Best books of 2021: Sport

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The secret of superhuman strength
by Alison Bechdel, Cap Jonathan £ 16.99 / Mariner Books $ 24

An astonishing graphic novel / memoir whose precise drawings capture Bechdel’s lifelong quest for transcendence through physical effort: calisthenics, karate, running, spinning lessons, Nordic skiing, cycling, hiking, yoga, training “Insanity” and escalation. Being exhausted allows Bechdel to stop thinking and feeling nothing, while everything else – including the frustrations of being an artist – crumbles.

The greatest spectacle on earth: The inner story of the legendary 1970 World Cup
by Andrew Downie, Arena sport £ 17.99 / $ 24.95

A tale of arguably the best soccer World Cup, told almost entirely by quotes from the men who played there. Downie, a British journalist in Brazil, was well placed to join the winning Brazilian players. He also organized interviews and cited the memoirs of players from the 16 participating teams.

Why we kneel, how we get up
by Michael Holding, Simon & Schuster £ 20

In 2020, the former West Indian commentator-turned-fast cricketer impromptu on television “the dehumanization of the black race.” The clip went viral, prompting other black athletes to get in touch to share their experiences of racism. These conversations form the heart of this meticulously researched Jeremiah, which details centuries of prejudice.

Books of the year 2021

The unreasonable virtue of fly fishing
by Mark Kurlansky, Bloomsbury £ 10.49 / $ 28

Kurlansky’s series of esoteric and discursive stories are full of fascinating, overlooked, or under-examined facts and anecdotes that paint vivid pictures of how we live now. This book mixes personal memories of a long-standing passion for fly fishing with a tapering twist through the history of angling.

The accidental footballer
by Pat Nevin, Monoray £ 20 / $ 30

Nevin recounts his involuntary working-class journey from Glasgow to playing for Chelsea and Everton in the 1980s and 1990s: just as he loved football, he was more interested in books and independent music than a professional career. He’s such a good observer and storyteller that you forgive him for the occasional smugness. Its footnotes are particularly cheerful.

Tell us what you think

What are your favorites from this list – and which books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below

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