Johnathon Snowden, has written an excellent book for students of wrestling history, with the best and toughest, as a common thread through the story. From Farmer Burns, through Frank Gotch, George Hackenscmidt, Ed Lewis, Lou Thesz, right up to the era of Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, some wrestlers have been talented enough to control their own destinies, in what is often a sordid industry.
The pioneers realized early on that legit matches were bad for business; control of outcomes and performers was essential to ensure growth and profits. To guarantee that everyone "got with the program," and to protect the business and its secrets, promoters used the toughest, and most talented grapplers as policemen. Men like Nebraska based John "Tigerman," Pesek (a ferocious competitor who wrestled into the 1960's) filled that role for Lewis and his cronies in a 1922 match with Martin Plestina.
At one point, after being on the receiving end of Peseck's brutal tactics, Plestina was heard to shout "God, please don't kill me!" The book covers the career of Thesz, and Vern Gagne who were both good enough to control when, and to whom they lost.
The reader is given insight into the lives and methods of men like Karl Gotch, and British born Billy Robinson. Gotch after never really connecting in American rings, moved to Japan where his abilities as a wrestler, and trainer, led the Japanese to dub him "the god of wrestling." Robinson after a very successful wrestling career, has become a seminal influence in MMA, and a resurgence of catch wrestling.
Snowden also covers the careers of Angle, and Lesnar, in some detail. Angle's winning an Olympic Gold Medal, while wrestling with a broken neck is as inspiring as his descent into addiction to pain pills is sad, and tragic. Lesnar's rise in WWE, disillusionment and departure from WWE, success in MMA, and return to WWE (albeit on a limited basis) is still an unfolding saga.
Less inspiring are the stories of shooters intentionally injuring "marks," and would be wrestlers. Many in the business would call this a form of "tough love." Still, it is hard to describe wrestler Jim Wilson describing Jack Briscoe intentionally breaking the nose of a prospective wrestler's nose, at the direction of promoter Eddie Graham; "it was the first time in my life I witnessed the deliberate, sadistic breakage of human bones...As my stomach turned, Eddie Graham experienced near orgasmic excitement as he stood nearby, sweating a little and giggling."
He also repeats the story of Hiro Matsuda intentionally breaking a young Terry Bollea's leg on the first day of training. If Terry Bollea is an unfamiliar name, he, after healing and being persuaded to return to training, became famous as Hulk Hogan, the most important figure in modern professional wrestling.
I recommend this book for serious students of the sport. Casual readers should look elsewhere, and it is definitely not for younger readers.