If you are planning to jet off this summer, don’t forget to pack the essentials: sunglasses, sandals, and a good book to keep you occupied on balmy days spent lounging in the sun.

Graham Sharpe, who set up the world’s most valuable literary sports-writing prize – the William Hill Sports Book of the Year – has cherry-picked his top ten sport books for you to thumb your way through on your summer holidays.

  1. Sevens Heaven by Ben Ryan, Widenfeld and Nicolson (2019). Available from £9.26 on Amazon.
  2. A Boy in the Water by Tom Gregory, Penguin (2019). Available from £9.99 on Waterstones.
  3. Ali: A life by Jonathan Eig, Simon & Schuster (2018). Available from £6.20 on Amazon.
  4. Barbarian Days by William Finnegan, Corsair (2015). From £9.99 available on Waterstones.
  5. Run or Die by Kilian Jornet, Viking (2014). Available from £9.95 on  Amazon.
  6. Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn, Faber and Faber (2012). Available from £9.99 at Waterstones.
  7. Shane Warne by Simon Wilde, John Murray (2007). Available from £9.99 at Waterstones.
  8. Taking on the World by Ellen MacArthur, Penguin (2003). Available from £10.99 at Waterstones.
  9. Behind the White Ball by Jimmy White and Rosemary Kingsland, Arrow (1999). Available from £8.65 on Amazon.
  10. Little Girls in Pretty Boxes by Joan Ryan, Doubleday (1995). Available from £8.99 on Waterstones.

The question of whether natural ability can triumph over professionalism and organisation “at Olympic level” is asked in many sports, and Ben Ryan was tasked with trying to strike this balance and also drive a team to success at Olympic level. His unpredictable, barely credible experiences as he moulded together a team from the free, and often unpredictable, spirits making up the Fijian Rugby 7’s squad are memorably chaotic, but ultimately uplifting in Sevens Heaven published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Tom Gregory was told that at the age of 11, he could be youngest person ever to swim the English Channel. But you’d forgiven for assuming that it must have happened at least half a century ago – rather than as relatively recently as 1988Winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the year in 2018, A Boy in the Water recalls his memories of taking on and achieving the momentous and entirely unexpected feat as a very young lad, and are genuinely thought-provoking, albeit not always in a positive way. The relationship between Tom and his coach is pivotal in his remarkable achievement. It couldn’t happen now.

Growing up during the career of the most charismatic sportsperson ever to bestride the world stage, as he transformed himself from the supernaturally talented Cassius Clay to the unbreakable Muhammad Ali, was to witness how the life of this charismatic man who accurately proclaimed himself to be The Greatest, in or out of a boxing ring, touched virtually everyone in the world. Jonathan Eig’s forensically researched biography (he even bought the man’s record player), Ali: A Life, is just the greatest book about him.

Surfers often seem to have a stronger bond with their boards than with their fellow practitioners of the art. New Yorker and writer, William Finnegan, first started surfing as a young boy in California and Hawaii. Barbarian Days is his immersive memoir of a life spent travelling the world chasing waves through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa and beyond.
He explains how this sometimes-mystical sport took over every aspect of his life, encouraging him to travel the world chasing possibly mythical perfect waves. He came to London for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award and told us how delighted he was to win the award, which had no equivalent in his own country.

Kilian Jornet proved he was something out of the ordinary by turning up to the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award ceremony in his running gear in 2014 having quite probably just jogged to the central London venue from Heathrow! Raised in the mountains of Eastern Spain, before he was two years old he was able to hike for up to five hours. Read this inspirational book, Run or Die, and be transported into his amazing world of sky-running as he describes in detail what made him a World champion ultra-runner, climber and ski mountaineer. As well as being uplifting, his story also reveals just how integral his mental attitude is to his success.

As a seasoned distance runner himself, author Adharanand Finn decided that to become competitive with, or even to beat the Kenyan distance runners, it was necessary to join them.

So off he went to live and train with them.

Running with Kenyans is the result and is an absorbing and fascinating insight into what he learned from and about the Kenyans and, indeed, from and about himself. He has deservedly twice been shortlisted for the Award.

Shane Warne endeared himself to the majority sports lovers, let alone cricket enthusiasts, not just for his in-built ability as a cricketer, but for his devil-may-care attitude to life itself.

His sad recent passing merely emphasised the way in which he effortlessly transcended the game by treating it as such, rather than as the be-all and end-all of his very being.

However, some of his off-the-field antics alienated him from his home audience but yet did little to decrease the overall fascination with him wherever he went. Shane Warne, by Simon Wilde goes a long way to helping understand the contradictions of his personality.

What makes an individual want to take on the awesome power of an ocean? Those of us sensible enough to want to keep our feet firmly attached to the ground, rather than floating off amongst treacherous tides and waves, can, though, read of, and marvel at, the bravery of those who sail competitively, such as Ellen MacArthur. In her compelling book, Taking on the World, told the story of how she came to public prominence in 2001 as at the age of 24 she finished second in the prestigious Vendee Globe solo round-the-world sailing race.

Shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 1998 when he was still widely expected to win the World Championship, but which would continue to elude him for much longer – Jimmy White will doubtless go down in snooker history as the best player never to win that title – despite reaching the Final on no fewer than six occasions.

Obviously as talented as any player has ever been, White’s complex personality may be the main reason he has never lifted the trophy. Behind the White Ball pulls few, if any, punches in pointing out Jimmy’s flaws. However, he has always been one of the most popular players on the circuit and has won a whole string of major titles.

Perhaps the sub-title of this disturbing book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, best explains its subject matter – The making and breaking of elite gymnasts and figure skaters. Matters covered include eating disorders, pressure from coaches, the politics behind the sport, and injuries.

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes focuses on the enormous demands which were, at the time, and maybe still are, imposed upon very young female athletes by coaches, trainers, officials, and parents. Some of the demands are so unrealistic as, suggests the author, Joan Ryan, to border on child abuse. One can only hope much has changed since this book disclosed the author’s concerns.