The best sports books and autobiographies

From gritty sports autobiographies by Olympic athletes and a multiple Ballon d’Or winner to explorations of marathon running and the cultural impact of football, here is a trophy cabinet of some of the best sports books jostling for position on the shelves.

by Will Upcott
30/07/2021
3 minutes to read

Determined, competitive and possessing an impressive capacity for mental endurance – the characteristics that make great athletes often lead them to live extraordinary lives. Sports autobiographies offer us the opportunity to get the full story behind the goals, records and medals, as well as help us understand the wider impact of the athletic world off the field.

Whether your favourite sport requires a ball, a motor or even a hoof, here is a compilation of the best sports books and autobiographies out there.

Too Many Reasons to Live

by Rob Burrow

Book cover for 9781529073249

The inspirational memoir from rugby league legend Rob Burrow on his extraordinary career and his battle with motor neurone disease.

This is the story of a tiny kid who adored rugby league but never should have made it  and ended up in the Leeds hall of fame. It's the story of a man who resolved to turn a terrible predicament into something positive  when he could have thrown the towel in. It's about the power of love, between Rob and his childhood sweetheart Lindsey; and of friendship, between Rob and his faithful team mates. Far more than a sports memoir, Too Many Reasons to Live is a story of boundless courage and infinite kindness.

‘He is one in a million and his story is truly inspirational’
Clare Balding on Rob Burrows

My Life: Queen of the Court

by Serena Williams

Book cover for My Life: Queen of the Court

Serena Williams needs little introduction, having won every major title going in tennis. From growing up playing on courts covered in broken glass in Compton to reaching the top of world tennis, all while being criticised for her unorthodox playing style and dealing with the tragic shooting of her older sister, Serena has proven herself an inspiration to her multitudes of fans. In My Life, she reflects on her extraordinary journey.

Belonging: The Autobiography

by Alun Wyn Jones

Book cover for 9781529058086

Belonging is the story about how as a boy, Alun Wyn Jones left Mumbles and returned as the most capped rugby player of all time. It is the story of what it takes to become a player who is seen by many as one of the greatest Welsh players there has ever been. What it takes to go from sitting, crossed legged on the hall floor at school, watching the 1997 Lions Tour of South Africa to being named the 2021 Lions Captain.

But is it also about perthyn - belonging, playing for Wales, what it takes to earn the right to be there, and what it feels like to make the sacrifices along the way. 

Publishing 16 September 2021, Belonging: The Autobiography is not to be missed.

‘Unbelievable player. Magnificent captain. One of the game’s greatest icons.’
James Haskell on Alun Wyn Jones

The Little Red Book of Klopp

by Giles Elliott

Book cover for 9781529012071

It’s debatable whether Jürgen Klopp is better-known for his charisma off the pitch or his success on it. Having brought Liverpool back to winning ways in both the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, Klopp is known for captivating press conferences and charming touch-line antics. The Little Red Book of Klopp is a collection of his most iconic sayings, from light-hearted witticisms to cutting insults.

Lights Out, Full Throttle

by Damon Hill

Book cover for 9781529039993

Amassing 261 Grand Prix appearances between them, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill have experienced all the highs, lows and injury records associated with the greatest names in motorsport. In Lights Out, Full Throttle, Johnny and Damon take the reader on a tour around the high-octane world of F1 racing, from Silverstone and safety to Monaco and money, as well as looking at the future of racing in the light of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.

Unbelievable - From My Childhood Dreams To Winning Olympic Gold

by Jessica Ennis

Book cover for Unbelievable - From My Childhood Dreams To Winning Olympic Gold

Jessica Ennis-Hill has been one of the poster girls for women in sport for years. Indeed, arguably the greatest moment of the London 2012 games came when Jessica secured her heptathlon gold medal. But her rise was beset with challenges. From being bullied as a child for being small to her career-threatening injury on the eve of the 2008 Olympics, Jessica has had to show plenty of perseverance to prove her doubters wrong. This sports autobiography tells the full story behind the world’s greatest female all-rounder athlete.

My Life and Rugby

by Eddie Jones

Book cover for 9781509850730

With a career spanning four World Cups, Eddie Jones is one of the most seasoned figures in Rugby Union. Possessing an unparalleled ability to transform teams, he built the Japan national team into the side that defeated South Africa in 2015, and turned a struggling England team into finalists at the 2019 World Cup. The England coach is never afraid to speak his mind, and his autobiography is told true to unflinching form.

The Age of Football

by David Goldblatt

Book cover for 9781509854271

For many people around the world, football is so much more than just a game. In The Age of Football, sport historian David Goldblatt widens the lens to trace how the game intersects politics, economics and wider culture. With focuses as diverse as prison football in Uganda, the presidency of Recep Erdogan and the importance of the beautiful game in the Arab Spring, David demonstrates the extent to which the sport impacts society today.

The Running Book

by John Connell

Book cover for 9781529042351

John Connell, award-winning author of The Cow Book, takes the reader on a marathon run of 42.2 kilometres through Ireland. Over 42 chapters and 42,000 words, John reflects on his life, Irish history and the stories of his greatest running heroes. Whether you’re a keen runner or you’d just like to read what it’s like to undertake a marathon, The Running Book is the perfect endorphin-filled sports book about the nature of happiness and how it can be found on foot.

Alone on the Wall

by Alex Honnold

Book cover for 9781529034424

Anyone who has seen the Oscar and BAFTA-winning documentary Free Solo will be familiar with Alex Honnold’s vertigo-inducing work. As one of the world’s best ‘free solo’ climbers, Alex tackles perilous rock faces without the use of any climbing gear. Free soloists undertake one of the deadliest sports on the planet – many have died in pursuit of their sport. Alone on the Wall is a pulse-raising account of some of Alex’s greatest climbs, told with Alex ‘No Big Deal’ Honnold’s trademark calm and collected humour in the face of mortal danger. A sports autobiography for adrenaline junkies.

My Life in Football

by Kevin Keegan

Book cover for 9781509877232

Whether it’s being the only Englishman to win the Ballon d’Or twice, achieving European glory with Liverpool or managing Newcastle from the bottom of the Second Division to the brink of winning the Premier League title, Kevin Keegan – known as ‘King Kev’ – has proven his pedigree both on the pitch and the touchline.  His autobiography details the highs and lows of an illustrious career, including clashes with Sir Alex Ferguson and his return to Newcastle during the controversial Mike Ashley era.

Dream Horse

by Janet Vokes

Book cover for 9781509886043

Janet Vokes dreamed of breeding a working-class horse to take on the wealthy high-flyers. To pursue this idea she bought a mare for £350, bred it with a pedigree stallion and encouraged her Welsh mining village to band together to raise the resulting foal, Dream Alliance. Despite being raised on an allotment, Dream went on to defy the odds at Ascot, Aintree and even Cheltenham Festival. Heart-warming reading for anyone who loves a true underhorse sports book.

Butterfly

Book cover for 9781509881673

While Yusra Mardini was fleeing her native Syria for the Turkish coast in 2015, the small dingy she and many other refugees were on began to sink. Yusra, her sister and two others took to the water, pushing the boat for three and a half hours in open water until they arrived safely at Lesbos. Remarkably, Yusra went on to compete as a swimmer for the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and also became a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. Her autobiography is for anyone who loves true-life stories of outstanding resilience.

Believe: Boxing, Olympics and my life outside the ring

by Nicola Adams

Book cover for Believe: Boxing, Olympics and my life outside the ring

Nicola Adams famously changed the face of sport at London 2012 when she became the first woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal for boxing. Repeating her medal haul at Rio 2016 further cemented her place in the nation’s hearts, while she has also gone on to become a champion for  LGBTQ+ rights and a contestant on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Believe documents the grit and determination that got her to gold.