If you go to Amazon.com today and look for wrestling books you will be faced with a staggering 10,000 results in paperback and 4,000 more on Kindle. Sure, that includes a lot of amateur wrestling yearbooks, soft erotica and guides to thumb wrestling, but a sizable chunk of these results relate to the world of professional wrestling.
Ever since Mick Foley hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list in late 1999 the volume of books about the squared circle has continued to expand at a huge rate, from mass-produced WWE promoted books about WrestleMania headliners to self-published books by cult characters that are now rare to find.
With so many wrestling books out there and the holidays approaching, here are some great reads the wrestling fan in your life should love (or maybe you just want for yourself). I have included a range of subjects related to wrestling, there is something for everyone here with many that have flown under the radar and are deserving of much more attention.
Paul O’Brien, 2012
Perfect for: fans of crime fiction and the territory days of wrestling
Did you ever want to see wrestling get the big-budget, HBO, epic story treatment? Just like Billions or Boardwalk Empire but instead centered on the wrestling industry.
This trilogy is the closest you are going to get. Starting in New York in 1969 this series of books centers around Lenny Long, starting as the driver for a member of the National Wrestling Council (yes, essentially the NWA). Over the course of three books we progress through the seventies and into the mid-eighties with an epic story as Lenny moves up the food chain and becomes more entangled with criminals, hustlers and promoters. This being wrestling, this can often all be the same person.
The series acts as a history lesson covering the end of the territory days, evolving into the rock and wrestling era, and it is tremendously fun to read. Don’t trust my word? Mick Foley calls it ‘The Godfather with Suplexes’, Becky Lynch called it ‘straight fire’, and William Regal was ‘in awe of the research’. Brad Pitt actually picked up the rights to develop a TV series a few years ago but that seems to have now gone quiet, so enjoy the books and picture it for yourself. Author Paul O’Brien went on to work with Jim Ross on both of his biographical books after Jim sought him out based on this series and the skill of his storytelling.
One of the things I loved about the podcast I used to be on (Holy Shoot) was the episodes where I found interesting people that tended to not be interviewed by other shows. This led to really informative conversations with wrestling photographers, t-shirt designers, punk rock stars, and independent wrestler turned author Heather Bandenburg.
Heather is not a big star, but has some career highlights such as wrestling in an 8 person intergender match in front of 1000 fans with some Mexican lucha legends on the same card. She has not traveled the world to make a name for herself as a hot act on the indy circuit, but she was flown to Germany to take part in a bizarre art project, wrestling in front of a drunk crowd at 2am in a warehouse before being sent home on the first flight the next morning. Most wrestlers out there performing are closer to Heather than Hogan, and this book gives the reader a look at the real world of professional wrestling when you aren’t being asked to sign 8x10s or plan a title match for TV. Heather covers how she discovered wrestling by accident, training and working with men and women on the UK independent scene, how she deals with some serious injuries and health scares, and in a book that just predates the movement she shares some Speaking Out related stories of what it can be like for women in general in this world.
This book reveals what the industry is really like for those under-appreciated but never out of love with getting in the ring, and it has some high acclaim from people from those that made it from the lower levels up to main eventing the biggest shows in the world. Multiple time bestselling author and wrestling hall of famer Mick Foley read the book and swifty called it the greatest wrestling memoir he had ever seen, writing a detailed review on this Facebook page that is worth your click and time, he sells the book with much more charm than I can muster.
You can pick the book up on Amazon but Heather also sells the books directly via her website
Mick Foley, 2003
Perfect for: fans of Mick’s layered promos and the darkly comic
Unfortunately, Mick Foley did not find as many people wanted to read his fiction writing compared to his autobiographies, but his debut shows how he could channel his creativity in other ways, as we later saw from his children’s books and series of acting roles.
After a violent childhood Andy Brown is a teenager who ends up living with his father for the first time, a remarkable character called Tietam Brown. Tietam is a complex person, switching from face to heel in an instant, from loving father to all crude stories, punishing workout routines and acts of sadistic violence. When reading the book you cannot help but picture Terry Funk as Tietam, middle aged and crazy, but there is also another prominent character that Foley based on a young Brock Lesnar. This book is worth reading if you are a fan of Mick’s promo work as Cactus Jack and Mankind, where Foley also showed incredible character work and an understanding for layered storytelling, revealing the cards one at a time.
Back at the time of release The Chicago Tribune reviewed stated that ‘Tietam Brown announces the coming of a promising novelist of the American obscene’, and it is a shame Mick only went on to write one more fiction book (Scooter), which was more ambitious but lacks the charm at the heart of Tietam.
James Dixon, 2014
Perfect for: historians and fans who missed this pre-attitude period and want to know more about the world of wrestling that gave birth to the attitude era.
Consisting of Titan Sinking, Titan Shattered and Titan Screwed, this series from James Dixon starts with WWF at its low point in 1995 and tracks the slow turnaround in company fortunes. It is often darkest before the dawn of a new era, and that is certainly the case here, with Dixon detailing the struggle Vince McMahon faced in the years before the boom period of the attitude era.
Detailing years of court cases, declining revenues and creative mismanagement, the trilogy goes into the details of how WWF reversed this deficit, finishing at Wrestlemania 14 in 1998 with the company reborn. James Dixon goes deep on the decisions made, the reasoning that lead to each, and the financial side of the business. This includes special attention given to Shawn Michaels during a time as an unreliable headliner in a down period for the industry before Stone Cold became the new face of the wrestling business.
I missed the 95-96 period in wrestling and this filled in a lot of gaps, it is one for people that really care about the backstage part of wrestling. Many newer fans will struggle to grasp just how different the wrestling world was in the years between peak Hulk Hogan and peak Stone Cold, and with the current perceived lull in terms of innovation and intrigue in the WWE it might prove a useful reminder to others that we have been in worse positions before.
I’m sure you all know about Hulk Hogan slamming Andre ‘for the first time’ at WrestleMania 3, but did you know that was pretty much the end of a long and successful career around the world? WWE narrative suggests Andre was always a big immovable object, not an accomplished wrestler that was able to have good matches in Japan, Canada and across Europe. Hébert and Laprade have put in considerable efforts to fully document the life and career of one of the most successful wrestlers of all time, creating a book that even the most ardent wrestling fan will learn from. While you may have heard of this one many fans will sleep on this book, expecting the ninety-minute documentary, graphic novels or sub-par WWE-focused books on Andre to have done the job, which is truly not the case.
If anything this book is too detailed, citing exact attendance levels and earnings for 20 Years of shows and dates of tours that may make some feel it is a little too dry at times, but this attention to detail evokes a feeling of trust. It was a clear labor of love with the authors looking to do justice to a legend, so you will come away feeling like you went to school and did a semester on Le Giant Ferre.
The book details Andre’s start in the business before his gigantism robbed him of his mobility, a tragic case of bad decisions that led to his early death. It also provides insight into Andre’s personal issues and his final days, but along the way tells many enjoyable stories and we get to celebrate the achievements of Andre while learning about his caring side. Andre was certainly a character that loved to entertain his friends and look after those he loved or showed him empathy.
This is the most recent book on the list and one of largest at almost 450 pages, so you can always check out the HBO film from 2018 that acts as an appetizer to this main course. Also make sure you don’t accidentally pick up one of the other, much lesser, books on Andre, as there are a couple of others out there. Avoid the WWE published ‘Andre the Giant: A Legendary Life’ unless you like to read match summaries
Edited by Jason Norris, 2020
Perfect for: fans of women’s wrestling or those that want to get a range of fresh perspectives on the world of wrestling
Of course, I need to include my own book in this list! Women Love Wrestling is a collection of writing from women and about women in wrestling, written by fans, wrestlers, podcasters, promoters, journalists, culture critics, PhDs and academics. This 300-page collection is a mix of wrestling history, personal stories and studies of professional wrestling, plus all profits are donated to women’s charities in the US and UK that help victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
In this anthology, you will learn how to watch joshi, how women train to wrestle, how promoting all-women shows requires a different approach, how wrestling fandom creates gender-bending art and cosplay, the history of GLOW, AJW, Shimmer and EVE, issues with diversity, the slow progress being made with gender equality and more thanks to the team of writers.
Sean Oliver, 2017
Perfect for: anyone that enjoys wrestler anecdotes
As a fan of wrestling podcasts this history of shoot interviews ticks a lot of boxes, especially as I never actually got into these types of interviews during their peak. Learn how Sean Oliver built a revolutionary business model that started to expose the business more than it had ever been exposed before. Also, learn what a class act Honky Tonk Man is and why Buff Bagwell deserved his douchebag reputation. It’s another business-focused book on this list but it will be a great trip down memory lane for many as Oliver mixes in many stories of the wrestlers he meets along the way.
Newer fans will only be aware of the many podcasts available from wrestlers or that they guest on, the majority of which are available free using an ad-funded model. Now wrestlers just pick up the phone and dial in, making Kayfabe feel like a relic of another time. One has to imagine how much money the likes of CM Punk and Jon Moxley could have made for their first interviews after leaving WWE back when shoot tapes were a thing.
Justin Roberts, 2017
Perfect for: anyone who wondered what it’s like on the road for WWE
Ever wonder what it’s like to sit ringside every night and travel with the boys without the need to take the nightly bumps? Justin Roberts details the amazing time he had while also revealing the politics, backstabbing and bullying that occurs when you are part of the WWE team and not a headliner. Roberts comes across as very rational and tells a good story, including his version of how WWE treated the young Connor, of the Connor’s Cure Award, which makes for uncomfortable reading for those in WWE that now own the brand sentiment and corporate PR efforts. This one is for fans of WWE that want a rare glimpse of the company from someone that was not a wrestler or member of creative
Perfect for: anyone interested in how the shoot/work style became so popular in the late 90s
The life and times of Brian Pillman are covered, showing he was much more than a Loose Cannon. This book gave me new appreciation for the man I watched as Flyin’ Brian in the early 90s and then as a crazed talker in the attitude era, although I’m still not sure if I got the total truth!
As a fan of American football I enjoyed learning how a smaller man made it to play in the NFL and was inspired by how Pillman overcame the odds after nearly dying as a child with years of throat operations. He burned hard and fast and while many will want to read about the notorious worked shoot period in his career as he appeared in WCW, ECW and WWF, this book is a pleasant surprise to read due to the inspiring story told via the earlier chapters.
Alec Klein, 2003
Perfect for: those interested in how much bigger business decision can impact the wrestling world
A brief mention for this book, which is not really about wrestling, but will include topics many fans are aware of that led to the demise of WCW. Klein looks at the largest corporate merger in history between the old school media of Time Warner and the (at the time) new media darling AOL. He digs into the financial difficulties, bad business decisions and culture clash that saw WCW’s most passionate and powerful supporter Ted Turner lose control of his company.
This is a book about short term booking, hot shooting and rebellion, just in an office rather than a wrestling ring. If you’ve read the excellent Nitro, the only book Eric Bishoff endorses about WCW, this could be a good companion piece.
Ryan Dilbert, 2020
Perfect for: fiction fans and those with short attention spans
I am ending this list with the most recent and perhaps the most bizarre of my selections, the wonderful Mat Burns. Dilbert has written a series of flash fiction stories under 1000 words, each completely original or offering knowing hints at a true life wrestling story. It is a delightful treat that barely runs 40 pages, but sometimes less is more and I appreciated every page.
I was reminded of the more whimsical and surreal work of Jim Dodge, such is the cast of characters featured. Highlights include the story of an old school female heel manager trying to get the right reaction from a modern smart crowd, and a wrestler that has learned the power of flight.
Do you agree? Do you hate my choices with a passion? Do you have recommendations? Please follow me at https://twitter.com/WrestlingLondon and tell me. You will also find out more there about the wrestling events I help run (hopefully again in post-covid time) and the Women Love Wrestling book.
Also, check out https://womenlovewrestling.net/