Complete Book of Wrestling by George Napolitano
Review / October 10, 2019

The third in our series of reviews of books based around the photography of George Napolitano, this is a different proposition to Championship Wrestling and This Is Wrestling. Originally priced at an eyewatering $49.95 (in 1988 prices), this runs nearly 400 pages and is far more comprehensive. It’s made up of just over 100 profiles of wrestlers with a blurb of a few paragraphs and a spread of pics that usually includes at least one full-page image. It’s a bit of an odd mix as it has top stars from the various promotions active at the time of production (WWF, Crockett, Memphis and the tail-end of the UWF) along with a dozen or so women from GLOW, so you’ll have genuine superstar like Hulk Hogan followed by a profile on Malibu. The pics are a great mix of studio poses and action shots. There’s also quite heavy use of cropping where the wrestler appears to be bursting out of the frame, something that creates a neat effect but does have an air of wanting to show off what passed for the latest technology. Buy on Amazon

Exquisite Mayhem by Mike Kelley, Cameron Jamie & Theo Ehret
Review / October 9, 2019

This will likely be the strangest book we review at Pro Wrestling Books. It’s an absolutely enormous 480-page coffee-table book (listed at 14.6 x 11.7 x 1.6 inches and nine pounds) made up of three types of material. Of most interest to readers here will be the extensive collection of wrestling photographs by Theo Ehtret who spent many years as a photographer in the Los Angeles territory, specifically shooting at the famed Olympic Auditorium. There are posed and action shots of most of the stars from the 1970s including some truly beautiful double-page spreads of the Auditorium and other local venues. However, the book contains just as much from Ehtret’s other photography role, producing shots of apartment wrestling in which women appear to have decided to resolve their differences by fighting in their home wearing little or no clothing. While it’s likely that a high proportion of those interested in pro wrestling will have no objection to looking at such images, the big problem is that the two are interspersed seemingly at random rather than in distinct sections. Pick any random spread and you stand a good chance of seeing a juxtaposition that puts one in mind of the 2000…

Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania by Daniel Bryan
Review / October 8, 2019

In the era of kayfabe-breaking shoot interviews and autobiographies, honesty as a selling point has become somewhat distorted. It’s often interpreted as somebody “shooting” in the form of spilling scandalous secrets and viciously attacking those who have crossed them. Daniel Bryan’s autobiography comes across as among the most honest WWE books ever published and yet it has none of these mudslinging characteristics. Much of the honesty comes instead the form of self-deprecation, with Bryan readily admitting to his perceived weaknesses, whether they be a lack of athletic talent as a child, never having weighed more than 205 lbs regardless of billing, or believing he failed as a headline attraction during his run with Randy Orton. The flipside of that is that his matter-of-fact approach brings far more credibility when he writes things that cast WWE in a less-than-glowing light, of which there are many. Bryan discussed the relatively low pay (given the associated costs) of working at the bottom of WWE cards, the way he was almost set up to fail in the initial NXT run, and the lack of long-term planning in many aspects of booking. Most notably he puts paid to any theory that his character’s treatment in…

Fall Guys by Marcus Griffin
Review / October 7, 2019

While by no means an infallible Bible, this is by far the most important book written about the fascinating period of wrestling between the wars. It’s an era that saw the culmination of the process of wrestling changing from a fixed event designed to scam gamblers into one where match finishes were designed to build up future bouts for ticket-buying customers. It’s arguably the period when, while the style and pace may differ, professional wrestling as we’d recognise it today really came to the forefront. Published in 1937, Fall Guys is an insider account which claims to tell the real story of the behind-the-scenes chaos of the 20s and 30s as promoters built and broke allegiances and tried to deal with the dilemma of performance and charisma becoming more important then real grappling skills at the box office, but a ‘shooter’ trying to snatch the world title against the script still a genuine concern. These promotional battles on several occasions led to those left out in the cold seeking their revenge through the media or the legal system, both of which revealed secrets about what was really happening behind the scenes. The book is by no means perfect: the sheer complexity of…

Foley Is Good by Mick Foley
Review / October 4, 2019

By comparison to 99 percent of wrestling books, this is excellent. The problem is that Foley’s second volume inherently invites comparison to Have A Nice Day, something that perhaps unfairly highlights its shortcomings. Foley is Good, while in the same style and tone (still largely warm and optimistic with little in the way of cynicism or bitterness) differs from its predecessor in a couple of ways. Firstly, despite being a similarly epic length, it covers a far shorter period, specifically the 20 months between his winning the WWF title for the first time and retiring for the second time in six weeks at WrestleMania 2000. As a result the hit-to-miss ratio is lower, with several less engaging stories making the cut, and often excessive detail on less significant events. Secondly, the book has more of a specific focus beyond a straight chronology. Subtitled “the real world is faker than wrestling”, it includes numerous anecdotes about incidents outside of the traditional wrestling arena, something that naturally increased once Foley became a legitimate superstar. Examples include his appearance in a new feature about backyard wrestling, his work with a ghostwriter when starting his first book, and his testimony in a trial resulting from…

Finally Meeting Princess Maud by Seamus Dunleavy with Shirley Thompson
Review / October 3, 2019

Although Dunleavy had a lengthy run as a pro wrestler including several years as a TV regular, this is primarily not a wrestling book. Only a few chapters of this autobiography are dedicated to his time in the ring, though there’s some interesting stuff in particular on his training at the infamous Snake Pit and on the boxing booths. The book as a whole is ghostwritten in what comes across as a very authentic conversational voice, complete with all manner of diversions and tangents. At times it can be confusing though, with Dunleavy suddenly directly addressing ghostwriter Thompson or even referring to the structure of the book itself, while later sections include comments from his family members where it’s not always easy to keep track of who’s talking. It’s hard to recommend this just for the wrestling content, so it’s more suited to people with a likely interest either in Dunleavy’s tale of a rural Irish childhood and emigrating to work in the UK, or as a local history piece on Birmingham from the 60s to today. Buy on Amazon

Gorgeous George by John Capouya
Review / September 27, 2019

Simply put this is one of the best biographies written about a professional wrestler. The basics of the story of Raymond ‘Gorgeous George’ Wagner are well known: with a combination of flamboyance, ring music, an arrogant persona and an elaborate entrance, he became arguably the biggest star of the first TV wrestling boom in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He later faded from glory and died impoverished and with alcohol problems. Capouya takes the story a step further however: rather than merely cover George’s in-ring antics, he chronicles his life in a way that is detailed but never dry. That’s helped largely by the co-operation of George’s first wife Betty, who was clearly interviewed at life. Unlike many wrestling spouses at the time, she traveled with George and helped develop his trademark image. The result is an amazing level of detail including entire conversations — or at least Betty’s recollections of such conversations — and insight into George’s thinking and the way he established his box office magic persona. Unlike many wrestling history books dealing with the vintage era, there’s no filler here: the detail of and references to historical and cultural events are all directly tied in to…

Gotch: An American Hero by Mike Chapman
Review / September 26, 2019

This book is openly billed as a historical novel and that is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Chapman, an amateur wrestling historian and creator of a wrestling museum in Iowa, has published several non-fiction books on professional wrestling in this era, including a “straight” biography of Gotch. This, however, is written for literary rather than historical effect. In all of his writing, Chapman has always maintained that every one of Gotch’s matches were entirely legitimate contests, a viewpoint shared by few pro wrestling historians. That theme continues here, but in this book not only is Gotch an honest competitor, but a seemingly among the most virtuous and positive men who ever lived. The book contains an immense amount of detail but it’s almost impossible to tell what is actually based on documented reality. Every time Gotch walks into a room for a meeting in the book, we learn almost every object in the room and its placement, along with the style and color of every piece of clothing worn by the participants, all of which is clearly the product of Chapman’s imagination. The problem is that this style is so extensive, there’s no way to know how…

Have A Nice Day by Mick Foley
Review / September 25, 2019

Simply put, without this book, this blog — and many of the books reviewed in it — would not exist. Originally planned as the first of three WWE autobiographies in a deal to cash in on the Attitude era boom, if Foley’s account is anything to go by this project transformed from its original vision. It was originally intended to be ghostwritten, with numerous facts about Foley’s life changed and a pretence that wrestling matches were legitimate contests. Foley later recounted that he persuaded WWE management to let him write the book himself, rejecting a compromise offer of having Vince Russo work on the ghostwriting. And I’m being honest here, bro, that would have been a DISASTER of a book with NARRATIVE failings ahoy!!! What we’re left with is a 500+ page epic that recounts Foley’s life up until his first WWF title win. Foley’s memory was clearly in great shape at this point as he recalls almost any significant match you can think of, and several less significant ones as well. Whether it’s tours of Nigeria, Hell in a Cell or dud explosives in the Tokyo Dome, it’s all here. It’s filled with genuine humour and self-deprecation, and is…

Headquarters by Mike Quackenbush
Review / September 24, 2019

Somewhat reminiscent of a low-level indy version of Have A Nice Day, this is a book with as much interest in its non-wrestling content as the in-ring tales. It’s important to note the book was released in 2001, a year before CHIKARA’s launch, so it’s about Quackenbush’s youth and early in-ring career rather than his training and promoting days, though on the basis of this there’s potential for a worthwhile second volume. Large parts of this book deal with Quackenbush’s attempts to navigate an American adolescence and find a creative outlet, with tales of experiences as diverse as playing in high school bands, attempting to get a journalistic scoop from the Iraqi embassy, and an illusion-shattering visit to a sperm donation clinic. There is plenty of wrestling content though, covering an intriguing period when “independent wrestling” changed from the realm of former WWF stars in no-bumps matches and local DJs winning battle royales to cards full of younger and more athletic wrestlers with a modern fusion of international styles. Fans of a certain age will enjoy the nostalgia of names such as Reckless Youth, Julio Dinero and star of TNM7 “Beef Stew” Lou Marconi. To spoil the ending of this book…