its not about perfect“When the odds were against me, I was always at my best.” When she retired at age 19, Shannon Miller did so as one of the most recognizable gymnasts in the country. The winner of seven Olympic medals and the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in U.S. history, Shannon tells a story of surviving and thriving in It’s Not About Perfect.

A shy, rambunctious girl raised in Oklahoma, Shannon fell in love with gymnastics at a young age and fought her way to the top. In 1992 she won five Olympic medals after breaking her elbow in a training accident just months prior to the Games. Then, in 1996, a doctor advised her to retire immediately or face dire consequences if she chose to compete on her injured wrist. Undeterred, Shannon endured the pain and led her team, the “Magnificent Seven,” to the first Olympic team gold medal for the United States in gymnastics. She followed up as the first American to win gold on the balance beam.

Equally intense, heroic and gratifying is the story of her brutal but successful battle with ovarian cancer, a disease from which fewer than fifty percent survive. Relying on her faith and hard-learned perseverance, Shannon battled through surgery and major chemotherapy to emerge on the other side with a miracle baby girl. Her story of trial, triumph and life after cancer reminds us all that its life’s bumps and bruises that reveal our character. From early on in her career, Shannon knew that life wasn’t about perfection.

In this incredible and inspirational tale, Shannon speaks out so as to be seen and heard by thousands as a beacon of hope. (description from publisher)

The Olympics will showcase the best-of-the-best at the pinnacle of their athletic career. What we don’t usually see is how they got there – the struggle and heartbreak and private triumphs. Here are some new biographies that give us a glimpse of just how hard it can be.

In the Water They Can’t See You Cry by Amanda Beard – A seven-time Olympic medalist describes her battles with depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse in spite of her successful career, recounting how she hid her struggles from her loved ones before seeking help and finding renewal in the birth of her son.

Winning Balance : What I’ve Learned So Far by Shawn Johnson – Iowa native Johnson is a four-time Olympic gold and silver medalist; a national and world champion athlete and a winner on the popular “Dancing with the Stars.” This is the amazing true journey of how this young Olympian has found balance in her life.

The Price of Gold : the Toll and Triumph of One Man’s Olympic Dream by Marty Nothstein – Traces the story of track cyclist Marty Nothstein from his upbringing in a blue-collar home to his gold-medal victory at the Olympic games, recounting how his dedication often forced him to explore his vulnerabilities as an athlete.

Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu – An unflinchingly honest memoir from Olympic gold medalist Moceanu that reveals the often dark underbelly of Olympic gymnastics as only an insider can–and the secrets she learned about the past that nearly tore apart her family.

The World Series returns next week when baseball plays the final games of the season to crown it’s champion. Baseball continues to be part of the fabric of being an American, whether you’re a rabid fan or a casual observer (being a Cubs fan, I tend to be forced into the second category) There is no shortage of books about the game, from biographies to histories to analysis. Here’s a sampling of some of the newest titles.

The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing and Bench-Clearing Brawls: the Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime by Jason Turbow. This is an entertaining look into the varied,  unwritten rules that govern baseball as played by the pros. Most people are familiar with a pitcher purposely hitting a batter as retaliation, but did you know the ins and outs of how to slide, whether or not to talk during a no-hitter, how to give way to a relief pitcher? These examples and many more are explored, often hilariously, with multiple references both historic and recent. For every baseball fan.

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant. Before the age of steriods made us all skeptical of the records and feats of baseball players, there was Henry Aaron. Playing during the era of civil strife and lingering racism, he brought dignity and grace to the game, breaking multiple records (including the famous home run mark), cementing his place in history. This is a serious biography not just of the man but of that historical time in America, written with depth and scholarship.

Perfect: Don Larsen’s Miraculous World Series Game and the Men Who Made it Happen by Lew Paper. 2010 is being called the “Year of the Pitcher” and we’ve already been treated to phenomenal pitching in the playoffs, including Ron Halladay’s no-no – the first playoff no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Relive that historic game (still the only post-season perfect game) and the men who participated. Each chapter covers one of the 19 players, superstars and journeymen alike, all on their way to becoming part of baseball legend.

The 1936 Olympics, held in Berlin on the eve of World War II and under the shadow of Adolf Hitler, were in large part the story of Jesse Owens and his dominance on the track.

Born in Alabama, Owens’ athletic talent was recognized early. He became a star at Ohio State University where, in one of the greatest athletic feats ever, he equaled one and set four world records – in the span of one hour. Hitler’s plans to showcase the superiority of his Aran athletes on the world stage of the Olympics was spoiled by the Americans, especially Owens, who won four gold medals in track and field. Triumph: the Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap takes you through Owens’ remarkable acheivements, the obstacles he faced and overcame, the political turmoil that nearly canceled these games, all with a vividness that puts you track-side throughout.