'Tis the season to think about the literary sports fans on your shopping list. And this year's batch of gift books has something for sports fans of every stripe.

The links enthusiast will appreciate The 500 World's Greatest Golf Holes by George Peper and the editors of Golf magazine. Not courses, mind you, but individual holes. How do you go about choosing such an elite group out of an estimated half-million? What defines greatness in this case? There are no blueprints, the author states in the introduction. They are inevitably a blend of art and science, nature and man, tradition and heterodoxy, stubbornness and compromise, dedicated genius and dumb luck. Each selection includes the course, the hole number, the location, the architects, the length and par. For example, the par three, 139-yard, 15th hole at the Cypress Point Club at California's Pebble Beach designed by Alister MacKenzie is listed as the second greatest. (What, you thought I was going to reveal the greatest? And ruin the suspense?) The gorgeous photography and lyrical narrative make this a heavyweight, figuratively as well as literally (Golf Holes weighs in at a hefty five pounds).

Whether or not you consider it athletics, NASCAR has quickly become one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. Drivers adorn cereal boxes and reap their share of endorsements. Nine photographers contributed to Speedweeks: 10 Days at Daytona, which covers the crown jewel of auto racing, the Daytona 500. The high-speed camera work captures the color and drama of every aspect of the event. From the fans to the pit crews to the cars and the men who drive them, Speedweeks represents the finest in mechanized sports.

Baseball's Best Shots: The Greatest Baseball Photography of All Time contains some of the most famous snapshots in the rich history of the national pastime: the fierce Ty Cobb sliding into third, his spikes flashing mayhem; an extreme close-up of Babe Ruth. In another shot, Ruth is seen hugging Lou Gehrig as the Iron Horse made his poignant farewell at Yankee Stadium. Then there's the Pulitzer Prize-winning shot by Nat Fein of Ruth's own goodbye to the game nearly a decade later. There are also plenty of shots aimed at today's fans, featuring the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey, Jr. While some readers might question the selection of some of the more recent photos as the best of all time, they are definitely artistic and entertaining.

Football is also represented in the gift book category with NFL's Greatest: Pro Football's Best Players, Teams, and Games. Again we have the issue of subjectivity when it comes to deciding the best in any area. NFL's Greatest features the 100 premier players in gridiron history, including the likes of Gayle Sayers, Walter Peyton, Dan Marino, Broadway Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dick Butkis and other household names. The most exalted teams are also profiled, as well as individual games and the watershed events that helped shape the sport into a challenger for the hearts of America's fans.

Some wiseacre was once asked what one book he'd want if stranded on a desert island. The dictionary, he replied, because it has all the other books in it. This is an apt description of Sports: The Complete Visual Reference, by Francois Fortin, a combination of abridged rule book and instruction manual. If you've ever flipped through the sports channel at 3 a.m. and wondered just what Australian Rules Football was all about, here's where to find the answer. Terminology, equipment and playing conditions are included along with thousands of illustrations of the various recreations, which are broken down into categories such as team, precision (e.g., archery and billiards), mechanized (auto racing) and combat sports, among others. A major reference source, this one is definitely a keeper, so by the time the next Olympics rolls around, you'll know the difference between hurling and curling.

Ron Kaplan writes from Montclair, New Jersey.

comments powered by Disqus