Great sports writing tells us about much more than sports, and such is the case with Nicholas Dawidoff’s superb new book about the hidden culture of the NFL. Embedded with the New York Jets and their colorful head coach, Rex Ryan, for a year, Dawidoff unveils the tensions, rewards, comedies, and tragedies experienced by NFL players and coaches but often out of view in a nation otherwise obsessed with professional football. Neither a booster nor a critic, Dawidoff relies on his immense talent as a writer, and his own humanity, to tell this fascinating story.
What separates great athletes from truly extraordinary athletes? In The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance (Current Hardcover, $26.95), David Epstein covers the nature vs. nurture debate as it relates to elite athletic performance. It’s no surprise that athletic greatness is dependent on both genes and environment, but the real focus of the book is the extent and relative importance of these factors. Epstein examines scientific studies, conducts interviews with scientists, coaches, and athletes, and travels to places like Jamaica and Finland to give us a truly fascinating look at the latest in sports science. He does not skirt the sensitive topics of gender and race, either, but handles them masterfully and with care. As a truly skilled science reporter, Epstein presents facts without overgeneralization and gives a balanced look at this often thorny debate.