There’s nothing worse than a boring sports memoir: Rehashes and clichés fail to satisfy. But, of the many athlete autobiographies to hit shelves in 2013, Mike Tyson’s unsparing “Undisputed Truth”—a window into Tyson’s peculiar psychology if ever there was one — rose to the occasion. Tyson’s book wasn’t the only riveting sports book of the year: 2013 featured a raft of fantastic (and varied) reads, among them David Epstein’s thought-provoking exploration into the science of athletic performance, “The Sports Gene,” Daniel Gordon Brown’s uplifting book about the 1936 U.S. Olympic men’s rowing team and Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru’s devastating investigation on chronic brain injury in the NFL. Find out more about their books and our other favorite sports reads of 2013.
The most explosive sports memoir of the year, “Undisputed Truth” is quintessential Mike Tyson: raw and unbound. As more than one reviewer punned, the eccentric former heavyweight champion of the world “pulls no punches” in the book, confronting his life’s messes (rape, biting in the ring) head-on. Tyson was in good company this year. Other 2013 sports memoirs worth mention include tennis great Jimmy Connors’ “The Outsider,” former Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s long-awaited (and front office gossip-filled) “Francona” and NBA legend Julius “The Doctor” Erving’s “Dr. J.”
The science of performance
Are some of us born athletes? To write his fascinating book “The Sports Gene,” Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein tried to answer the question, consulting scientists and researchers and reexamining telling moments in sports history to determine whether nature trumps nurture when it comes to athletic ability. Performance depends on both, Epstein found; some of us are born with innate predispositions toward speed, coordination, drive and desire. Science and sports fans alike will enjoy immersing themselves in Epstein’s research.
Revealing football reads
Sibling journalists Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada interviewed dozens of doctors, researchers, players and their families for their book about chronic brain injury in the NFL, “League of Denial.” It’s hard to say what’s more gut-wrenching: the tragic stories of former players whose lives spiraled as a consequence of the brain damage sustained during their years on the field or Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada’s damning portrait of the NFL, which for years concealed the brain injury risks inherent in playing the game. Elsewhere in the football books space, “Monsters,” Rich Cohen’spenetrating story of 1985 Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears, warrants an honorable mention. Cohen landed interviews with most of the squad’s former players, crafting an engaging oral history that’ll delight Bears fans.
A sports story for history buffs
Before professional baseball and football became king in America, rowing was one of the nation’s most beloved sports. In his uplifting “The Boys in the Boat,” Daniel James Brown tells the stunning story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic men’s rowing team, a squad of eight young men from the University of Washington who bested the Germans to clinch gold in Berlin, defying Hitler on his home turf.
A deeper look at Lance Armstrong
If you thought you’d heard everything there was to hear about Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, you thought wrong: In “Wheelmen,” Wall Street Journal reporters Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell expose the depths of Armstrong’s deception and the culture of doping endemic on Armstrong’s cycling squads. Armstrong’s story is well-known, but to their credit, Albergotti and O’Connell unearth shocking new information: lies he told friends and loved ones at the height of his career (including onetime girlfriend, Sheryl Crowe), a story about a group blood transfusion on his team bus and much more.