In 1983, Ken Dryden was able to craft a book that has stood and continues to stand the test of time, serving as an introduction to new hockey fans (like myself) to “old time” hockey in a frank light. Billed as the “greatest sports book of all time” (and not just by Canadiens Fan Randy F.) I can say The Game by Ken Dryden is one of the best sports books I have ever read. Stack it up there with Moneyball by Michael Lewis, and Ball Four by Jim Bougton for sure. With Bougton’s honesty, and the literary skill of a Lewis, if you have not read this book, but still call yourself a hockey fan, you might need to grab a copy before someone finds out.
Ken Dryden has got to be one of the most versed people to ever skate on NHL ice. He retired in 1979, but not before missing the 1973-74 season to finish law school at McGill University in Canada. Since then he has been elected to Parliament as a Liberal Party and served from 2004 to 2011.
Covering, not his whole career, but Dryden’s last year in the NHL and beyond, The Game is completely unique in both it’s story telling ability (I was not once bored with reading this book) and the kindly refreshing nature of the the story itself.
Where The Game by Ken Dryden is so unique and interesting is that Dryden writes the book in the first person narrative. Most books of this nature are written in a past tense that puts the author, even in the case of an autobiography or memoir, looking back on events. Not the case here. We are pulled forward along with the story.
From start to finish I was drawn into this story like few other sports books. Most of the time I read something sports related, it is to collect bits and pieces of history that I had never heard or read before. While I learned, that goes without saying, this was much more about the narrative. The story. Both Ken Dryden and Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball) have that ability to pull the reader into a sports story like few authors I have read.
I mentioned Ball Four by Jim Bougton in the opening paragraph as a peer of The Game by Ken Dryden and this is an apt comparison. Both are equally and brutally honest in their assessment of their surrounding. Boughton was essentially blackballed from professional baseball because he wrote about his career with a dangerous honesty. Ken Dryden approaches The Game with that same honesty, even if from the safe distance of some time and unlike Boughton, Dryden’s approach has a kid gloved feel. You never get a sense of meanness from The Game that is there to a degree with Ball Four. I think this comes from Dryden letting his story season just a little longer than Jim Bougton did his.
Going so far as to put this book, in my top three sports books of all time, I do have to highly recommend The Game by Ken Dryden.
And if you are looking for more reads, check out my reviews of This is Russia by Bernd Bruckler and Risto Pakarinen or Odd Man In: Hockey’s Emergency Goalies and the Wildest One-Day Job in Sports by Stephen Whyno