Ten Essential Books For Every Wrestling Library

>> View all our wrestling books.

“A good book is the purest essence of the soul” “Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian and essayist

“When a new book is published, read an old one” “Samuel Rogers, British poet

By Kyle Klingman “TWM Columnist

The history of wrestling in books is fascinating. From the beginning, wrestling held a prominent place in writing. The Epic of Gilgamesh, considered by many to be oldest surviving piece of literature, features a wrestling match between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The story of the ancient Sumerian ruler predates the Bible and the Homeric epics (both of which include wrestling) by over 1000 years.

Through the ages books have been viewed as both good and evil. Perhaps the greatest holder of books was the Royal Library of Alexandria. The Egyptian library was formed in the 3rd century B.C. during the rule of Ptolemy II. It is estimated that over 500,000 scrolls were kept there at its zenith.

Upon arrival to the great city of Alexandria all books were confiscated. Ptolemy III ordered that all visitors were to give up any writing in their possession. The scrolls were taken and copied by scribes with the original being placed in the library and a duplicate copy given to the original owner.

Unfortunately, this great library was destroyed and a tremendous amount of history and knowledge was taken with it. One of the world’s great mysteries is who was responsible for annihilation of this great museum. According to scientist Carl Sagan we would be on Mars if that library was still in existence.

The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. met with a similar fate. During the War of 1812 British armies burned most of the capital, including the Library of Congress. In an attempt to restore what once was Thomas Jefferson offered to restock the library with his personal collection under two conditions. They had to take it all and they had to set the price. Jefferson’s collection remains in the library to this day.

The Library of Congress is currently the largest library in the world. Each day approximately 7000 books are added to the over 100 million already there.

Although wrestling has a rich and storied past there are very few books that deal exclusively with the sport. Most books about wrestling are of a technical nature, teaching holds and moves to improve performance for competition. Followers of wrestling like to boast how their sport is mankind’s oldest and greatest but very few people have taken the initiative to document experiences involving amateur wrestling in written form.

Within the next several months wrestling fans will see that number rise. A History of Collegiate Wrestling by Jay Hammond, Never Stop Pushing by Rulon Gardner, Victory by Steve Fraser, No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life by Kyle Maynard and Wrestling Tough by Mike Chapman are all books scheduled for release before the first of the year. This comes at a time when wrestling needs more positive exposure. Historical documentation is of critical importance for the preservation of any sport. That is why these four books will be welcome additions to personal and public libraries across the nation.

There are several good books about wrestling already available that any fan of wrestling should consider reading. The following list of ten are not “how to” books. Rather they are books about wrestling and what we can learn from the sport.

Encyclopedia of American Wrestling by Mike Chapman (1990)
This is the most comprehensive book written on amateur wrestling. For this reason alone it is the most important book published about the sport in recent years. The Encyclopedia of American Wrestling contains place winners and records from virtually every major tournament imaginable from 1888 through 1988.

The following is a list of tournaments the book covers:
“¢ Olympic Games
“¢ World Championships
“¢ Pan-Am Games
“¢ World Cup
“¢ Tbilisi Tournament
“¢ AAU National Freestyle Tournament
“¢ United States Freestyle Senior Open
“¢ Greco-Roman Nationals
“¢ NCAA tournament “Division I, II, and III
“¢ Junior College National Tournament
“¢ Midlands Championships
“¢ Junior Nationals
“¢ Junior World Tournament

Also crucial to the book are the detailed introductions given before each chapter. This gives the reader insights into the evolution and formation of all the tournaments listed. This is especially useful when reviewing the AAU and USWF national tournaments because of the long and bitter dispute between the AAU and USA Wrestling during the 1960s and beyond.

This book is no longer in print and can only be found used. Chapman has also written 11 other books on wrestling, all of which are recommended.
Wrestling: On & Off the Mat by Wayne Baughman features a section devoted to great names in the sport of wrestling where Baughman shares his thoughts on some the nation’s finest wrestlers.

Wrestling: On & Off the Mat by Wayne Baughman (1987)

Wayne Baughman is truly original. Here is a guy who is willing to stick his neck out on the line and not apologize for it (example – claiming Tommy Evans would have beaten Dan Gable in college and ranking Dave Schultz as the greatest wrestler ever). The book contains insights that only a man of Baughman’s experience is qualified to give.

As a wrestler Baughman has done it all. The former Oklahoma Sooner won 16 national titles in folkstyle, freestyle, Greco-Roman, and Sambo and was a member of three Olympic and eight World teams. He was also the head coach for the 1976 freestyle Olympic team.

Approximately a quarter of the book is autobiographical with the rest of the book filled with stories, secrets, strategies, and thoughts on the sport. Baughman doesn’t limit his writing to wrestling though. He also talks about his experiences in other sports such as running, triathlons, and boxing.

One of the more interesting accounts is when Baughman explains how he ran two 100 mile races at an average elevation of 10,000 feet on training that consisted of the same four mile run, six days a week (an average of 24 miles per week). There is also a section devoted to great names in the sport of wrestling where Baughman shares his thoughts on some the nation’s finest wrestlers.

Not only is this book thought provoking, but it is filled with an honest assessment of where wrestling has succeeded and failed. Baughman is one of the few wrestling greats who have taken the time to document his experiences in wrestling.

The Cowboys Ride Again: The History of Wrestling’s Dynasty by Bob & Doris Dellinger (1994)

The Oklahoma State wrestling program is arguably the most successful in NCAA history. Cowboy wrestling teams are the proud owners of 33 NCAA team titles, which are 13 more than the University of Iowa’s 20. They are also the only school that can lay claim to winning the NCAA wrestling tournament in every decade since the tournament began in 1928.

The Cowboys Ride Again begins with the 1994 season when Pat Smith attempts to become the first four-time NCAA champion in Division I wrestling history and the quest for the school’s 30th team wrestling title. The book then delves into past seasons and personalities from Oklahoma State’s first coach A.M. Colville through the hiring of John Smith as the seventh head coach in school history.

Throughout the book are lots of pictures and stories that capture the essence of a great sporting dynasty. Not only does Dellinger give the history of Oklahoma State wrestling but he also shows how college wrestling has evolved over the years. There are also records and year-by-year results listed through 1994 in the back of the book.

A Season on the Mat: Dan Gable and the Pursuit of Perfection by Nolan Zavoral (1998)

At the height of his coaching powers there was perhaps nobody greater than Dan Gable. As head coach of the University of Iowa Dan Gable set the standard for coaching excellence. During his 21 year head coaching career he led the Hawkeye’s to 15 NCAA team titles, 21 Big Ten team titles, and a 355-21-5 dual meet record.

A Season on the Mat documents the University of Iowa’s 1997 wrestling season, which, incidentally, was to be Gable’s last year as head coach. Interspersed throughout the book are details about Gable’s life growing up in hometown of Waterloo, Iowa and his career as a high school, college, and international wrestler.

Zavarol gives readers a rare glimpse into one of the greatest athletic programs ever. This is the only major book that documents an entire college wrestling season from the first dual meet to the culmination of the season and beyond.

Sports Wars: Athletes in the Age of Aquarius by David W. Zang (2001)

The importance of Sports Wars lies in where wrestling is placed among other popular athletic contests. Included in the book are seven chapters that deal with the conflict of ideals and the cultural clash seen through sports in the 1960’s and 70’s. Names like Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon, Bill Walton and Y.A. Tittle are mentioned throughout the book.

The second chapter is titled Toil and Trouble: A Parable of Hard Work and Fun and deals with the contrast in personalities of wrestlers Rick Sanders and Dan Gable. The chapter starts out with two quotes that set the tone for the text:

Gable trains as if he’s going to row stroke on a slave galley. – Leo Davis, The Oregonian, 1972

I’d bang on the wall many times at night in no uncertain terms, telling Rick to get his ass to bed, shut that music off. He had the girls in there and they were “I’m pretty sure “smoking dope. – Wayne Wells, 1972 U.S. Olympic wrestling team captain

Most of the chapter is based around the uniquely different approach to wrestling between Sanders and Gable during preparation for, and competition at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Adding to the flavor of the writing are accounts from those individuals who were around both athletes. John & Ben Peterson, Gene Davis, Sergio Gonzalez, Wayne Baughman, Bobby Douglas, Jim Peckham, Bill Farrell, and Don Behm are just a few of the wrestlers and coaches who give their thoughts on what went on during an influential time in wrestling history.

The Games Do Count: America’s Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports by Brian Kilmeade (2004)

Amateur wrestling prides itself on the values the sport instills. In The Games Do Count, Brian Kilmead has compiled stories from 74 prominent people about how sports have influenced their life. Included in this list are 10 individuals who had a background in wrestling. They are:

1. Geraldo Rivera, Television Journalist
2. Henry Cravis, Co-Founder of Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co.
3. Robin Williams, Actor
4. David Pottruck, Co-CEO of Charles Schwab
5. John McCain, U.S Senator
6. Hank Paulson, CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs
7. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House
8. John Irving, Author
9. Jeremy Glick, Hero from Flight 93 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks
10. Steve Doocy, Television News and Weather Anchor

Like Sports Wars, wrestling is given mainstream exposure by using several well-known people as a platform.

A Distant Flame by Jack Van Bebber (1992)

As an undefeated three-time NCAA champion for Oklahoma A&M and 1932 Olympic champion, Jack Van Bebber is an essential link to the past. Very little has been written about the early days of college wrestling and his book reveals the hard life of a wrestler during the depression. Van Bebber also gives remembrances about his legendary coach E.C. Gallagher and the demanding schedule he had to keep during college.

Early in his life there was doubt whether Van Bebber would be able to compete in any sport. As a school boy he was severely injured in a wagon accident and had to overcome a tremendous amount of adversity to stay in wrestling.

The climax of the book is his experience at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Due to a scheduling change Van Bebber had to run from the Olympic Village to the wrestling venue in order to make his final match for the gold medal. This is an inspiring book about one of America’s best wrestlers ever.

The Imaginary Girlfriend by John Irving (1996)

John Irving is among the greatest fiction writers of this generation. Five of his books have been made into motion pictures and he won an Oscar for The Cider House Rules in 1999. Novels such as The World According to Garp and The 158-pound Marriage include wrestling as a prominent theme.

The Imaginary Girlfriend is a memoir reflecting solely on Irving’s 33 years involved with wrestling (which he notes is three times longer than his time spent as a student and teacher). Most of his novels are long but the writing in this book is concise and crisp.

Irving has often said that he feels a closer bond with the wrestling community than he does with the world of writing and this is evident in his book. There are wonderful stories about his experiences at Exeter prep school, attempting to make the wrestling team at Pittsburgh University, trying to maintain order as a referee, and teaching his sons how to wrestle. There is also a chapter devoted to his time spent with Dan Gable.

Because the influence Irving has, it is valuable to learn about how his time in wrestling affects his life.

Vision Quest by Terry Davis (1979)

“The truest novel about growing up since Catcher in the Rye”. – John Irving

Olympic Wrestling Throughout the Millennia by Raiko Petrov (1993)

Wrestling is contested in many different ways. The first half of this book is a systematic breakdown of various forms of wrestling throughout the world. However, the central theme is Olympic wrestling and how it has evolved from the ancient form until know. Included are records of the earliest Olympic wrestling champions as well as modern day placewinners. Petrov also examines the motives and objectives for wrestling.

The second half of the book is of equal value. Presented are full color photographs that range from historic wrestling statues, artwork, and carvings to Americans John Smith, Kevin Jackson, and Zeke Jones wrestling at the 1992 Olympics. Olympic Wrestling Throughout the Millennia is an all-inclusive book covering virtually every aspect of wrestling.

Other Suggestions:
They Call it Wrestling: A Pictorial Anthology of the American Wrestler by Wade Schalles (1983)
Mat Snacks by Jack Spates (1999)
Make it Happen by Mitch Clark (1999)
The New Breed: Living Iowa Wrestling by Lou Banach with Mike Chapman (1985)
Two Guys Named Dan by Mike Chapman (1976)
It’s True! It’s True! by Kurt Angle (2001)
Speaker by Denny Hastert (2004)
Wrestling Sturbridgeby Rich Wallace (1996)
The Legend of Dan Gable the Wrestler by Russ Smith (1974)
Mat Power: Lehigh Wrestling Highlights by Denny Diehl (1997)

>> View all our wrestling books.

Wrestling Gear

Mat Wizard Hype
Mat Wizard Hype
Asics Dave Schultz Classic
Asics Dave Schultz Classic
JB Elite IV
JB Elite IV
Cael V6.0
Cael V6.0
Adidas Adizero
Adidas Adizero
Nike Hypersweep
Nike Hypersweep

Leave a Reply