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…

Andre The Giant Book Details
News / September 23, 2019

The front cover for The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of André the Giant is now available: It’s written by Pat Laprade and Bertrand Herbert, who’ve previously worked on a Mad Dog Vachon biography and a history of Montreal wrestling. Laprade was an adviser on the acclaimed HBO documentary on Andre, so this should be a highly reliable account of Andre’s life and times. Full blurb is as follows: Is there a way to find truth in the stuff of legend? You may think you know André the Giant — but who was André Roussimoff? This comprehensive biography addresses the burning questions, outrageous stories, and common misconceptions about his height, his weight, his drawing power as a superstar, and his seemingly unparalleled capacity for food and alcohol. But more importantly, The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of André the Giant transports readers beyond the smoke and mirrors of professional wrestling into the life of a real man. Born in France, André worked on his family’s farm until he was 18, when he moved to Paris to pursue professional wrestling. A truly extraordinary figure, André went on to become an international icon and world traveler, all while…

Hail, Caesar! by Robert Crocitti
Review / September 23, 2019

While an authentic and creative twist on wrestling fiction, this novel doesn’t reach the heights of its subject. Most fiction titles I’ve covered in this blog have been in the third-person and have covered multiple characters, whether a romantic pairing or an intricate web of backstabbers. Hail, Caesar takes a different approach, presented as a fictional autobiography of wrestler Bob Ceasar. A wrestling novel needs three things to succeed: authenticity, good writing and a gripping story. For the most part this succeeds on the first count. It reads much like a ghost-written account of a wrestler’s life, much in the vein of a WWE publication. While the timeline doesn’t always match up (the book’s equivalent of early 1990s Monday Night Raw has a full-blown creative team and dedicated segment writers), the settings of a Quebec independent group and a WWF-like national promotion are both plausible, though the lack of any competing groups remove a dramatic tension that the real Monday Night Wars brought. The book is an easy enough read without needless complexity, with the odd apparent diversion usually turning out to serve a purpose. There is the occasional misstep including a section where Ceasar goes into great detail about…

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling by Bret Hart
Review / September 20, 2019

If you despise Bret Hart or you have no attention span, this might be worth a miss. For everyone else, it’s as close to a must-read as it gets. The most mindblowing thing about Hart’s autobiography is that the first draft was reportedly as much as three times longer than the nearly 600 pages here. It’s hard to tell whether that would be the best or worst wrestling book you could ever read. What was published is incredibly in-depth, covering every match and incident of any note and many others. While older wrestlers, particularly ones who’ve suffered serious concussions and strokes, don’t always have the best memories, Hart kept detailed records not just of the events in his career, but his reactions and state of mind at the time. It’s clearly a book written to be completist rather than tailor it to emphasise what a publisher might assume to be the most appealing sections. There’s extensive detail on his pre-WWF days, while the section of Montreal is sufficient but is certainly not dwelled on to excess. The flaws, such as they are, are limited. Hart is exceedingly confident about his own abilities, something that may grate on some readers. It becomes something…

Hollywood Hulk Hogan by Hulk Hogan
Review / September 19, 2019

[This review was originally — and coincidentally — published on the day Hogan was fired by WWE after the emergence of recordings of him making racist comments.) Hardys, Hart, Hart, Heenan, Heenan… what’s up next? Well, that’s interesting timing… If this were the type of blog which bigged up the positive every book to try to boost revenues from affiliate links, today would be a very awkward day. Fortunately it’s not and I can tell you that only the most dedicated Hulk Hogan fan should read this book (which may be a better option that reading anything else Hogan-related today.) The most obvious problem with the book is that Hogan is generally full of it and ghost writer Michael Jan Friedman — whose regular gig is writing Star Trek novels — appeared to have neither the ability nor the will to press Hogan on the accuracy of his recollections or check up the facts. To be fair, the book isn’t home to the worst of Hogan’s fibs, which are collated by Frantic Planet author Stuart Millard on his website. Instead the book is more a collection of his greatest hits, BS-wise. We’ve got Vince McMahon Sr firing Hogan for taking the…

Hulkamania! Hulk Hogan America’s Hero by Abbot Neil
Review / September 18, 2019

As cash-in titles go, this is pretty decent if not exactly hard-hitting journalism. While there’s a couple of chapters of capsule profiles and a pre-1984 history (including the claim that the wrestling business collapsed in the 1960s and was still in a terrible state when Vince Jr came to power), it’s largely a kayfabe-respecting account of the main Hogan and WWF storylines from his title win through the first WrestleMania, with that event covered in enough detail and photographs to take up 55 pages. It’s very much a storyline-based history in which Roddy Piper was born in Glasgow and Moolah was at the end of a 26 year title reign, and there’s no original research, with all the quotes taken from WWE broadcasts, TV guest show appearances and wrestling magazines and books. Despite all that it’s a relatively fun and breezy read that captures the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling era well. It’s also got a good selection of photographs licensed from both the wrestling and mainstream media. It’s not one to go out of your way to track down, but well worth picking up for collector value if you see it at a decent price. Buy on Amazon

Holy Grail by Greg Lambert
Review / September 17, 2019

This is an insightful book that is thankfully already out of date. It smoothly brings together two different styles of book: a history of British wrestling’s development after more than a decade off TV and an autobiographical account. Lambert is a newspaper reporter, former Power Slam writer, and was previously involved in the FWA and his own XWA group as a manager and later promoter. (British fans remain disappointed he never managed Andy Simmons to create the team of Lambert & Butler.) It’s by no means a comprehensive history as it concentrates very much on the “new school” promotions such as the FWA which combined a new generation of performers in a modernised style and the use of imports from the American indy scene. What makes it work is Lambert’s insider accounts, covering not just the big-time image presented to the public, but also the realities behind the scenes of shoestring budgets and improvisation. In particular, the book has one of the most rounded and balanced portrayals of the ever-controversial Alex Shane that you’ll read. The only real downside is that the book ends in 2007 with the storyline death of the FWA. The British scene since then has changed…