With crisp and often snowy weather across most of America for the next 12 or so weeks, what’s better than cozying up with a good book?
Here are a few I’ve read in recent years that will provide joy, entertainment, and even introspection during the holiday season and beyond.
Numbered, but in no particular order:
1. My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey by Coach John Wooden
If you’ve never read a book by basketball’s best and most famous “teacher,” start now. You have many from which to choose. I have only read this one, but it encapsulates his life quite well.
The current crop of college athletes would enjoy and benefit from a mentor and role model like Wooden. He had depth, insight, was spiritual, a reader, a thinker, etc. This was not required, but he knew all these attributes were necessary to grow “student athletes” into successful players and adults. I have the Pyramid of Success on my wall at work.
2. Underdawgs: How Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs Marched Their Way to the Brink of the National Championship by David Woods
Woods does a thorough job relaying the experiences and accomplishments of this group of true “student-athletes,” especially considering it was his second book on Butler University in a six month period, coming directly on the heels of The Butler Way.
Though I’m someone who attended several games at Hinkle Fieldhouse per year — including the 2010 National Finals at Lucas Oil Stadium — the story certainly has a broad appeal. Absolutely no “homeritis” here; just a wonderful tale worth reading by any fan of life or sports.
3. The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division One College Basketball by John Feinstein
It’s always nice to see kids who play for love of the game, and John Feinstein has particularly good insight herein, thanks to his meticulous documentation and “all access” passes to the seasons of Patriot League teams nearly a decade ago.
Feinstein writes a new book each year, and some are better than others. I think I have read five or six of them. This was perhaps his best.
4. The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty: The Game, the Team and the Cost of Greatness by Buster Olney
Olney describes the personalities from famous Yankee teams of a decade ago with the backdrop
of the seventh game of the 2001 World Series — the last night of the so-called “Yankee dynasty.”
With his unmatched knowledge going back to his days as a New York Times reporter, Olney relays personal stories about this team as he smoothly transitions back and forth through the famous game that November night in Phoenix. Every MLB fan remembers when Luis Gonzalez’s hit fell beyond Derek Jeter’s reach, ending New York’s quest for a 4th consecutive title and putting their title count on hiatus until 2009.
Olney’s account of the Yankees’ run from 1996 to 2001 explains why the “drought” occurred, as he digs into the psyche of the team, making a convincing case for that element known as team chemistry — present from 1996-2001, and absent thereafter.
5. Stolen Season: A Journey through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues by David Lamb
A hidden gem for fans of minor league baseball, Lamb tells these stories like a pro. The anecdotes, quotes and connections he’s able to somehow obtain from the road are remarkable and informative.
Even though the book is two decades old now, nothing really seemed lost or out-of-date. I was very glad to be able to pick this work up for a dollar at a used book store a few years back.
6. True Believers: The Tragic Inner Life of Sports Fans by Joe Queenan
Not a very well-known book, but a quick, erudite, quasi-psychological read by a guy from Philadelphia. Very creative and clever. He really hits along the lines of why sports fans are the way they are in an honest way.
7. The Last Best League: One Summer, One Season, One Dream by Jim Collins
Simply an intriguing, personal, and well-researched book that shows how baseball is unique, offering so many nuances to explore.
There are dozens of summer collegiate baseball leagues throughout every region of America, but the Cape Cod League is generally for the top prospects. Collins, a former talented ballplayer himself, takes you through a summer on The Cape. Many of the men he follows you’ll recognize as current big league stars.
8. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
I don’t generally like the “I couldn’t put this book down” cliche, but if any book ever approached that claim, it was this one.
Unbroken details the story of wild-child-turned-Olympic-champion Louis Zamperini, who enlisted in the military, as so many young men did, after Pearl Harbor was attacked (exactly 70 years ago TODAY), giving up further dreams of personal glory for service to his country.
After a successful early war as a bombardier, Zamperini’s B-24 was shot down over the Pacific in the summer of 1943. He and one other man (a third died) survived 47 days at sea, drifting 2,000 miles on a life raft, fighting off sharks and surviving Japanese air attacks — only to eventually be captured and endure something far worse: incarceration as a POW.
Imprisonment by the Japanese Fascists — in many ways a precursor to the barbarism of today’s Islamic Jihadists — was horrific. Zamperini was beaten and humiliated with appalling regularity by the prison guards.
Occasionally, even when he weighed under 100 pounds due to a starvation diet, Zamperini was forced to race against Japanese soldiers to prove the latters’ superiority. If he remarkably won, Zamperini was bludgeoned into unconsciousness. Dysentery, Beriberi and other maladies wore him down, as did the sadistic Japanese attacks, until by war’s end, his life was hanging by a thread.
The life of Louis Zamperini is pretty darn amazing before the war, during, and even after, which the book also details. Still alive and nearing his 95th birthday, the kid from Torrance’s incredible story will make our generation realize the sacrifices others have made before them.
9. Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson
On the heels of Zamperini, read up on Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s tale of survival. It is different, yet just as riveting.
The first part of the book takes you inside SEAL training in Coronado, Calif., giving you an admiration for how hard it is to become a member of this elite group, while the second half takes you through a harrowing battle that validates exactly why SEAL selection and training processes are so difficult and effective.
A terrifying, awe-inspiring tale of heroism, dedication, teamwork, and the limits of human endurance, this isn’t a jingoistic “rah-rah-rah go America” book; it’s about the journey of one man from his training days through a failed operation which brought him and his team into one of the fiercest battles of our Global War on Terror.
This story made me cheer and cry at the same time. Hollywood will try to replicate it when they begin filming Luttrell’s book next month.
10. America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It by Mark Steyn
Not an alarmist or overtly political book, but an objective, honest look at our changing world where the West (America, Europe) and the Far East (namely Japan) have dwindling populations, while other places (Middle East, Latin America) have booming fertility rates, and what it means for international security and world leadership in the future.
11. Rescuing Sprite A Dog Lovers’ Story of Joy and Anguish by Mark Levin
It’s always unique when a brilliant mind takes on a “softer” topic. This is what we have here, where Mark Levin, one of the more sentient American thinkers today, tells the story of his family’s love for their late dog, Sprite.
The book is fairly short and written at an elementary level. The morals are pure and sound. It’s a good family story for the holidays.
As someone who obviously enjoys non-fiction, I’d be remiss if not suggesting some biographies, especially of presidents, as that’s the best way to understand why our world looks as it does today.
- In particular, anything on Abraham Lincoln is imperative to understand how and why our Union was preserved 150 years ago.
- To learn about America’s expansion into a world superpower — and its conservation of precious resources, while leveling the playing field for all — Edmund Morris’s trilogy of biographies on Theodore Roosevelt have something for all political persuasions.
- To learn about how democracy and freedom was sustained during the key juncture of twentieth century, which shaped our modern world, I’d suggest checking out books on Dwight D. Eisenhower or Harry S. Truman. These are two distinct leaders from America’s Heartland, who fostered our prosperity and true peace over 15 years, despite both being reluctant presidents in many ways. HST and General “Ike” were faced with the most momentous decisions of the 20th century, and upon review, got most of them right.
- I’d recommend books on Ronald Reagan if interested in the man most responsible for ending Communism and truly restoring American Exceptionalism and optimism.
- And lastly, if you wish to go back to the founding of the “American Experiment,” peruse David McCullough’s 1776 or William Fowler’s Empires at War. The former’s topic is obviously relevant, while the latter is a quick read that tracks the French and Indian War on the North American continent. Many historians agree this was the first “World War” as it determined how America’s territory would be settled and ruled more than a decade before our independence from Britain.
Bonus Editor’s choice:
Ari wouldn’t have included this on his own, so I’ll include it for him since I get to have the final look at this post before it’s published. I read it, and “couldn’t put it down” (even though Ari dislikes that phrase). Below the title is my review of the book on Amazon.
Marble City by Ari Kaufman
Marble City is a fictional tale about an American family, and it’s clear the author has an insatiable love affair with his country.
From his characterizations of the people in the book, to his riveting descriptions of the gorgeous scenery on the road between New Jersey and Knoxville, to his enthralling accounts of important moments in U.S. history, this book is as much an ode to America as it is a study of the relationship between the protagonist and his family.
For anyone who declares family of utmost importance to them, or who has been committed to success but not found it an easy path to travel — or who has wrestled with difficult and life-changing questions — there is something to relate to in this book.
Kaufman’s Marble City is a quick and easy read that will make you appreciate investing the few hours it takes to devour the book.