Competitive sports triggers many complex emotions—joy mixed with tears, suffering stirred to violence. In the same week in June, hockey fans set fire to cars in the Vancouver streets two nights after a nation of basketball fans in the U.S were introduced to the word "schadenfreude" in the NBA finals, when the Mavs beat the Heat.
More than a few of this season's crop of sports books seem particularly soaked in a brew of anger and envy. Top of the charts is the new king of schadenfreude, Scott Raab, whose The Whore of Akron is subtitled "One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James." A proud vilifier of all things LeBron, Raab was given a dream ending, thanks to Herr Dirk Nowitzki. Then there's the widespread enmity toward Duke University's basketball team, which will be channeled by a couple of Tarheel bloggers in Duke Sucks, cheekily subtitled "A Completely Even-handed, Unbiased Investigation into the Most Evil Team on Planet Earth."
Thirty years ago "the most hated man in America" might have been a sportscaster. In Howard Cosell: The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports, Mark Ribowsky offers a portrait of the complicated and polarizing Cosell.
Often in sport, villainy is more roguery, and the story of Hack Wilson told in Hack's 191 by Bill Chastain qualifies. Wilson was a hard-drinking man and friend of Al Capone who also set an RBI record that still stands after 80 years. Baseball in that era gets a beautiful portrait in The Big Show, featuring the photographs of early baseball by Charles M. Conlon. This brings a long-gone era of baseball—and America—to black-and-white life. Conlon's photos are from the turn of the century till 1942.
WWII wreaked havoc on professional sports, and collegiate sports, especially college football, took ascendancy. Randy Roberts tells the story of that 1944 undefeated West Point team in A Team for America: When West Point Rallied a Nation at War. The team coached by Red Blaik went 9–0, outscored opponents 412–46, and running back Doc Blanchard won the Heisman. And we won the war.
Famous athletes that time forgot are often the spark to great sports books—remember an athlete called Seabiscuit? And Mercer University in Atlanta and author Jaclyn Weldon, who has written several true crime books for the press, weighs in with The Greatest Champion That Never Was: The Life of W.L. "Young" Stribling. Stribling's story involves a magnificent boxing career, almost a win against then-champ Max Schmeling in 1931 in Cleveland, then a tragic death two years later. With the Schmeling-Louis rivalry that followed, and WWII, it is understandable that Young Strib's story was lost. Now it is found.
Basketball fans of a certain age will be curious about West by West, the Hall of Fame guard's life story, subtitled with typical Jerry West directness, "My Charmed, Tormented Life." West details the burden of being self-driven and incapable of accepting defeat.
Rafael Nadal, the Spanish tennis player, also presents his story of dedication to winning in Rafa, written with John Carlin. The book will publish just before Nadal will be in New York pursuing his second straight U.S. Open title.
And since they call antelope "game" and hunting a "sport," why not this unique entry in the sports book field: foodie Georgia Pellegrini's Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time. Pellegrini is a telegenic food blogger with restaurant experience, Ivy League background, and she's a crack shot. Duck!
PW's Top 10 Sports
Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time
Georgia Pellegrini. Da Capo, Dec.
The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon's Golden Age of Baseball
Neal McCabe and Constance McCabe. Abrams, Sept.
Hack's 191: Hack Wilson and His Incredible 1930 Season
Bill Chastain. Globe Pequot, Jan.
The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James
Scott Raab. Harper, Nov.
A Team for America: When West Point Football Rallied a Nation at War
Randy Roberts. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Nov.
Rafael Nadal with John Carlin. Hyperion, Aug.
West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life
Jerry West with Jonathan Coleman. Little, Brown, Oct.
The Greatest Champion That Never Was: The Life of W.L. "Young" Stribling
Jaclyn Weldon. Mercer Univ. Press., Oct.
Howard Cosell: The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports
Mark Ribowsky. Norton, Nov.
Duke Sucks: A Completely Even-handed, Unbiased Investigation into the Most Evil Team on Planet Earth
Reed Tucker and Andy Bagwell. St. Martin's Griffin, Jan.