Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Phil Knight (Buck) writes as well as he sells shoes. The personal memoir, Shoe Dog, by the founder of the NIKE empire shows the grit, tenacity, challenges and continuous near failure endured over the course of more than a decade before finally reaching the pinnacle of athletic shoe achievement (something that didn’t even exist before Knight and co-founder, Bill Bowerman, invented what has now become the standard features of athletic shoes). It is a story detailing what it really takes to reach success, focusing primarily on the early years of Blue Ribbon Sports, which then became NIKE, and the luck, both good and bad, that plays a part when you are determined to achieve your dreams. 

Fascinating and Inspiring

Shoe Dog

Phil Knight

Knight begins by selling shoes out of the trunk of his car and goes on to lead a rag tag group, who refer to themselves as the “Buttfaces,” whose love of athletic shoes and the “race” to the finish line results in the greatest athletic shoe and apparel company in the world. Shoe Dog will inspire anyone to attain their goals and is a page turner regardless of what interests you. It’s just that good!

Not only is Knight’s story fascinating and inspiring, it is so well written I found myself amazed at the artistry of the expressions, while at other times, his economy in writing is just as clever.  At the beginning of the book, Knight tries to understand the impetus behind his drive, despite the difficulties, by stating, “I wanted to win. No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.”

When you look at the billions NIKE brings in today, along with the savvy marketing that stands out from the rest, it’s hard to believe that right up until NIKE went public, it was constantly teetering on bankruptcy, and not because it wasn’t doing well, but because it did too well and the founders were continually struggling for cash flow to keep up with the growth.

For someone interested in starting a business, this is a great resource to understand the challenges that come with growth and success. It should be at the top of the reading list for entrepreneurs, as more can be learned from the details of the story of NIKE and the real life problems and solutions its founders faced than could ever be taught in a classroom.

Not Afraid to Tell It Like It Is

One of the endearing qualities of the book, besides the incredible triumph story, is how humble Phil Knight is as he assesses himself and his achievements.  He isn’t afraid to “tell it like it is” and reveal the mistakes, blunders, and personality quirks that are far from the self aggrandizement that you often find in the memoirs of famous persons. Through his honesty, you come to know that Knight genuinely cares for others.

Towards the end of the book, he says, “God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing. Short of that, I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on.”

I can genuinely say that I am changed after reading Shoe Dog. It is one of those books I can identify as playing a direct role in my perspective on life, and when I am asked what books I recommend, it is the first one I mention. I don’t know if there’s much greater praise I can give than that.

-Reviewed by Melanie Davis, of our book review team, and bestselling author of The Triumph Book: HEROES


1 Comment

  1. Diana Mankin Phelps

    I love your review! As a former “Shoe Dog” with Walmart this book is one I would have picked to read at a glance. But, after reading your review I’m anxious to have a copy now!

    Your review was so well written that I think it will influence others to buy a copy!


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