Getting a read on summertime books

As an avid reader of sports books, it felt like there had been a drought recently in the number of quality sports-centric books. There were still some good ones, but not in the quantity or diversity that you would hope.

That appears to be changing in what has been a strong summer for sports books with a number of promising football titles either just dropping or about to drop. Considering the passion in which sports are followed, books like these should be snapped up (even with people's general aversion to reading). Regardless of new technology, if you want depth of information, there just isn't anything better than an old book (or Kindle download).

So what better time for the annual "Summer Reading List" to come out? There's even still some time for vacation reading in lieu of watching Little League baseball and NFL preseason games.

Bigger Than the Game: Bo, Boz, the Punky QB, and How the '80s Created the Modern Athlete. By Michael Weinreb.

With saturation reporting, lively writing and an innate ability to weave disparate personalities and events together, Weinreb brilliantly pinpoints the moment in the mid-1980s when sports changed forever. From the 1986 Chicago Bears, to the otherworld talent of Bo Jackson, to the promotion abilities of Brian Bosworth and Michael Jordan, to the crushing casualty of Len Bias, this book hits all the notes perfectly.

At times it's as much a business book, but it's also an enjoyable ride through the rollicking 1980s. The book shines new light on old stories, delivers endless enthralling tales (Jim McMahon partying on Bourbon Street during Super Bowl week, for instance) and maintains its intelligence and purpose throughout.

It's about how athletes became media savvy and constructed personas (Ronald Regan being the original), but it's more than that. There's something here for everyone.

The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, The Cowboys, The 70's, and the Fight for America's Soul. By Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne.

Books like these have made me a fan of this genre: the period piece shown through the prism of sports.

It focuses on 1979 with the gritty Steelers – their city suffering an economic calamity as their namesake mills were shutting down – trying to hold off the glamorous Cowboys while representing the banking and oil region of the country. It was a clash of cultures, people and, of course, stars.

This book is smart and deep and full of time and place, and it takes you on a journey you weren't expecting – late-70s labor relations.

Perfect Rivals: Notre Dame, Miami, and the Battle for the Soul of College Football. By Jeff Carroll.

This is, sort of, the college version of the above – "Soul" is in both titles.

Notre Dame was the traditional, blue-collar team. Miami was the controversial in-your-face rising power. The teams staged a memorable couple of games in a rivalry best known by the mocking T-shirt Irish fans wore ("Catholics v. Convicts"). Of course, the truth is far deeper than that and Carroll manages to tell it from all sides.

It's a great nostalgia piece for anyone who loves college football. As an added bonus, the two schools announced a three-game series of games in upcoming years.

The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. By Joe Posnanski.

The book isn't new (2009), but the story of baseball's legendary Big Red Machine is timeless and the tales offered by Posnanski remain a treat.

This was an iconic mid-1970s team, with big stars and bigger egos all over the diamond, and it all seems even more fun with the aid of time. From Rose to Bench to Sparky and so on, the personalities are great and the drama of a super team that almost blew it over and over makes it sing.

It's a terrific effort on a fun story worth remembering.

From Bags to Riches: How a Struggling Franchise and Storm-battered City Became Champions. By Jeff Duncan.

There is no lack of quickie memoirs out already about the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl journey. The best may be coming last.

For most people, the main and most endearing part of the franchise's first championship was how it impacted the city of New Orleans itself. In "From Bags to Riches" it's the lead character. Set to come out on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this work by Duncan, a long-time columnist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, does a wonderful job delivering a story about not just how the Saints won the Super Bowl but also what the victory meant to a city still struggling to get on its feet.

It's less about football as a commentary and more about the nuanced life of this great American city and its love of its local team.

Blood, Sweat & Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today's Game. By Tim Layden.

A few years back Tim Layden wrote an insightful story on the Tampa Two defensive scheme that had overwhelmed the NFL. While explaining in clear, precise terms how it actually worked, he also got into the history of its innovation – who thought it up, who polished it and who brushed off the doubters to implement it.

Here he applies a similar formula to many of the groundbreaking concepts that pushed football to unprecedented popularity. From iconic figures such as Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh to lesser known minds such as Don Coryell and Mouse Davis, the history of the game is traced with terrific reporting and even better storytelling.

It doesn't just teach you about football; it's entertaining as hell.

Gloria's Miracle. By Jerry Brewer.

This is not your traditional sports book. It is, however, an incredible read.

Brewer is a sports columnist for the Seattle Times who went to write about a local high school basketball coach only to discover the coach's young daughter, Gloria Strauss, was dealing with terminal cancer. The power of the Strauss family's faith, courage and hope is overwhelming and Brewer manages to convey it with all the dignity they deserve.

The story of this family and brave little girl will stay with you. It's just a tremendous book deserving of all the national attention it can get.