This has got be one of the best books ever written on athletics. And given the subject matter, the rivalry between two such different characters as Seb Coe and Steve Ovett, the book strays well beyond its sporting context. As the author points out, it was a touchstone for a formative era in Britain, Coe representing the Thatcherite strand in politics, and Ovett harking back to the good old labour days, which were about to disappear forever.
Books on sport have developed enormously over the last few years, since Nick Hornby's appraisal of the cultural significance of fandom, whether Cambridge Utd or Arsenal, and Butcher's book contributes to an update of a genre that has never really been given much serious treatment beyond relatively shallow biography.
As a journalistic enterprise, it succeeds admirably, both principals were obviously interviewed in depth, as were all their rivals, domestic and international, from the guy who beat them both as schoolkids, to Steve Cram and Peter Elliott, to John Walker, Eamonn Coghlan, Steve Scott and Thomas Wessinghage.
But where Butcher scores is he does not take the quotes at face value, rather he evaluates them, puts them into context, and gives his own, often ascerbic view. He also puts it all into an historical perspective, with lots of trenchant (and amusing) opinion. This is exactly what biography should be. It would be an insult to call this a sports book or a book on sport. It's far more than that.