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Nov 2 / King Kaufman

What books should every aspiring sportswriter read?

Cushing Library, Texas A&M, 1949

The Bleacher Report reading room on a busy workday

Three months ago we talked about what movies every aspiring sportswriter should watch.

At the time, I promised another post about the books every aspiring sportswriter should have on his or her shelf. And then I forgot about it.

The movie idea was inspired by this post at, and now the same site has a post about the 50 best books for journalism students, and what do you know: Inspiration has struck again!

Let’s see if we can come up with a solid list of books that every aspiring sportswriter should read.

I’ll contribute more than one, but for now I’ll just get the ball rolling with what I think is the best sports book ever written, “The Sweet Science,” a collection of mid-20th century New Yorker pieces about the fight game, mostly in New York, by A.J. Liebling, who also appears on the list of best books for journalism students with another classic, “The Press.”

What are your picks?

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Photo: Cushing Library Reading Room, Texas A&M, 1949 / Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

  • Mtrueblood

    October, 1964, by David Halberstam.

  • Mtrueblod

    Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, only an essay, but a classic, John Updike

  • TRappaRT

    “The Professional” by W.C. Heinz. Seems obvious enough, but if you haven’t checked out David Halberstam’s collection, “The Best American Sports Writing of the Century,” it’s a must-read. “Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness–Modern History from the Sports Desk”—a collection of Hunter S. Thompson’s work from his ESPN days.

  • Karlo Sevilla

    “Unlicensed” by John Hotten, “On Boxing” by Joyce Carol Oates, “Everything They’ve Got” by David Halberstam…

  • Tom Firme

    Each of Howard Cosell’s memoirs, “Cosell,” “Like It Is,” and “I Never Played the Game,” as well as “Sports Illusions, Sports Reality” by Leonard Koppett.

  • Gerard Martin

    “Moneyball” is essential reading for anybody who write about baseball. Also, anything else by Michael Lewis.

  • Joseph Merkel

    ‘Is this a Great Game or What’ and ‘Ball Four’ definite must reads.

  • Collin M

    Pretty straightforward read, but Darcy Frey’s “The Last Shot” had a big impact on me early in high school. Frey’s ability to use sports as a narrative, as something larger than a simple game, absolutely floored me. The follow-up (“Betrayed by the Game”) is also an absolute must-read.

  • Michael Schottey

    These are all sports books so far! Maybe it’s the “editor” in me speaking, but how about some books on writing?

    Heartily recommend “The Little Red Writing Book” and “On Writing Well.” Both books will help you hone your craft and communicate better.

    Don’t get stuck in the rut of only reading your favorite sportswriters or historical prose/fiction about your favorite sports. Force yourselves to read new styles and things outside of your comfort zone. “The Blind Side” is really interesting to me, but Stephen King can teach you just as much about writing.

    As for a sports book I would recommend to the group? “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.”

  • Vern Morrison

    “American fan: sports mania and the culture that feeds it,” by Dennis Perrin.

    “A sense of where you are: a profile of Bill Bradley at Princeton,” by John McPhee.

  • Andrew Bucholtz

    Highly recommend anything by Hunter S. Thompson. If you want to learn how to write a great, readable, unconventional sports opinion piece, check out Hey Rube, the collection of his ESPN columns. His Scanlan’s piece, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” is one of my favourite event coverage things ever. If you’re interested in writing in general, his other books are superb as well.

  • M. Milner

    Don’t be a fool and limit yourself to sports books. Read novels: DeLillo, Carver, Hemingway, Faulkner, Camus or Murakami. Read stuff outside your wheelhouse: Tacitus, Ovid, Rabelais, Cervantes, Chaucer. Make yourself think about different ways to use language. See what works and, more importantly, why it works. Read as many volumes of The Best Sports Stories you can, even the ones The Sporting News put out in the 80s.

    And if you read anything at all, make it Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

  • Marty Cortinas

    Red Smith Reader. Any Roger Angell. Deceptively simple writing. Sophisticated without resorting to an uncommon vocabulary.

  • Paul Mullaney

    Spot on about Hunter S. Thompson, his sport writing is fantastic, and so different from a lot of the other stuff you’ll read. Another one that I’m not sure has been mentioned is ‘The Game of our Lives’, by the late Canadian broadcaster Peter Gzowski. It follows the Edmonton Oilers during a season in the early 80s, when they had the likes of Coffey, Messier and obviously, Gretzky, and it’s as interesting as it is well written.