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Sports: best books for Christmas

George Kimball once sought me out in a press room.

He came in peace, my colleagues attested. I was as grateful for this as I was disappointed not to have met him. Kimball, a powerful and pugnacious boxing writer, had just produced the marvellous Four Kings, where he muscled into the world of Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran, and had been subsequently interviewed by me. Three years later, in 2011, he died.

Part of his considerable legacy lies in The Hurt Business (Aurum Press, £14), a collection of breathtaking writing on boxing collated by Kimball and John Schulian. It is populated by great American writers such as Red Smith, William Nack and David Remnick, and has almost exclusively American subjects. It emphasises the truth that boxing produces the best sports writing and that Kimball was not only a curator of that tradition but a participant in it. It is, too, part of an excellent Aurum series that includes such classics as Arthur Hopcraft's The Football Man and Roger Kahn's The Boys Of Summer.

The news that David Walsh's Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit Of Lance Armstrong (Yellow Jersey, £8.99) was shortlisted for the William Hill prize for 2013 struck me as odd but only because I was labouring under the impression, and possibly under performance-diminishing drugs, that it was published in 2012. Whatever, it is a marvellous tale of drive, obsession and brilliance. It is also about Armstrong. This is not to be facetious. This book is famous for being the most devastating indictment of Armstrong but it is also a tutorial on journalism. Walsh, prickly and indefatigable, chases down Armstrong like a one-man peloton fuelled by a sense of injustice and by the words of a son lost tragically young.

In contrast, Richard Moore's Tour De France 100 (Bloomsbury, £30) is a celebration of the great cycle race but it does not skirt away from issues of drugs and scandal. Essentially and gloriously, it is a photographic essay but Moore's pawky history of the race complements the images wonderfully.

It was a strong year, too, for football books. Spain has become the hotspot for global football and it is well-served by two contrasting takes. Sid Lowe's Fear And Loathing In La Liga: Barcelona v Real Madrid (Yellow Jersey, £18.99) is a sober, meticulously researched and revelatory account of the two great Spanish sides. It destroys preconceptions and casts an illuminating light on a history that has been twisted to suit agendas.

Graham Hunter's Spain (BackPage Press, £19.99) is a typically boisterous, entertaining account of how the national team rose from the burden of heavy criticism to being the best in the world. Hunter's access - first revealed in his award-winning Barca - is astounding. This is a book that carries the atmosphere and secrets of the Spanish dressing-room to the wider world.

The best two fitba' autobiographies are of strikers Dennis Bergkamp and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. David Winner, a peerless chronicler of Dutch football, helps Bergkamp construct an eccentric but ultimately beguiling story in Stillness And Speed (Simon & Schuster, £20) while Zlatan simply kicks out like a mule with a hangover in I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Penguin, £8.99). Bergkamp is complicated, deep and reflective. Zlatan is not. But both demand to be read.

Domestic football is best served on the Celtic front by the idiosyncratic but entertaining Celtic: Pride And Passion (Mainstream, £14.99) by Pat Woods and Jim Craig, and Richard Purden's Faithful Through And Through (Hachette Scotland, £20) also makes excellent use of access to such as Martin O'Neill and Henrik Larsson.

David Mason and Ian Stewart offer a judicious, magisterial account of a great manager in Mr Struth: The Boss (Headline, £20). It is not only a fine chronicle of a man who led Rangers for a generation but a persuasive evocation of an era. Shades: The Short And Tragic Life Of Erich Schaedler by Colin Leslie (Black and White, £17.99) has a mystery at its centre - namely just how did the Hibernian left-back die - but it is also a compelling account of a man's life.

In other sports, Ed Hodge's Jewel In The Crown (Birlinn, £25) brilliantly sets the scene for next year's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles with a seductive mixture of interview, anecdote and history. Andy Murray's Seventy-Seven (Headline, £20) is an account of his Wimbledon victory wherein our hero remarks that his hands were shaking when serving for the title. His anxiousness was shared by a nation on the edge of a nervous breakdown. One can argue about the book of the year; Seventy-Seven recounts the achievement of this year and most others.

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