family.
21. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Maybe the greatest baseball novel of all time and the most talked about, Chad Harbach’s famous book is not to be missed by any reader, sports fan or not. The love of the game certainly comes through in this epic saga of one pitcher’s destiny and the fates of five others as the story spirals outward. At once a harrowing tale of friendship, choice, and regret, Harbach writes with great empathy and precision about how our decisions may alter more than just ourselves.
22. The Cactus League by Emily Nemens
In this character-driven world obsessed with baseball, writer Emily Nemens transports readers to a new land where protagonist Jason Goodyear is stationed with his team for their annual spring training in Arizona. But Goodyear is hiding more than he lets on and is beginning to unravel, affecting all of his coaches, friends, fans, and family. What will happen to him? As his diehard fans watch closely to find out, Nemens spins a tale bright with the Arizona sun and the humility of the player’s psyches. Told in breathtaking prose, an expert at baseball herself, Nemens weaves throughout her knowledge of the game on and off the field. Not a book to be missed.
23. Beneath The Surface: My Story by Michael Phelps and Brian Cazenevue
In this startling memoir, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps takes us into his world pre-swimming and after the limelight. He describes his struggles with ADD, his parent’s divorce, and how the amount of attention in the spotlight affected him in and out of the pool. Like any great athlete, Phelps shares his story for the world to see, honest and tender, touching and heartbreaking. The inner lives of athletes always seem to be a mystery to most but when they open up in a memoir, we are allowed to see a truly unique peek into their souls. If you’re interested in swimming, the inner workings of high caliber athletes, or just love the Olympics, Michael Phelps has a story for you.
24. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
One of the oldest and revered sports in American history is rowing and Daniel James Brown has written a beautiful and compelling story of the nine young men trying for the Olympic gold in 1936. Individual stories tell this harrowing account and the fight for Olympics glory. Brown takes us from Seattle Washington to the rivers in Berlin where the boys in the boat must stake their final claim for victory. A breathtaking and captivating story for all sports fans to enjoy.
25. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive by Jim Afremow
More than a guide, this instructional book by sports psychologist Jim Afremow, PhD, shows us how to thrive like a professional athlete by sharing their stories, successes, and failures. Why not up your own ability by researching how the pro’s do it? Most of sports is the mental challenge, the competitive edge they thrive on during a race or game versus physical ability, but that’s important too. Can you change your mindset to thrive on the court? Better your pitch or stroke? Afremow shows us how humans are capable of change and has given us a wonderful guide into how to do it that includes workouts, tips, and tricks.
Honorable Mention: Win Forever by Pete Carroll
Pete Carroll first rose to fame as the head coach of the USC Trojans, and under his leadership, the team won six bowl games and a BCS National Championship. After graduating to the NFL, he would coach the Seattle Seahawks to their first-ever Super Bowl win. Carroll has a proven track record of elite success, and he shares his secrets to cultivating a winning lifestyle and mindset in this inspirational sports book. Carrol shares his tips for playing and living like a champion, and while that might sound like a typical self-help book, this best-selling book has so much more to offer.