William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days Bags Sports Writing’s Biggest Prize
Seven have now become one as the winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2016 is revealed.
After a little over a month of deliberation, William Finnegan’s acclaimed surfing memoir Barbarian Days clinches publishing’s top sports writing prize, walking away with the prestige of the win and a well-deserved £28,000 award.
Already a recipient of 2016’s Pulitzer Prize for Biography and famously on President Barack Obama’s summer reading list, Barbarian Days is a soaring elegy to not just surfing but the very ideas of freedom, commitment and community. “Compelling, elegiac and profound throughout, Barbarian Days offers a revelatory and often dramatic study of the elegant art of surfing,” commented the Chair of the Award, Grahame Sharpe. “As we follow William Finnegan’s story we see not just the maturing of a boy into a man, but of a rebellious soul coming to terms with society on his own terms.”
As a celebrated staff writer at The New Yorker, Finnegan’s metier is conflict, a man rather more used to covering backstreet atrocities in Mexico than recording the rituals and grace of the sport which consumed his private life. Barbarian Days traces the author’s journey from bookish West Coast beginnings to a pan-global odyssey of surf and often wild incident; whether it’s navigating the Indonesian black market under the pall of malaria or seeking the next wave in hurricane surf, this is pedal-to-the-metal writing, told with mordant humour and extraordinary self-perception.
“Incandescent . . . I’d sooner press this book upon on a non-surfer, in part because nothing I’ve read so accurately describes the feeling of being stoked or the despair of being held under. . . . [But] it’s also about a writer’s life and, even more generally, a quester’s life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I’ve read in a long time.” —The Los Angeles Times
Barbarian Days is available to order now at 20% off and you can discover the other worthy contenders for this year’s William Hill Sports Book of the Year brelow. We couldn’t be more pleased with the jury’s choice – for a number of us at Waterstones, this is not just the best sports book of 2016 but the finest biography we’ve read overall. Splendid news and an absolutely justified outcome.
Introducing The Magnificent Seven
A ‘Magnificent Seven’ is how the Award’s Chair, Graham Sharpe, has defined this year’s shortlist and there is no doubt the judges have chosen an incredibly strong selection of titles. Covering six sports, and dealing, for the most part, with the complex pressures of success, obsession and sheer survival, these titles offer far more than the limits of the sports they describe.
Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek by Rick Broadbent
The second of two books this year on this most significant of long-distance runners (the other being Today We Die a Little from Richard Askwith).
Zátopek was undoubtedly a hugely complex character, enormously regarded in his time for his prowess and moral certainty, but one fated to vanish into the ether after his involvement in the Prague Spring of 1968. Endurance is the vital tribute.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
Surfing memoir Barbarian Days by William Finnegan is undoubtedly already one of the books of the year, bagging a Pulitzer in the summer and ending up on a certain Presidential shortlist.
Finnegan’s account represents surfing’s first foray onto the Prize’s shortlist and offers a properly vicarious and deeply philosophical insight to a life shaped by wind and waves.
Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius by Oliver Kay
Adrian Doherty was the Manchester United star that never was: slightly ahead of the squad that ultimately became the Class of ’92, the ‘Doc’ was held in awe by those that followed, marvelling at his unprecedented pace and almost unconscious skill.
Comparisons with George Best ceased however after injury, establishing a chain of events that would end in mysterious tragedy. Oliver Kay’s sensitive writing cuts to the very heart of this grimly compelling tale.
Chasing Shadows: The Life & Death of Peter Roebuck by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge
Peter Roebuck was a towering figure in cricket writing and commentary; although his career started on the pitch, it was his erudition and qualities as a wordsmith that brought him true recognition. All this masked a deeply private man of true complexity, his life ultimately cut short by a shocking and untimely death.
Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge’s narrative unflinchingly lays bare all the speculation around that event and simultaneously also seeks to celebrate all that he achieved.
Mr Darley’s Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life – A History of Racing in 25 Horses by Christopher McGrath
Sometime racing journalist of the year Christopher McGrath deploys the inspired device of a fine horse’s blood lineage to weave a tale that begins with a singular colt, sourced from Bedouin tribesmen, through to the glory of Frankel, perhaps the world’s greatest Thoroughbred.
Being a book of horses, it is of course the wild characters that seal the story – Smithfield meat salesmen, assorted legendary jockeys, the apparent inspiration for Mr Toad, a veritable cast of saints and sinners and a grand total of two roguish Princes of Wales.
Find a Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life by Diana Nyad
Cuba to Florida, by water: five times the length of a Channel swim, through some of the most perilous dangers the sea has to offer. The shark-infested Florida Straits; the rafts of jellyfish; the unimaginable power of the Gulf Stream currents.
Open-water swimmers judged it impossible without a shark cage: Diana Nyad, by then 64, proved them wrong, her triumph the result of an extraordinary series of battles (psychological, physical, economical) fired on by her own sense of mortality and the sheer power of never giving in. Find a Way crystallises this intent, underlining just what it is to achieve all that is possible.
Mister: The Men Who Taught the World How to Beat England at Their Own Game by Rory Smith
Seasoned Times journalist Rory Smith looks at the legacy of England as a football missionary, its coaches reaching out across the globe to inspire a vast army of soccer talent which has, arguably, rolled on to eclipse England’s own standing in the game.
The ‘Misters’ of the title, these were the men who for enormously diverse reasons found their calling overseas, from the mill teams of the Victorian era to the Roy Hodgsons of today. Apt anecdotes and a solid historical perspective combine to form a volume that pinpoints our sometimes invisible influence.
We are delighted and honoured to present the following article by Graham Sharpe, chair of judges and co-founder of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award. Here, on the afternoon of the award's shortlist announcement, he reflects on the award's illustrious twenty-eight year history and touches on the tragic loss of his life-long friend and award co-founder John Gaustad.
Reaching the shortlist of the world’s longest-running and richest sports writing prize is a great achievement in itself. The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award has established itself as the true measure of the best the genre has to offer; their long- and shortlists teem with cracking reads that inspire lively debate. To celebrate 2016’s shortlisted contenders, Waterstones Online's Matt Gardiner has interviewed all seven writers of the books the award's chair has dubbed 'The Magnificent Seven'. We will be posting the interviews over the next week. To kick-off, we have Rory Smith and Rick Broadbent.
The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award has, over the course of the last 28 years, established itself as a showcase of the very best the genre has to offer, with long- and shortlists teeming with fantastic reads that inspire lively debate. To celebrate 2016’s shortlisted contenders, Waterstones Online's Matt Gardiner has interviewed the writers of the books the award's chair has dubbed 'The Magnificent Seven'. In our second instalment, he interviews Christopher McGrath, and writing partners Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge.
Over the past 28 years, The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award has firmly established itself as the benchmark for brilliant sports writing; its long- and shortlists filled, every year, with the most inspiring and passionate reads the genre has to offer. To celebrate this year's shortlisted contenders, Waterstones Online's Matt Gardiner has interviewed the writers of the books dubbed 'The Magnificent Seven'. In our third and final instalment, he interviews Diana Nyad, William Finnegan and Oliver Kay.