What, exactly, makes professional wrestling so appealing to so many different people through a cross-section of society?
To some, it's the physical abilities of performers who make it look like what they're doing to an opponent is genuine. To others, it's the hardcore violence, larger-than-life characters or colorful productions that make up weekly programming.
To me (and clearly to many others), it's the storytelling aspect that makes me a wrestling fan. Performers - at least the absolute best of them over the years - can make you believe anything they say, have you laughing, worrying or cringing, all depending on how they convey their messages, both verbally and physically.
Part of an excellent series of books under The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame banner, The Storytellers: From The Terrible Turk To Twitter is actually a series of short stories about a variety of subjects within wrestling. As they've done before in titles such as The Tag Teams, Heroes & Icons and The Heels, authors Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson combine interviews, years of research and their own unique brand of storytelling to tell tales to wrestling fans that they may not have ever heard of before -- even jaded, 35+ year fans like myself.
For example, The Storytellers tells us the origins of The Mysterious Masked Marvel, an (obviously) masked wrestler who captured the imagination of New York area fans obsessed with his true identity. Or how about the story of Dr. Sam Sheppard, the doctor-turned-alleged murderer-turned pro wrestler (whom the television program The Fugitive was based on) who terrorized rings in 1969 and 1970 based on his fearsome reputation?
There are also lots of great behind the scenes stories, including a peek inside the horrific training camp of Verne Gagne that produced greats such as Ric Flair and The Iron Sheik. The authors also talk about storied promoters such as Jack Pfefer and Charles E. "Parson" Davis, whose daring tactics make Vince McMahon look tame by comparison.
But if the carnival era or matches that took place before you were born aren't necessarily your thing... Oliver and Johnson have plenty of modern content to keep readers happy. They get into why The Broken Hardys storyline breathed new line into TNA Wrestling. They dissect the Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega feud from New Japan. They even do a deep dive into "dirt sheet" writers such as Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller to see what drives their unique style of reporting on the industry.
Not only are there dozens upon dozens of unique stories you're unlikely to find in other wrestling books on the market, but there are also tons of black and white (and color) photos to help illustrate days gone past of wrestling, where the giant bushy eyebrows of a Bull Curry or a wrestling alligator illustrate a very different time in the business.
The only complaint about this book (and really, it's a minor quibble) is that 300 pages aren't nearly enough to really cover all of the crazy tales of pro wrestling and the purveyors of storytelling in the ring. Obvious names such as Dusty Rhodes, Bobby The Brian Heenan, The Road Warriors and Rowdy Roddy Piper are only briefly mentioned (if at all) throughout the book despite being premier storytellers in their own regard.
Overall Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! This is a book that has tremendous re-read value, as each chapter is chock full of several unique, interesting and well-written stories. You're guaranteed to come across at least a few anecdotes that almost all fans have never heard of before and hopefully, you can learn a new thing or two about the squared circle while reading this.