Tired of hearing all your friends (and podcast hosts) talk about wrestling facts you don’t understand? Ready to learn so much you never knew about the business? Then we’re going to take you to school, brother!
Whether you listen to me on Cape Crisis or Cheap Popcast, you know I can’t shut up about professional wrestling. I might be more submerged in the genre of predetermined fights now than at any other point in my life, and I continually find myself referencing a million different little factoids, even though I should know by now not everyone is as inside as I am. And a big source of my knowledge stems from the (too) many wrestling books I’ve read over the years. Today, I’m ready to share with you my favorites in one nice buying guide.
Consider these your reading list on your crash course into wrestling school. Inside you’ll find expansive overviews of the entire history of pro wrestling, lengthy breakdowns of some of the most controversial moments in sports entertainment history, and – my personal favorite – old wrestlers explaining their life stories over hundreds of pages. We’ve provided links to Amazon/Kindle copies of the books, so if you’re interested and want to get the cheapest price, shop through our links. We’d really appreciate it, Bruthur!
The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling by David Shoemaker
If you’re looking for a good first wrestling book, consider this your primer. Author David Shoemaker, aka The Masked Man, has become my favorite journalist in pro wrestling. Working primarily for Grantland, his essays, interviews, and biographies are some of the most entertaining and informed out there. That’s why it’s no surprise that his history of the business is one of the best and most inviting around. He takes you from the earliest days in the carnivals all the way up to the spectacle of the new millennium, all through the lens of personal stories of key personalities from each era. Wrestling fans of any level are bound to learn something new from The Squared Circle, as well as gain new respect and insight into the lives of wrestlers they only thought they knew.
The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story by Bob Holly with Ross Williams
This one stands out mainly because it’s one of the most recent ones I completed, but there’s still something deliciously compelling about this unrepentant redneck. Bob “Hardcore” Holly was never a huge deal in WWE, but he put in his time for more than a decade, working with all the big names throughout the Attitude Era and beyond, which means he has a lot of stories to tell. And unlike a lot of ex-WWE guys, he’s ready to make his feelings known about top guys like Triple H and Shawn Michaels. But at the heart of the book is Holly trying to erase the perception that he’s a bully known more for brutalizing rookies than putting on great matches. He’s not completely convincing at dispelling that stigma, but he does a much better job than expected in this humanizing autobiography.
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown
Andre the Giant has been dead more than 20 years, and he’s become the kind of mythical figure befitting his namesake. Every wrestler that worked with him has at least one crazy story of Andre’s physical presence, sense of humor, or just plain weird life choices, and comic artist Box Brown pulls together some of the best ones into this portrait of the man. An admitted fan who watches countless pro wrestler interviews, he illustrated his favorite Andre stories to create Life and Legend. Some are famous, some unflattering, and others let you know just how hard it was to be the gentle giant we all loved on TV. If you’re looking for a quicker read that gives you a taste of the fascinating behind-the-scenes lives of pro wrestler, this is the book to get.
Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks by by Mick Foley
The granddaddy of the modern pro wrestling biography, Mick Foley’s life story is a deserved New York Times Best Seller. One man’s journey from fan to Cactus Jack to Mankind to Dude Love and back again is an epic one, and it’s the quintessential path that all future wrestling biographies would strive for. Foley’s natural sense of humor and self-deprecating view of himself is immensely charming, and makes following the painful ups and downs of his life a real joy. And as he recounts his career all the way up until 1999, he also shares so much of his personal philosophies about the business, be it how to properly do a promo, or how to best mock Al Snow. I still find myself pulling this one off the shelf every now and then, rereading hundreds of pages without even realizing it pulled me back in again. I can’t recommend this one enough.
A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex by Chris Jericho with Peter Thomas Fornatale
Though not as epic as Mick Foley’s rise to stardom, Chris Jericho’s multiple books are nearly as expansive and diverse in recounting his experiences on his way to WWE. Lion’s Tale will give you a whole new appreciation for Jericho when you see how he came up, his earliest experiences performing in Japan and Mexico, his impressions of early ECW, and the frustration of working during the peak years of WCW. Any Jerichoholic should at least read his first memoir, and the only real knock I can give it is that he talks way too much about getting laid and heavy metal. We get it, Chris, you love Kiss and banged tons of ladies in Japan!
The Death of WCW by R. D. Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez
After sharing this book with fellow podcaster Brett Elston, he accurately ran down The Death of WCW for its hyperbolic prose. Every new event is THE WORST, DUMBEST THING THAT EVAR HAPPENED EVER… until the next page. While I agree with him, I don’t blame the authors, because the rampant idiocy that destroyed WCW is hard to convey elegantly. Watching it unfold live, I can tell you it was anything but subtle, and this humorous account of the Monday Night Wars is a real fun read, even if it’s more than a little cynical. This recent rerelease for the 10th anniversary even adds a new epilogue describing how TNA turned into the new WCW, hinting at the possibility of a Death of TNA somewhere down the line. If you want to know how WCW vs WWF really happened (not Vince’s cleaned up version streaming on the WWE Network), this gives you a pretty good idea.
Ric Flair: To Be the Man by Ric Flair with Keith Elliot Greenberg
The life of Ric Flair has changed so much since this book was published that you should just forget any of the closure the book tries to find at the end. But before Ric goes into his love and commitment to his (then) wife, he recounts a truly impressive life of limousine riding, jet flying… you know the rest. Flair had humble beginnings, and was around long enough to see the territories peak, subside, battle for and against the WWF and Hulkamania, and see WCW crumble from the inside. He’s got opinions on just about everyone that he ever wrestled with, and not all of them are nice – particularly with regards to Bret Hart and Mick Foley. Personally, I only believe about 65% of what’s said in it, but Flair’s life is an incredible one to be sure, and it’ll give you new reason to look up some of his best stuff on the WWE Network.
The Last Outlaw by Stan Hansen with Scott Teal
Stan Hansen was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, but only if you lived in Japan, where the Texan was the most popular gaijin the country ever saw. His rough, hard-hitting style helped define the bombastic matches of All Japan and New Japan during their formative years, and he offers an intriguing outsider’s perspective on Japanese society, or at least how they react to wrestling. He comes from a time when wrestlers protected the business, even when that means being so hated that riots start and people are shooting at you outside the arena, so he’s got some great experiences to share. You don’t have to agree with all his politics or beliefs (I sure don’t), or his stance that he wasn’t all that rough with his opponents (tell that to Vader’s eye), because it’s a great life story regardless. Warning: If you don’t care much for high school or college football tales, feel free to skip the first 80 or so pages after the intro. You’ll save yourself a lot of time.
Rumble Road: Untold Stories from Outside the Ring by Jon Robinson
Here’s another lighter read that’s one of my favorites from WWE’s publishing company. Jon Robinson interviewed much of the WWE roster a few years ago to hear the type of wild, odd, and humorous tales of what happens during the nigh endless travel that being a wrestler entails. You’ll hear about playing Madden with little people, where the best fast food is, and who’s the most annoying (spoiler: Miz). One particularly mean story I remember involves Randy Orton snapping a photo of another wrestler while he was nude in a tanning bed, and lording that over him for some time. Sadly, nobody follows that up with tales of Randy shitting in people’s bags or being suspended for drugs.
Dungeon of Death by Scott Keith
I’m not going to say that Scott Keith is a particularly great writer, but his book spinning out of the death of Chris Benoit is a morbid one that really spoke to me. Back before the tragedy, Keith and I were both huge fans of Benoit, and have spent the last 8 years trying to make sense of the horrific end to his life. Keith’s doing it via the written word, and after a long bio of Benoit’s life and its aftermath, he explores the lives of virtually every famous wrestler that’s died in the last decade or so, trying to answer the question if it’s really the profession that did it to them, or something even more sinister. Again, not the greatest book ever, but I’ll always remember it for helping me try to make some sense out of Benoit’s senseless actions.
So there you go, your entry point into the world of pro wrestling. Once you’ve read all of these, you’ll be ready to throwdown the facts in any setting, whether at a live show or online. And just maybe my constant wrestling talk will make a lot more sense on the next podcast.
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