Little A, Doubleday, and Pegasus Books

Three amazing sports books showcase triumphs and progress

Top sports books of summer focus on the Tour de France, women surfers, and the 1969 NBA finals in glorious detail, bringing the events to life.  

After the Tokyo Olympics, many readers may be missing the steady stream of human interest stories. These three new sports history books can fill the gap. They remind fans of how much social progress the athletic world has witnessed and keep a love for sports burning with Olympic torch-like brightness.

Sprinting Through No Man’s Land

After the devastation of the Great War, a bicycle race was just what France needed to pick itself up. Journalist Adin Dobkin details the inspirational return of the Tour de France in “Sprinting Through No Man’s Land: Endurance, Tragedy, and Rebirth in the 1919 Tour de France.” Dobkin drops the reader straight into the action with thrilling descriptions of the French landscape and short biographies of the contenders. 

Originally created in 1903 by the sports newspaper L’Auto to boost readership, the Tour de France route followed in the footsteps of ancient French kings. 

The 1919 race was different from its prewar iterations: New challenges made greenhorns out of even the most experienced riders, many of whom had just returned from the front. First, the route was extended by more than 110 miles, to a total of 3,450 miles that began and ended in Paris and touched all edges of France. Second, cyclists rode without support teams, and third, a new scoring system made victory nearly unattainable. Of the 67 cyclists who started the race, only 11 finished.

But the race gave the French public something to put their hearts into after the destruction of war. “Sprinting Through No Man’s Land” is a timely and moving reminder that reclaiming a tradition can reunify a country, even after a period of great loss.

Tall Men, Short Shorts

They were longtime champions, but in 1969, no one expected the Boston Celtics – the fourth-place team in the East – to make it to the NBA Finals, let alone win. But in the final quarter of Game 7, they clinched a shocking victory. The thrilling story of how Boston triumphed over the Los Angeles Lakers is chronicled in “Tall Men, Short Shorts: The 1969 NBA Finals: Wilt, Russ, Lakers, Celtics, and a Very Young Sports Reporter” by Leigh Montville.

The Lakers thought they had the championship in their sights. The addition of the basketball force Wilt Chamberlain – a 7-foot-1-inch marvel – at last tipped the scales in Los Angeles’ favor. The team only needed to prove themselves in the best-of-seven series, but Celtics star player and coach Bill Russell was never going to make it that easy for them.

Montville recounts the 1969 finals, incorporating articles from the time, including many of his own from The Boston Globe. Combining memoir, historical context, and player statistics, he brings the period to life. Montville’s writing is punchy and hilarious – at times even self-deprecating as he pokes fun at his younger self – but always with an eye on riveting storytelling. “Tall Men, Short Shorts” is a triumph.

Women on Waves

Surfing has long been associated with men. For many women, participation in the sport gave them a sense of agency in their lives as well as on the water. “Women on Waves: A Cultural History of Surfing: From Ancient Goddesses and Hawaiian Queens to Malibu Movie Stars and Millennial Champions” by Jim Kempton gives a comprehensive history of female surfers. 

Kempton, a former editor of Surfer magazine and author of two books on the sport, profiles notable women and introduces ample cultural references to provide context. He covers his subjects with a tremendous amount of respect – even reverence. He begins with 17th-century Hawaiian royalty, moves to the film and cultural phenomenon “Blue Crush,” and progresses toward contemporary surfing stars like Kelia Moniz. 

Kempton stands in awe of the women’s talent, ambition, and successes and presents their stories with a whole lot of heart. With expertise and passion fueling every story, “Women on Waves” is an inspiration.

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