Best books...chosen by Keith O’Brien

Keith O’Brien recommends six books about people who’ve beaten the odds.

Keith O’Brien’s Outside Shot chronicles a single season at a rural Kentucky high school whose reputation for basketball excellence is both a blessing and a burden. Below, he recommends six other books about people who’ve beaten the odds.

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder (Grove/Atlantic, $17). I wish, just once, to be as great as Gary Kinder was in telling this story about the steamer Central America, lost 200 miles off the Carolina coast in 1857, and about the one man bold enough to locate the ship and recover its treasure more than a century later.

King of the World by David Remnick (Vintage, $17). When Muhammad Ali dies, obituaries will recount his flair and his fists, his career statistics, and his penchant for poetry. We’ll hear interviews with people who once knew Ali, the kid from Louisville who made good. Mostly, though, people should just read Remnick’s book.

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October 1964 by David Halberstam (Ballantine, $17). I’m not a fan of the New York Yankees or the St. Louis Cardinals. But you don’t need to be to love Halberstam’s book about the 1964 World Series, which pitted the regal Yanks against a rising Cardinals team that seemed to represent baseball’s future. The book changed my life. I read it and wanted to be not Bob Gibson, not Mickey Mantle—but David Halberstam.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (Picador, $16). Today we don’t think of America’s astronauts, or NASA, as scrappy underdogs. But I did after reading Wolfe’s classic 1979 book. The men he profiles had no business going to space and no idea how to get there. Yet somehow, they made it; they survived. Wolfe’s story of how they did so is pure magic.

As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto (Harper Perennial, $15). This work of narrative nonfiction is one of the best, most haunting stories I’ve ever read. When Canadian doctors botched an infant’s circumcision in 1966, so-called experts convinced the family of the child to rename the boy and raise him as a girl. I’ll never forget the scene when “Brenda” Reimer, at age 14, finds out the truth. The reporting that went into creating that scene is remarkable.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing (Basic, $15). Sir Ernest Shackleton overcame more in five months in the inhospitable environs of Antarctica than most men overcome in a lifetime. I’ve read this book twice; I’ll probably read it again.

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