KING OF THE WORLD
BY DAVID REMNICK
A new biography of Muhammad Ali is making the rounds, and it hasn’t shied from less-savoury parts of the champ’s life, notably his treatment of women. There’s a canon of work surrounding Ali, who inspired more great writing than any other sporting figure, ranging from Thomas Hauser’s exhaustive oral history, Norman Mailer’s The Fight, Davis Miller’s trio of books to Mark Kram’s contrarian take.
King Of The World was a later arrival in the Ali literature, but stands as the best examination of how a talented young boxer named Cassius Clay created the character who had such far-reaching impact. Author Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, made an insightful choice in framing Ali’s evolution through a pair of contemporaries, Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. Patterson was the good black man, the one the white public could embrace; Liston was the antithesis, the black man of white fears. On top of this came Ali, who took that kind of fear to a whole other place. Then, as we saw over his remarkable life, he came back to be vindicated and universally embraced. In a time when athletes are again copping epithets for daring to express themselves beyond their field, Ali’s example is a reminder of what a challenge to the existing order looks like.