13 Of The Best Sports Biographies Ever Written

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Sports documentaries are everywhere these days, but if you really want to get into the mind of a star, nothing compares to a great biography. From moving accounts of flawed talent to inspiring stories about the world’s best, here are 13 of the greatest sports biographies ever written.

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Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

Muhammad Ali needs no introduction. This book draws on more than 500 interviews with those who knew him best, including friends, family members and mentors. Thanks to some specially commissioned research, it paints a vivid picture of one of the most significant personalities of the 20th century. Readers are taken inside the ring for some of the most famous bouts in boxing history, before learning about Ali’s activism, conversion to Islam, personal life – which included several affairs and controversies – and his decline from Parkinson’s disease. 

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Provided You Don't Kiss Me: 20 Years With Brian Clough by Duncan Hamilton

Brian Clough made a name for himself as the outspoken non-nonsense manager of Nottingham Forest during the mid-70s. Those who knew him say he was unpredictable and volatile, relying on alcohol to deal with failure and success on and off the pitch. Duncan Hamilton was a young journalist in the middle of Clough’s empire who saw it all. In this book, he paints a vivid portrait of Clough, from Nottingham Forest's double European Cup triumph to his descent into alcoholism.

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The Death of Pantani by Matt Rendell

Italian cyclist Marco Pantani is widely regarded as one of the sport’s greatest. His unrivalled stamina and climbing abilities led to historic wins at the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia in 1998 – becoming one of only seven men to win both in the same year. Just six years later, Pantani was found dead in a cheap hotel. The autopsy revealed he had cerebral edema and heart failure as a result of cocaine poisoning. It transpired that he’d been addicted to coke for 15 years. This account includes exclusive interviews with his psychoanalysts, family and friends, who paint an indelible picture of an extremely talented – and flawed – athlete. 

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Proud by Gareth Thomas

In 2009, Gareth Thomas made headlines around the world when he announced he was gay. One of the few top athletes to have come out, Thomas made news again a decade later when he revealed he was HIV positive. For years, he’d been hiding who he really was, but on the pitch, he had it all – national hero, sporting icon, leader of men, and captain of Wales and the British Lions. For Thomas, rugby was an expression of cultural identity, but his secret was slowing killing him, and he was scared what would happen to his wife and family if news got out. Thomas’ inspiring and moving story has given him – and his readers – a fresh perspective on what masculinity really means. 

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Open. An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But, as talented as anyone, he quickly came to hate the game. Coaxed to swing a racket while still in the crib, forced to hit hundreds of balls a day by his violent father, Agassi resented the constant pressure, even as he drove himself to become a prodigy. After winning the Wimbledon Championships in 1992, he became a fan favourite. What makes this book so captivating is Agassi’s near-photographic memory – every pivotal match is described as if it took place yesterday, while personal highlights (like his brief fling with Barbra Streisand) are colourfully recounted. 

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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for biography and made its way onto Obama’s summer reading list back in 2016. For many, surfing is an adrenalated hobby, but for some it’s more than that. New Yorker writer William Finnegan started surfing as a young boy in California and Hawaii. Barbarian Days takes readers on a journey through a life spent chasing waves across the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa and beyond. Describing the intense relationship between himself, the board and the water, Finnegan details his most dangerous surfs and razor-sharp survival instincts in the water. A fascinating and compelling read from a man battling a “beautiful addiction”.

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Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography

His career wasn’t always plain sailing, but Sir Alex Ferguson eventually became the greatest football manager of his generation. A player back in the 60s and 70s, Ferguson went on to manage a string of Scottish teams before taking charge of Manchester United for nearly 30 years. Here, he reflects on a managerial career that included unprecedented European success for Aberdeen and many triumphant seasons with United, and reveals how he stayed sane at the peak of his profession. An entertaining, insight-filled must-read for all football fans. 

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Put Me Back On My Bike by William Fotheringham

Tom Simpson was one of Britain’s most successful cyclists until his tragic death on the barren moonscape of the Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France – aged just 30 years old.  A man of contradictions, Simpson was one of the first cyclists to admit to using banned drugs, and was accused of fixing races, but he still managed to inspired awe and affection. Put Me Back on My Bike revisits the places and people associated with Simpson to show how he became a sporting legend in just a few short years.

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Coming Back To Me by Marcus Trescothick

England cricketer Marcus Trescothick surprised fans and teammates when he prematurely ended his international career. At 29, Trescothick was widely regarded as one of the batting greats. With more than 5,000 Test runs to his name and eternal status as a 2005 Ashes hero, he’d already achieved more than he’d set out to. On Saturday 25th February 2006, four days before leading England into the first Test against India, Trescothick walked from the field in the midst of a mental breakdown. In the dressing room, he broke down in tears, overwhelmed by a blur of anguish, uncertainty and sadness he had been keeping at bay for longer than he knew. His account of performing at the top highlights an important conversation about the unique pressures and mental struggles many athletes face.

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Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson

No doubt Mike Tyson was a phenomenal boxer. But some of his antics in and outside the ring are much more questionable. There’s the rape conviction early in his career, the biting off of Evander Holyfield’s ear, and the cocaine addiction which led to his bankruptcy in the early noughties. In his own words, Tyson’s talks openly and movingly about a troubled childhood (he was arrested 38 times before he was 13), his financial ruin, and playing up to his ‘bad boy’ persona on a world stage.

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The Accident Footballer by Pat Nevin

Pat Nevin never wanted to be a professional footballer, but went on to captivate audiences around the world with his quick footwork in the wing. Growing up in Glasgow's East End, he loved playing football, but he also loved reading classic literature, nights out with his mates, and listening to indie music until the early hours. With spells at Chelsea and Everton, Nevin became a household name, but here he discusses the joys of professional football alongside its contradictions and conflicts – and what it means to be defined by your job.

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Lewis Hamilton: The Biography by Frank Worrall

Sir Lewis Hamilton has redefined British racing, and what it means to be a Black athlete at the top of the game. In this new biography, Frank Worrall charts his rise to stardom, starting with Hamilton's debut season in 2007, which won him fans around the world. Hamilton’s performance on the track has led to legendary status, but his personal life has also landed him on the front pages of the tabloids time and again. Then in 2021 he received a knighthood, making his unexpected journey to the top even more unbelievable. 

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The Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant

American basketball great Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the LA Lakers. Then, in January 2020 he tragically died alongside his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash in California. Known as ‘Black Mamba’, he was a master of mental preparation and using a unique game plan to win time and again. Written before his untimely death, this book takes readers inside the mind of one of the most intelligent, analytical and creative sportsmen ever.

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