There isn't much available in the bookshop on Brazilian jiu jitsu history, though the ability to read Portuguese will widen your options. For those of us who don't have that language at our disposal, Kid Peligro's The Gracie Way is the main text available that explores the background of BJJ, in particular the central figures of the Gracie family (hence why its a major source for my long BJJ history post). Though there are a few other lineages of BJJ – Oswaldo Fadda is one notable example – it is the Gracies who are undeniably the best known, most successful and most important. The Gracie Way covers the biography of several of its members.
The strength of the book is the glorious photography showcased throughout The Gracie Way. There are scenes from the archive of the original academy in Rio, pictures of the Gracies in competition and old newspaper clippings from the early years. This is accompanied by lots of historical detail and first hand sources, Kid Peligro getting quotes from his contacts in the sport, most notably the Gracies themselves. The history of BJJ is traced by speaking to some of its major contributors, like Helio and Rorion, with their memories of BJJ's growth: for Helio, its the origins of the sport in Brazil, while Rorion discusses the move to the US and the early days of the UFC.
This is where the controversial side of the book begins. The Gracie Way's biggest flaw is the heavy bias: you won't find objective criticism of the Gracie family here, as Kid Peligro is a close friend, and clearly has great respect for the many accomplishments of the Gracie brothers and their descendents. There is no mention, for example, of Rorion's litigation against his relatives, the focus remaining firmly on the Gracie's positive achievements.
Peligro's writing on Renzo, Royler and Royce is especially interesting if you enjoy MMA, as you get a different perspective on the first few UFCs in the 1990s and those famous Pride fights around the turn of the millennium. Carlos Gracie Jr also crops up, which means Peligro can talk about Gracie Barra, the Mundials and the CBJJ (Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu)/IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation), a governing body set up by Carlinhos (a name by which Carlos Gracie Jr is often known).
Any author seeking to cover such a huge group of people – Helio and his brothers had many children – has to make choices about who to include, but that inevitably leads to questions about those the author chooses not to cover. For example, Relson, Ralph and Carley do not receive their own sections. Yet that can be forgiven, as there are always space limitations in these kind of projects. I hope that some day there may be further volumes of the biography, which could also cover more recent figures, such as Rener and Roger.
Kid Peligro detailed some of the difficulties in compiling such a book during his first Fightworks Podcast interview:
The Gracie family has been around forever, and they have so many fighters and so many different stories it was really hard to narrow down, to do research, and to finally decide who to write about...I tried to narrow down to the top ten, in my mind, that were the most important in the development of jiu-jitsu through the history.
I mean, there's other people that are well deserving to be there, but it was very emotional to try to do a book about people I admire a lot, some of them were my friends, some of them were not alive.
If you want to learn more about BJJ history, then you'll enjoy The Gracie Way, although admittedly you don't have many books to choose from. Kid Peligro presents a loving look at the Gracie family, letting them tell much of their own story, resulting in a wealth of anecdotes that gives the reader a window on this most famous of fighting dynasties. Available to buy here (for the US, click here or here).