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Books for Christmas

Release date: 01st January, 2006
Publisher: Various

List Price: £16.99
Our Price: £11.39
You Save: £5.6 (32%)
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Books for Christmas

Each of the following books are available at at discount prices

It's been a mixed year for the sports book. On the one hand, there have been some outstanding publications that have breathed new life into aspects of sports history, but on the other, England's World Cup failure in Germany resulted in a series of autobiographies devoid of creativity, flair and humility - just like Sven's team. Here, however, are some of my personal favourites:

Matt Rendell's The Death of Marco Pantani (RRP: £16.99; 4SB: £11.21) was shortlisted for the Sports Book of the Year award, although it didn't win, probably because the descriptions of the workings of blood doping products were a tad dry. Yet these were essential to this compelling story. When Floyd Landis made his remarkable escape through the Alps to put himself back in contention in this year's Tour de France, it was one of the greatest ever-performances in cycling. A few days later he was unmasked as a fraud. It took a little longer with Pantani as Rendell shows.

Another athlete not averse to the odd stimulant was Walter George. He was also an inveterate gambler, often on races in which he took part. In nineteenth century England, however, almost everyone was at it. Who said the Premiership bagged all the good stories?

Beer and Brine - The Making of Walter George Athletics' first superstar (4SB: £20.98) is Rob Hadgraft's follow-up to his splendid biography of the equally eccentric Alf Shrubb. In total, George created 32 world records between 1880 and 1886 at a variety of middle and long distances. These included the mile, a record that lasted for 37 years before the flying Finn, Paavo Nurmi, bettered it in 1923. This is a marvellous book that combines a great story and brings Victorian England to life.

Cricket was introduced to India by the British and eventually adapted by the indigenous population where it became an all-consuming passion. That passion is brought out with style and elegance by Soumaya Bhattacharya in his engaging homage to the sport in India, You Must Like Cricket (RRP: £12.00; 4SB: £7.92).

The author considers India's 1983 World Cup victory as the point at which his countrymen finally began to believe they could compete on an equal footing with the major Test-playing nations. The obsession with one-day cricket, the volatile passions of the India/Pakistan rivalry and the experience of a day spent at the cauldron of Eden Gardens are beautifully and lucidly expressed.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about Roberto Duran's career was its longevity. Unbelievably, he fought in five different decades, won 104 of his 120 bouts, 69 by knockout and held titles at no fewer than four different weights. What makes this record even more outstanding is that amongst his contemporaries were Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler.

Many of his fights have gone down in fistic folklore. It is not before time, therefore, that his life and career should be examined in detail and this is done in the superb biography Hands of Stone (RRP: £17.99; 4SB: £11.87), written by American journalist Christian Guidice.

Finally, one footballer's autobiography does stand out. Paul McGrath cut a startling figure on the football pitch. Faster and more skilful than the average defender, he starred for Manchester United and Aston Villa, won 83 caps for Ireland, played in two World Cups and was the PFA's player of the year in 1993. Yet reading his painful autobiography, Back from the Brink (RRP: £18.99; 4SB: £11.39), one wonders how he ever managed to play like he did, so gripped was he by self-doubt, a result of his upbringing in a Dublin orphanage, which manifested itself in alcoholism. This is a fine and worthy book which leaves the reader hoping McGrath eventually conquers his demons.

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