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Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton Hardcover – October 4, 2011

122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Mr. Halberstam would have been the first to insist that we not confuse fiction with nonfiction, and that we not mistake biography -- the telling of a life -- for hagiography -- the burnishing of a legend. Which was football's big trouble last week, it turns out, as lots of folks who should know better took exception to a new biography of Walter Payton.” –, The Sporting Life 

“I found the Walter of your book to be more of a hero than the one people refer to.” – Rick Hogan, WGN Sunday Papers

"Jeff Pearlman has written Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, which depicts Mr. Payton as perhaps the greatest all-around football player ever, a generous teammate and a loving father."-- Scott Simon, NPR's Weekend Edition

“Over the weekend I read an advance copy of Sweetness and found it to be an incredible, thoughtful, deep and profound read. It’s exceptional work.  I wouldn’t let an out-of-context excerpt and some enraged condemnations get in the way of a fascinating read about a fascinating man.” – Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports

“READ THE BOOK.""But if you like texture, if you want to get the sense of a real life lived by a real person with real beauty within and real warts, start reading and do so with an open mind. " – Bob Kravitz, The Indianapolis Star

"Pearlman did not set out to expose Payton but to understand him, to identify and define the qualities that made him so appealing. He was a football-playing hero to millions, true, but he was also a human being of considerable complexity. There’s a story in how those two sides intersected, and a skilled biographer gets to that story." -- New York Times

"If Walter Payton, magnificent football player and Chicago treasure, is enough for you, ignore the book and cherish your memories. If Walter Payton, flawed but fascinating human being, intrigues you, read it. You might come away with a greater appreciation" -- New York Times

About the Author

Jeff Pearlman is the author of four previous books, including two New York Times bestsellers: The Bad Guys Won! and Boys Will Be Boys. He is a columnist for, a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, and blogs regularly on Pearlman and his family live in New York.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; 1st edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159240653X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592406531
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for He has worked as as a columnist for and, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, a features writer for Newsday and -- amazingly -- as The (Nashville) Tennessean's food and fashion writer. He is the author of two New York Times best-sellers--Boys Will Be Boys, a biography of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys, and The Bad Guys Won, a biography of the 1986 New York Mets. He is also the author of a pair of, ahem, non-New York Times' best-seller, Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero, and The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality. Pearlman lives in New York with his wife and two children, and enjoys Kirk Cameron films, T-shirts and the taste of gum.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By K. Mangan on October 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whether or not you will enjoy this book depends on your purpose for reading it. Are you looking for yet another glowing homage to one of the world's greatest sports heroes, or do you want a no-holds-barred, rich, and honest examination of the life of one of the world's most gifted athletes, who also happened to be both genuinely good and, at times, decidedly dishonorable?

Jeff Pearlman has done an astonishing amount of research to present this very comprehensive portrait of a complex man. Not only did he interview Payton's family and friends (and, very early in his writing career, the legend himself), he spoke with Payton's contemporaries (teammates, opponents, coaches, agents, lawyers, and on and on), and then did an unbelievable amount of research to confirm their statements (even correcting errors that appeared in Payton's own autobiographies!) How detailed was he? He describes weather conditions on days Payton played in high school; he delves into the biographies of key figures (like Mike Ditka). That he is able to present such a rich, multifaceted portrait that considers Payton from myriad sides is a testimony to his skill as a writer and his dogged determination to present an accurate portrait of the real man. He certainly embraced Payton's "never die easy" philosophy.

This is an astonishing work, breathtaking in detail and staggering in scope. I came away in greater awe than ever of Payton's athletic abilities and work ethic, and equally impressed with his kindnesses. And, yes, I learned that even our heroes are fallible and, occasionally, heartless. Walter Payton was not a saint - very few people are, let alone sport gods - but he was still a remarkable human being worthy of his accolades, as well as our admiration and respect for many of his accomplishments and deeds. Thank you, Jeff Pearlman, for bringing us this masterpiece. It was a true joy to read.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Larry Dean Mitchell II on December 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I had requested this book for x-mas, because of all the controversy that was surrounding it. I had heard through vast media outlets that several of Payton's former team-mates and coaches were disgusted of the author's portrayal of one of the greatest running backs ever to play the game. Needless to say, I was anxious to start reading about one of my childhood "heroes"; after starting the book I felt as though the author had not done Payton any wrong, he simply stated information that had been shared with him through a vast amount of interviews.

Was I disappointed in the way Payton appeared to have lived his personal life? Yes! but it was his life to live not mine, or anyone else's. Could he have been a better father, especially to the son he fathered out of wedlock, as well as to the children he had with his wife? Most definitely! It is my personal opinion that the author gave a fair assessment of a man that had great athletic ability, but had many personal flaws, as a lot of people do. This book is not a book "bashing" Walter Payton's character; it is a book showing that professional athletes are nothing more than just athlete! They are not perfect, even though we try to make them out to be. They are individuals that are blessed with "God-given" talent, and are often flawed as most humans are. The information that was divulged in this book did not make me GASP in disbelief, it simply proved to me that Walter Payton was an individual who had good qualities, as well as "not so good". It really showed that he was an individual who did not appear to be completely satisfied with his life, and had trouble dealing with life after football.
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30 of 39 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard the author Pearlman on Dan Patrick radio show talk about the three years of his life he spent writing this book and immediately bought it as I have been a lifelong Walter Payton fan. This biography shows Payton in all his glory, with warts and all and is very fair-minded.

What's most amazing is how Payton thrived in the NFL against all odds. Growing up in Jim Crow Mississippi which resisted integration even after it was made into law, Payton played football with a lack of resources and blatant racism; he hated the idea of being drafted to cold Chicago; he played on a sloppy Bears team with no offense, no imagination, no weapons other than Payton; many of the players were addicted to drugs (Payton wasn't) and these addictions made the sloppy play even worse; Payton had elbow injuries; headaches; his first game he netted zero yards; he behaved immaturely, even throwing an M-80 into the locker room; but somehow Payton emerges as a super star with a long, record-breaking career.

Most of the book's suspense is reading how Payton flourishes under these huge obstacles.

Another source of fascination is the paradoxical personality rendered: Payton is an aspiring Christian yet an adulterer, a self-aggrandizing fop yet one who visits sick and dying children in hospitals. All of Payton's demons and his struggle to be a good person are laid out with honesty and compassion.

One of the most devastating revelations is the way Payton sulked during his team's Super Bowl victory because he didn't make any touchdowns and felt forgotten evidencing his hyper sensitivity and egotism.

The book is well researched with back stories on all the principals including Payton's high school and college coaches, the Bears' owner and coach, and other important players but Pearlman does it in a way as to keep the narrative moving along at a fast clip.

Highly recommended.
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