Passion, obsession, tension, drama, excitement

A great book is a great book, no matter the subject. So why do sports books often get such a bad name? Sports editor Hayden Meikle - who answers his own question by acknowledging the sports book market has more dross than most - names the 12 sports books you simply must read.

H.G.''Buzz'' Bissinger
Published: 1990.
Sport: American football.

Sample: ''And then it rises out of nowhere, two enormous flanks of concrete with a sunken field in between. Gazing into that stadium, looking up into those rows that can seat twenty thousand, you wonder what it must be like on a Friday night, when the lights are on and the heart and soul of the town pours out over that field, across those endless plains.''

The setting: Odessa, a town in West Texas oil country.

The protagonists: The Permian Panthers, one of the most successful high school gridiron teams in American history; coach Gary Gaines; the people of Odessa; and Bissinger himself, a sportswriter embedded in the team for a year.

Why it is brilliant: Where to start? Just telling the story of the Panthers would have made a great book. The team, remarkably successful for a bunch of under-sized kids from lower socio-economic groups, is populated by a broad range of fascinating characters. But Bissinger's genius was in realising football, while at the heart of the Odessa story, was only PART of the story. He blends sports reporting with social comment, digging into the town's marvellous - but also less savoury - history, and discovering a heady mix of passion, obsession, tension, drama and excitement. You know a book is special when it drives a reporter to travel all the way from Dunedin to Odessa.

Don't just take my word for it: ''As Permian High grows into a dynasty, the locals' sense of proportion blows away like a tumbleweed. A brilliant look at how Friday-night lights can lead a town into darkness.'' - Sports Illustrated.

The aftermath: After a few false starts, Peter Berg - Bissinger's cousin - directed a Friday Night Lights movie in 2004. The movie was fine, but the subsequent television show that ran for five seasons was spectacularly good. Bissinger also recently released a short sequel in e-book format, After Friday Night Lights.

Add a Comment