The best books on sport of 2017

We pick a celebration of Britain’s female hockey players, an exposé of youth football and a study of Muhammad Ali

History is too often written not only by, but about, the winners. Marginalised groups – poor, female, the wrong colour – are silenced, the indifference or worse of gatekeepers meaning that their stories and exploits go unrecorded, making retrieval essential to balance historical accounts.

This vital recovery process is exemplified by Jenny Landreth’s Swell (Bloomsbury), which made the William Hill sports book of the year shortlist and would have been a more than worthy winner. An intriguing hybrid, it links Landreth’s swimming memories – coining “waterbiography” merits a prize in itself – to the history of female swimmers as participants and competitors. Giving fresh life to remarkable achievers such as Agnes Beckwith and Mercedes Gleitze, it mixes warmth with anger and compels and engages at the same time.

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The best books on sport of 2016

A surfer’s prizewinning memoir, an insight into women’s football and a chronicle of horse racing make Huw Richards’ selection
Vote: What was your favourite book of the year? John Gaustad, who died in June, argued that “the best sports books are about life itself, as much as sport”. The range, depth and ambition of the books published in 2016 prove his point. The judges for Gaustad’s creation, the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, did him proud with a winner so leftfield – William Finnegan’s exquisitely observed surfing memoir Barbarian Days (Corsair) – that even its author questioned its eligibility. But more mainstream works also show sport illuminating life. Jonathan Wilson’s Angels With Dirty Faces (Orion) offers a perceptive, wide-ranging history of Argentina seen through the prism of football. Messi, Maradona, Boca Juniors and the 1978 World Cup have their expected places, but so too do Juan and ...

The best sports books of 2015

Prizewinning football analysis, inside Jamaica’s sprint factory, and the psychology of winners (and losers)

Academic writing, not always unfairly, gets a bad rap. But the best combines the passion of the true enthusiast, a forensic eye for evidence and an ability to tell a compelling story. Those qualities are epitomised by Tony Collins’s The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby (Bloomsbury). Collins recounts the global sweep of the sport’s history, including both codes (union and league) and the North American variants, using original sources to cut through myth and hearsay, and revealing an instinct for telling anecdote and detail. His authoritative account stands with David Goldblatt’s football history The Ball Is Round. Similar qualities show in Goldblatt’s The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football
(Penguin), ...