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Top 5 quite interesting books about sport – selected by QI’s James Harkin

From the use of darts in conflict to 80s America, James Harkin picks five of the most interesting books on sport

Sport has provided inspiration for authors through the ages, from the backdrop of the troubles to crown green bowls.

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Darts in England by Patrick Chaplin

The book with the least promising title that contains the best facts. Did you know that in Tudor times the Navy had someone who threw burning darts to set fire to an enemy’s boat? (Admittedly that fact is a little outside the remit of the book’s title).

Friday Night Lights by HG Bissinger

One of the most famous books on sport ever written. Bissinger immersed himself into one of the most deprived areas of 1980s America and found a universal obsession for sport.  

Bowling Legends by Alan Ward

In truth, even if you really like crown green bowls you’ll find some sections hard going, but between pages of stats are wonderfully colourful anecdotes about working-class life. That one man could have collated so much about such a niche subject is testament to the obsessive nature of sport.

The Bloodied Field by Michael Foley

The story of the battle between the IRA and the British intelligence services in Ireland, culminating in the Bloody Sunday massacre which took place during a Gaelic football match in 1920. Sport book and historical thriller rolled into one.

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The Pedestriennes by Harry Hall

I love books about forgotten crazes in history.. These superstars of 19th century America were female athletes  who would walk – with very occasional breaks – for six days at a time. Household names who are forgotten today. The book creates excitement and jeopardy out of what is little more than people walking in circles tens of thousands of times.  

Everything to Play For: The QI Book of Sport by James Harkin and Anna Ptaszynski  is out now (Faber, £14.99). You can buy some of these titles from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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