Please recommend books similar to Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball
December 8, 2009 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I love Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball". What should I read next?

I'm in the middle of Simmons NBA opus, and it fascinates as to how he's able to pack in so much info, yet have the book remain accessible. I especially love how he makes fun of and injects humor into the various characters and events in the NBA's history.

Are there other books that are basically all encompassing, sprawling accounts of a particular entity, field, event, etc., yet remain fun to read?

I know some folks might suggest Mary Roach, but I just couldn't get into her stuff.

I prefer nonfiction, but well written fiction would work too.

posted by reenum to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Mark Kurlansky, maybe? Or would you prefer sports-related stuff?
posted by box at 11:46 AM on December 8, 2009

Simmons' "Now I Can Die in Peace" is also very good.

You may also enjoy Chuck Klosterman's work. He's often on the Sports Guy's podcast, and while he doesn't write 800-page treatises on a single subject, he does write humorous, intellectual nonfiction essays.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 12:00 PM on December 8, 2009

I really enjoyed Christopher McDougall's Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. A little history, some evolutionary theory, a lot of adventure and many offbeat characters. Non-fiction and a great read.
posted by studentbaker at 12:21 PM on December 8, 2009

I'm a huge fan of Bill Simmons as well. Not your question, but lately I'm obsessed with listening to his podcast.

On the basketball vibe, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac is a fascinating read as well.

Klosterman is a good pal of Simmons and I consider him the pop-culture analog to Bill Simmons and sports (though they overlap with each other's interests a ton)

You might also try Malcolm Gladwell (incidentally another pal of Simmons, as noted by this fun back and forth)
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:33 PM on December 8, 2009

Response by poster: Great suggestions so far, guys. I've read "Now I Can Die In Peace" as well as all of Klosterman and Gladwell's stuff. And I listen to the B.S. Report within an hour of each episode being released.

I'm all covered on Simmons, and would like to see if there are any others like him (besides the above, of course).
posted by reenum at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2009

Best answer: Have you read Will Leitch's "God Save the Fan?" He's the former editor of, and his book covers sports culture from the fan's perspective.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 1:32 PM on December 8, 2009

Best answer: Well, the opus of NBA basketball doesn't even belong to SG -- it belongs to David Halberstam, who in between cataloging pivotal points in American history sought to write about his dearest hobbies, sports. The real NBA classic (no disrespect to SG, and he's the one who turned me onto it in the first place) is Breaks of the Game and I suspect that if you were to ask Simmons face-to-face, he might still agree as well. Halberstam chronicles the year following the NBA championship for the 1979-80 Trailblazers, and among other things documents:
- an all-encompassing portrait of the chemistry, issues, and histories of the members of the team and coaching staff, which includes Hall of Famer Bill Walton
- a portrait of the league in turmoil because of declining popularity, immediately before, during, and after the drafting of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (which would turn the fortunes of the NBA around)
- another angle of the league in turmoil as it worked to make its increasing proportions of black players marketable and acceptable to White America (including the aftermath of the Kermit Washington haymaker -- and Kermit Washington was on this team during the season).
[A fair warning -- Halberstam is no SG. His writing is dense, he writes at a higher level, and he seems disinclined to partition his passages into smaller, more digestible bytes. If you do read this, be prepared for marathon "chapters," if you could call them that.]

As for other sports, both of Michael Lewis' sports-related material is good for capturing sweeping changes across a league -- The Blind Side about the evolution of the NFL's passing game and economics, and Moneyball about the early 00's Oakland A's which sought to revolutionize baseball economics by exploiting undervalued player traits.

The only other book I could say maybe does the things you're talking about is Bringing the Heat, about the NFL on the eve of true free agency (as viewed through the microcosm of the Philadelphia Eagles).
posted by the NATURAL at 1:34 PM on December 8, 2009

Oh, PS. If you're really looking for the humor first, I'd go with TBS, Moneyball, and BTH over BotG. Michael Lewis has a firm grasp on irony and understatement, and uses both well in the two books; I'm not too sold on Mark Bowden's sense of humor, but he chronicled a team with some pretty funny players, including Mike Golic (who was a DT for the Eagles at the time).

A sense of humor is important above ALL other things, then I think SG recommends Unfinished Business, Jack McCallum's season with the 86-87(?) Boston Celtics, because they were a razor-witted and irreverent bunch, (bizarrely) led by Kevin Mchale.
posted by the NATURAL at 1:39 PM on December 8, 2009

the NATURAL nails it, "Breaks of the Game" is a must read.
posted by vito90 at 1:48 PM on December 8, 2009

Seconding The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. Borderline insane genius & quite possibly one of the best books I've ever read about anything.
posted by i_cola at 2:19 PM on December 8, 2009

It's a little obvious maybe but A Short History of Nearly Everything I think fits the bill (illustrated version!). Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea is really accessible and fun if you're a math moron like me. Proust was a Neuroscientist is engaging. Stumbling on Happiness is similarly fun to Gladwell type stuff.

Michael Pollan, Sarah Vowell, Gore Vidal's Lincoln, Lies My Teacher Told Me, Bird by Bird, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.
posted by birdie birdington at 5:50 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

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