Players, by Tim Harris

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The Independent Culture

Tim Harris doesn't do short books. After his huge, and hugely impressive, 'Sport: Almost Everything You Ever Wanted To Know', comes another doorstopper, 628 pages featuring mini-biographies of 250 men, women and animals who transformed sport. He divides these into three categories: the 'Rulers', who achieved new levels of skill; the 'Rogues', scammers and dopers who looked for ways to circumvent rules; and the 'Revolutionaries', who devised new tactics or techniques.

The usual suspects are here, from Muhammad Ali to Emil Zatopek, but this is far more than a cut-and-paste job that characterises many listings books; for instance, Harris nails the canard that William Webb Ellis invented rugby union, honouring its true progenitor, Jem Mackie. And he has rescued a number of trail-blazers from the dusty pages of history, such as Nettie Honeyball, a Victorian pioneer of women's football, and Graham McNamee, the first ball-by-ball commentator.

He is allowed the odd infelicity because, like so many of the characters it chronicles, this book is a big winner.

Published in hardback by Yellow Jersey, £20