Here’s a selection of books I’ve read over the past year that I think you might like – a mix of sports books, crime fiction, adventurers biographies and more.
Healthy Intelligent Training: The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard by Keith Livingstone
I’ve written before about my shift to understanding movement and the application of barefoot running technique, through the teaching of ChampionsEverywhere. This book came recommended, after hearing the author speak in Dublin. Livingstone was a top Kiwi runner in his day and is a lifelong disciple of the coaching legend Lydiard. This book takes concentration, as it gets very detailed about training your body through aerobic and anaerobic phases, but it’s a great manual which I’ll dip into again and again. I found it really useful to consult when I was in the midst of marathon training, so balancing training, nutrition and recovery were important.
The Wrath of Angels: The eleventh Charlie Parker thriller by Connolly, John
I must admit John is my cousin, so I have a bias, but I picked up this book at home after a gap of a few years since I read a Charlie Parker novel. I like the supernatural nature of John’s plots, as well as the dark themes and picture he creates of the state of Maine. Plus the main characters have a sharp sense of humour and wit. The plot was complicated, with lots of links to previous events in the series, but I enjoyed the book and will pick up the next one soon.
The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper by Wilson, Jonathan
This book caught my attention in the bookshop one lazy Saturday when I was browsing and I couldn’t leave without it. As a former goalkeeper in Tramore, I instantly related to the review on the cover from Jim White: “a splendid history of football’s complicated scapegoats.” It’s a historical book, going back to the origins of the game in the 19th century, with a worldwide tour of the greatest keepers, including a funny reference to how Packie Bonner’s 6 minute hogging of the ball vs. Egypt in Italia ’90 was a good reason to introduce the back pass rule.
Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Syed, Matthew
This book is controversial but a must read for anyone interested in achieving excellence, whether it’s in sports, music or anything in life. The thesis is that 10,000 hours of practice is more of an argument for Tiger Woods being the world’s best golfer more than his genetic makeup or “talent” gifting him a superior golf swing and touch. It rips apart lots of sacred cows you held about people from Messi to Federer to Mozart to Russian ballerinas or gymnasts being just naturally gifted, so why bother trying to beat them. I found it inspiring, especially in the context of the debate on Kenyan distance runners, or Kilkenny hurlers. For an alternate view, check out The Sports Gene.
I saw the one man show in the Olympia a few years and and was impressed by various TV documentaries on Shackleton, Scott and the part a Kerryman played in their success. This is a fascinating read, a story of unbelievable hardship in freezing conditions, a never give up attitude, enormous risks and strong bonds between crews. The fact that Crean returned to live such a humble life in Annascaul is presented alongside the social and military history of Ireland at the time. Don’t forget to stop by The South Pole Inn, the next time you’re heading to Dingle.
Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN James Andrew Miller, Tom Shales
This is a monster of a book, over 900 pages. It takes a lot of reading, and not immediately of interest to an Irish/British audience who didn’t grow up with ESPN. However I’d read great reviews and it’s an absorbing read on a topic which has changed the way the world watches sport. Back in the 1970s, there was hardly any sport on TV. Satellite or cable didn’t exist, but this small start-up in Connecticut had bold ideas to spread the gospel of sport to a national audience 24 hours a day. The book is written in the style of dialogue with all the main presenters, sports stars and reporters providing snippets on how the station grew to be a worldwide phenomenon, paving the way for Sky Sports in the UK and others. A big book, but worth the effort, even if you don’t get all the cultural or sporting references from the US.
Messi by Guillem Balague
Balague is a top Spanish/Catalan journalist who appears regularly on Sky Sports La Liga coverage. I find his insights fascinating, since he’s so well connected to Spanish and English footballers, managers and journalists. This is a book I hope we’ll reread in years to come to understand what makes Messi tick and how he soared to greatness in Barcelona. For such a superstar, little is known about him. I love anything about Barcelona or Spanish football, so a real enjoyable read.
Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid by Lowe, Sid Lowe
Another Spanish football book, but this takes a fresh and insightful look into one of sports great rivalries, symbolised by “El Clasico” derby which takes place twice a year. Not only do you get top quality analysis of the football rivalry, but Sid Lowe has a Spanish history degree, so is able to provide the political, cultural and economic background. He gets beyond stereotypes and bland labels such as Castilla vs Catalunya, Messi vs Ronaldo, Di Stefano vs Cruyff, royalists vs nationalists, oppressed vs oppressors. Things are a lot more nuanced than they at first appear. A must for anyone interested in Spanish football.
Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning: The Biography by Guillem Balague
Balague wrote this book in 2012 before Guardiola left Barcelona at the pinnacle of world football. I was at his last home game against Espanyol in May 2012 and it was a really emotional affair, where you saw the respect and cariño that he was held in, by players and supporters. This book gives you a great insight into how driven, passionate, dedicated and totally focused Guardiola was on achieving success. It also shows how good a people manager he was – treating everyone individually. A fascinating character, so again a reference book we can all go back to again.