Books by John U. Bacon
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The Greatest Comeback: How Team Canada Fought Back, Took the Summit Series, and Reinvented Hockey
HarperCollins Canada, September 27, 2022
The series you thought you knew: the first book written with the complete co-operation of the whole team.
“They’ve stolen our beer and our steaks, and then to make it worse when we go back to the hotel after the game, they give us warm, skunky Russian beer and not the good, cold Labatt’s our sponsor sent. I remember thinking, ‘These pricks will never beat us again! They are not going to win another game.’”
— Rod Gilbert
The Summit Series took place in September 1972, when Cold War tensions could not have been higher. But that was the whole point of setting up this unprecedented hockey series. Team Canada, featuring the country’s best players—all NHL stars, half of them future Hall of Famers—would play an eight-game series, with four games played across Canada followed by four in Moscow. Team Canada was expected to crush their untried opponents eight games to zero, with backups playing the last four games.
But five games into the series, they had mustered only one win against a tie and three stunning losses. With just three games left, Team Canada had to win all three in Moscow—all while overcoming the years of animosity and mistrust for one another fostered during the Original Six era. They would also have to overcome the ridiculous Russian refereeing that resulted in stick-swinging fights involving the players, a Canadian agent and Soviet soldiers; surmount every obstacle the Soviets and even the KGB could throw at the players and their wives; invent a hybrid style of play combining the best of East and West, one that would change the sport more than any other factor before or since; and win all three games in the last minute.
And they did it all.
The Summit players asked Bacon to tell their story and provided unparalleled access and candour in dozens of interviews with almost every living player. The Greatest Comeback is a universal story about overcoming bitter feuds to forge a hard-earned team spirit and inspire heroics against long odds and almost inhuman pressure—an experience so unforgettable that every member of Team Canada considers those eight games to be the highlight of their storied careers.
“I like to think I know the Summit Series as well as anyone could. But in The Greatest Comeback I discovered fascinating stories, details, and insights about my teammates, the games, and even the off-ice antics that I’d never heard before. I found myself experiencing it all over again. If you read only one book on the Series, this is the one.” — Paul Henderson
“Canadian hockey players are Canadians before they are hockey players. More than any other book on the Summit Series, The Greatest Comeback clearly shows the emotions of the players, and the country that came together, when we needed each other most. Together we won.” — Bob Clarke
“This book is fantastic. I knew these were the most emotional games of my career, but now I know why we got so involved in it, why it was the most important series of our lives, and why it still matters so much to us, even now. I’ve never seen the story put together so completely. You can say this is the best book on the series, because it’s true.” — Serge Savard
“The story of Canada’s 1972 hockey team is a testament to Canadians and their never-give-up attitude. The Greatest Comeback is an incredible behind-the-scenes portrayal of an over-confident hockey team against an equally proficient team from the former Soviet Union, its trials and tribulations and the spirit of Canadians. Read it and feel pride.” — Harry Sinden
“John U. Bacon’s exhaustively-researched The Greatest Comeback perfectly captures the greatest moment in Canadian sports history. I lived it all, reported it all, and thought I knew and remembered everything that happened that glorious month of September 1972, but Bacon’s fresh reporting brings a striking, new perspective to the Cold War events that made for hockey history.” — Mark Mulvoy, former Editor-in-Chief, Sports Illustrated; co-author, Face-Off at the Summit with Ken Dryden
Let Them Lead: Unexpected Lessons in Leadership from America’s Worst High School Hockey Team
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 7, 2021
An uplifting leadership book about a coach who helped transform the nation’s worst high school hockey team into one of the best. Bacon’s strategy is straightforward: set high expectations, make them accountable to each other, and inspire them all to lead their team.
When John U. Bacon played for the Ann Arbor Huron High School River Rats, he never scored a goal. Yet somehow, years later he found himself leading his alma mater’s downtrodden program. How bad? The team hadn’t won a game in over a year, making them the nation’s worst squad—a fact they celebrated. With almost everyone expecting more failure, Bacon made it special to play for Huron by making it hard, which inspired the players to excel. Then he defied conventional wisdom again by putting the players in charge of team discipline, goal setting, and even decision-making – and it worked. In just three seasons the River Rats bypassed 95-percent of the nation’s teams.
A true story filled with unforgettable characters, stories, and lessons that apply to organizations everywhere, Let Them Lead includes the leader’s mistakes and the reactions of the players, who have since achieved great success as leaders themselves. Let Them Lead is a fast-paced, feel-good book that leaders of all kinds can embrace to motivate their teams to work harder, work together, and take responsibility for their own success.
To learn more about Let Them Lead, see John’s appearances on Good Morning America, the New York Times and his TEDx talk, or check out his popular podcast, LET THEM LEAD, click HERE.
Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football
HarperCollins, September 3, 2019
A riveting insider’s chronicle of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh era, and a deeply reported human portrait of a big-time college football program at the crossroads.
For the past year, John U. Bacon has received unprecedented access to Jim Harbaugh’s University of Michigan football team: coaches, players, and staffers, in closed-door meetings, locker rooms, meals, and classes. Overtime captures this storied program at the crossroads, as the sport’s winningest team battles to reclaim its former glory. But what if the price of success today comes at the cost of your soul? Do you pay it, or compete without compromising?
In the spirit of HBO’s Hardknocks, Overtime follows the Wolverine coaches, players, and staffers through the 2018 season, including Harbaugh, offensive stars Shea Patterson and Karan Higdon, NFL-ready defensive standouts Rashan Gary, Devin Bush Jr., and Chase Winovich, second-stringers striving to find their place on the team, and their parents’ reactions to it all. Bacon met with them every week during a season that saw the Wolverines ride a ten-game winning streak to #4 in the nation, then take a beating at the hands of arch-rival Ohio State, led by controversial coach Urban Meyer, Harbaugh’s foil. Overtime also previews the crucial 2019 campaign ahead.
Above all, this is a human story. In Overtime we not only discover what these public figures are like behind the scenes, we learn what the experience means to them as they go through it – the trials, the triumphs, and the unexpected answers to a central question: Is it worth it?
“John U. Bacon’s Overtime is a brilliant look into the wild and wonderful world of U.S. college football. While Bacon’s intense focus is on the Michigan Wolverines his first-rate storytelling transcends Ann Arbor. This is one of the best insider-football books ever written. Highly recommended!” – Douglas Brinkley, Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University and author of American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race
“John Bacon is a riveting story-teller on any subject. This book may be about Michigan, but it captures the human, physical and financial challenges of college football nationally. John explores this story—as with everything he does—with enormous heart and enthusiasm. A fun and important read.” – Robin Wright
“In a year when Michigan’s return to glory is expected this is a must read. As usual John’s writing skills satisfy more than just the fans of the Maze & Blue. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down!” – Tim Layden, Fox Sports
“Through meticulous reporting and engaging storytelling, John U. Bacon reveals how Coach Jim Harbaugh defines success in college football. Wins matter, but how you achieve them matters more. Setting high academic standards and and playing by the rules are expressions of Harbaugh’s competitive instincts, which come to life in Overtime.” – Barbara McQuade, Former U.S. Attorney, Legal Analyst, NBC News
“As expected, it is excellent, and a real page-turner. Read 400+ pages in one day, absorbing everything, faster than I ever have before. Really great stuff, and fans will love the chapters on ‘the gauntlet’, especially the MSU game!” – Isaiah Hole, The Wolverine Wire, part of USAToday Sports Network
“Buy it. Read it. Appreciate the richness of the reporting, writing, and context.” – Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN
The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts
University of Michigan Press, May 15, 2018
“I wrote these stories between 1992 and 2018. They cover a dozen different sports for a dozen different media outlets, from the Ann Arbor News to National Public Radio, and they stretch from a couple pages to a dozen. But they have one thing in common: they all meant a lot to me when I wrote them, and they still do today.”
The Best of Bacon presents both new and familiar stories by best-selling author John U. Bacon, all centered on sports in his home state of Michigan. Best known for his acclaimed books on college football, Bacon’s writing has been praised for going beyond traditional Xs and Os sports reporting. True to that reputation, this collection showcases personal, behind-the-scenes stories of players, coaches, and even fans. Many of these stories are connected to specific moments in time—a great season, the passing of a legendary broadcaster, or a star player’s daily grind before a big game—and will immediately transport readers to some of the highs (and lows) of their own sports memories. More often, Bacon’s writing explores timeless themes—why we love sports, how we pass that passion down to the next generation, and how it will be threatened or preserved in the future.
Michigan is one of the nation’s best sports states, home to countless amateur squads, two Big Ten schools, and professional teams in all four major sports whose histories reach back to the start of their leagues—something only New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois can also claim. This book covers the spectrum, from insider profiles of big names like Magic Johnson, Bo Schembechler, and Joe Louis, to cautionary tales of the debilitating greed threatening our favorite pastimes, to uplifting stories of the unsung heroes whose passion drives them to coach Little League baseball teams or run summer camps for peanuts. These stories speak to the value of sports, but also to our values. Whether a Spartan or a Wolverine, a long-suffering Lions’ backer or a diehard Wing-Nut, a lifetime sports fan or just someone who loves a good story, there is something here for everyone.
“While every vignette here takes you to a different place and time, it all resonates in a familiar way: John U. Bacon reports and writes with heart. He is a comfortable narrator even on the challenging subjects, and he offers a unique perspective on sports and all different sides of life. John has always brought the ‘lasting lessons’ on Michigan athletics, but the best lessons are the ones he finds within.” – Eric Adelson, Yahoo! Sports, writer, awarded nation’s top sports feature, 2013
“People who think they don’t like sports probably haven’t read John U. Bacon. That was me before I started talking with John on my show. He doesn’t write about statistics, wins, and losses. He writes about people digging down deep, challenging themselves to do better, try harder, encourage a teammate, weather a tough loss, get back up, do it again, and then—hopefully—celebrate a success. This collection will leave you looking at sports—and the people who play and coach them—with new eyes.” – Cynthia Canty, host of “Stateside,” Michigan Radio
“John U. Bacon tells stories the same way a coach carries out a brilliant game plan. With passion and wisdom, hilarity and poignancy, he guides you to every corner of Michigan, a place where he has an unparalleled home court advantage. Whether he is writing about Bo Schembechler or Magic Johnson, Jim Abbott or Gordie Howe, his father or his son, frozen pond or broiling gym, a small-town high school hero or the forces of greed embezzling the essence of college football and basketball, Bacon examines our tumultuous love affair with sports in order to examine us. Open this collection at any juncture and find yourself transported to Bacon’s field of play.” – Linda Robertson, award-winning sports columnist, Miami Herald
The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
HarperCollins, November 7, 2017
A gripping narrative history of the largest manmade detonation prior to Hiroshima: in 1917 a ship laden with the most explosives ever packed on a vessel sailed out of Brooklyn’s harbor for the battlegrounds of World War I; when it stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, an extraordinary disaster awaited…
On Monday, December 3, 1917, the French freighter SS Mont-Blanc set sail from Brooklyn carrying the largest cache of explosives ever loaded onto a ship, including 2,300 tons of picric acid, an unstable, poisonous chemical more powerful than TNT. The U.S. had just recently entered World War I, and the ordnance was bound for the battlefields of France, to help the Allies break the grueling stalemate that had protracted the fighting for nearly four demoralizing years. The explosives were so dangerous that Captain Aimé Le Medec took unprecedented safety measures, including banning the crew from smoking, lighting matches, or even touching a drop of liquor.
Sailing north, the Mont-Blanc faced deadly danger, enduring a terrifying snowstorm off the coast of Maine and evading stealthy enemy U-boats hunting the waters of the Atlantic. But it was in Nova Scotia that an extraordinary disaster awaited. As the Mont-Blanc waited to dock in Halifax, it was struck by a Norwegian relief ship, the Imo, charging out of port. A small fire on the freighter’s deck caused by the impact ignited the explosives below, resulting in a horrific blast that, in one fifteenth of a second, leveled 325 acres of Halifax—killing more than 1,000 people and wounding 9,000 more.
In this definitive account, Bacon combines research and eyewitness accounts to re-create the tragedy and its aftermath, including the international effort to rebuild the devastated port city. As he brings to light one of the most dramatic incidents of the twentieth century, Bacon explores the long shadow this first “weapon of mass destruction” would cast on the future of nuclear warfare— crucial insights and understanding relevant to us today.
The Great Halifax Explosion includes 25 black-and-white photos.
Playing Hurt: My Journey From Despair to Hope
Da Capo Press, August 8, 2017
During his three decades on ESPN and ABC, John Saunders became one of the nation’s most respected and beloved sportscasters. In this moving, jarring, and ultimately inspiring memoir, written with New York Times Bestselling author, John U. Bacon, Saunders discusses his troubled childhood, the traumatic brain injury he suffered in 2011, and the severe depression that nearly cost him his life. As Saunders writes,
Playing Hurt is not an autobiography of a sports celebrity but a memoir of a man facing his own mental illness, and emerging better off for the effort. I will take you into the heart of my struggle with depression, including insights into some of its causes, its consequences, and its treatments.
I invite you behind the facade of my apparently “perfect” life as a sportscaster, with a wonderful wife and two healthy, happy adult daughters. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am truly grateful. But none of these things can protect me or anyone else from the disease of depression and its potentially lethal effects.
Mine is a rare story: that of a black man in the sports industry openly grappling with depression. I will share the good, the bad, and the ugly, including the lengths I’ve gone to to conceal my private life from the public.
So why write a book? Because I want to end the pain and heartache that comes from leading a double life. I also want to reach out to the millions of people, especially men, who think they’re alone and can’t ask for help.
John Saunders died suddenly on August 10, 2016, from an enlarged heart, diabetes, and other complications. This book is his ultimate act of generosity to help those who suffer from mental illness, and those who love them.
Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football
St. Martin’s Press, 2015
Endzone tells the story of how college football’s most successful, richest and respected program almost lost all three in less than a decade—and entirely of its own doing. It is a story of hubris, greed, and betrayal—a tale more suited to Wall Street than the world’s top public university.
Endzone takes you inside the offices, the board rooms and the locker rooms to see what happened, and why—with countless eye-opening, head-shaking scenes of conflict and conquest.
But Endzone is also an inspiring story of redemption and revival. When those who loved Michigan football the most recognized it was being attacked from within, they rallied to reclaim the values that made it great for over a century—values that went deeper than dollars. The list of heroes includes players, students, lettermen, fans and faculty—and the leaders who had the courage to listen to them.
Their unprecedented uprising produced a new athletic director, and a new coach—the hottest in the land—who vindicated the fans’ faith when he turned down more money and fame to return to the place he loved most: Michigan.
If you love a good story, you’ll want to dive into Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football.
Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football
Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc., 2013
For the millions of fans who celebrate the game-day heroics of the student athletes that give college football its heart and soul, bestselling author John U. Bacon’s Fourth and Long, a warts-and-all look at the present and future of the game, gives them reason to still believe.
“John U. Bacon went deep inside the world of college football, penetrating the locker room doors to meet some players you won’t forget and, most amazingly, learn the secrets coaches protect more fiercely than the CIA. By getting so close to the heart of the sport, Bacon reminds us what we love about our greatest game.” – John Saunders, Emmy-nominated studio host of ESPN and ABC College Football
“No one knows the Big Ten better than John U. Bacon, so it’s no surprise he picked the perfect football season to chronicle in his groundbreaking book, Fourth and Long. Bacon has written a riveting portrait of a watershed season in the most venerable college conference in the nation. The Big Ten is at the vortex of so many issues in college sports, and Bacon expertly covers them all.” – Christine Brennan, USA Today national sports columnist and bestselling author of Best Seat in the House
“In Fourth and Long, Bacon, author of a superb account of a coach and football program over three turbulent seasons at the University of Michigan in Three and Out… If you’re looking for feel-good stories about college football, look elsewhere. Bacon is a journalist who loves his conference and his sport and is angry at the abuses committed in their names… And yet, Fourth and Long is not depressing. By showing us how deep corruption runs in college football, the author is also showing us why we care so much, and all there is that deserves to be saved.” – Allen Barra, author, The Last Coach: A Life of Paul “Bear” Bryant, from his review in The Chicago Tribune
Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011
Three and Out tells the story of how college football’s most influential coach took over the nation’s most successful program, only to produce three of the worst seasons in the histories of both Rich Rodriguez and the University of Michigan.
“John U. Bacon’s report from the front lines of the weird world of college football is eye-opening, and occasionally jaw-dropping.” – George F. Will
Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership
Written with the University of Michigan’s Hall of Fame coach Bo Schembechler, who passed away in November, 2006, Bo’s last book spells out in colorful detail exactly what every leader must know from the beginning of his career to the end.
A New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s Business Best Seller lists, and received strong reviews from Newsweek, The Washington Post, business best seller Tom Peters, and Warren Buffett, who described it as, “A great book about a great man.”
Cirque du Soleil, The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire that Lives Within Us All
Spark explores how Cirque du Soleil manages creativity in the workplace, generating eye-popping innovations without losing the discipline every organization needs to be successful. Coauthored with Cirque du Soleil president Lyn Heward, Bacon was granted unprecedented access to Cirque’s creators, performers and employees, and was even thrust into trying everything from the trapeze at 50-feet to the German Wheel to, yes, make up, all to gain a deeper understanding of how Cirque works. Bacon frequently gives speeches on his experience with Cirque du Soleil, and the lessons learned.
An inspiring tale about the power of creativity and the imagination, from Cirque du Soleil, the amazing troupe of performers that “makes nearly every other form of entertainment seem timid, sullen, earthbound.” – Time
America’s Corner Store: Walgreen’s Prescription for Success
John Wiley & Sons, 2004
Since Charles Walgreen, the son of Swedish immigrants, opened his first store in 1901 on Chicago’s South Side, the pharmacy that still bears his name has grown to more than 4,000 outlets in 44 states, employing 150,000…it’s still and growing. A truly family endeavor, Walgreen’s pursued success with an “almost religious devotion to substance over style.” In an era rife with corporate scandal and mismanagement, the company continues to please its investors and employees alike, and reportedly raked in $33 billion in 2002.
“Who would have thought the story of a drugstore chain could encompass so much vital and fascinating American history? With superb storytelling skills, John Bacon gives us a vivid and insightful chronicle of matters both large and small, from the birth of the milkshake to the rise of America’s consumer culture. America’s Corner Store is a genuine treat.” – James Tobin, the National Book Critics’ Circle-Award winner, and author of To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight
“Run the business with your head. Lead the family with your heart. Walgreens’ history is filled with good values, strong principles, and immense courage. A family business classic.” – Howard “Howdy” S. Holmes, President and CEO, “Jiffy” Mixes
Blue Ice: The Story of Michigan Hockey
University of Michigan Press, 2001
Blue Ice tells the story of the unlikely success and longevity of the University of Michigan’s hockey program—from its fight to become a varsity sport in the 1920s right up to its 1996 and 1998 NCAA national championships. The book focuses more on the remarkable characters who developed the program than the games they played. The book became a Michigan Public Television documentary by the same name, and won two Emmy Awards.
“Bacon has captured the essence of University of Michigan hockey. You can even smell Yost Ice Arena on some of the pages. This great, big barn of a book certainly lights the lamp.” – Rich Eisen
“This is more than a history of Michigan hockey. It’s a history of college hockey, and really of hockey itself. I learned a lot about how the game developed – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Any hockey fan will too.” – Ted Lindsay, NHL Hall of Famer
A Legacy of Champions: The Story of the Men Who Built University of Michigan Football
Co-authored with his former colleagues at The Detroit News, Bacon researched and wrote the first third of the book on legendary coach and athletic director Fielding Yost’s contributions on and off the field. This section, excerpted in the Detroit News, provided the inspiration for Michigan Television’s award-winning documentary, Michigan Football Memories, available on DVD.
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