BEST BOXING BOOKS
Thomas Hauser reveals his choices for the best boxing books ever written
Esteemed writer Thomas Hauser compiles his definitive list of tomes
EACH year during the holiday season, I publish a list of what I consider to be the best books on boxing. That list, updated to accommodate recently published titles, follows. Taken together, the books offer a compelling look at the sweet science from bareknuckle days to the present. Some of these books are now out of print. But with the proliferation of online services like Abebooks. com and Amazon.com, all of them can be found. I’ve listed the US publisher for each book, but many of them have been published in the UK as well.
BEYOND GLORY BY DAVID MARGOLICK
(ALFRED A. KNOPF) This book focuses on the two fights between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. It recreates the racial climate of the 1930s, puts the fighters in historical perspective, and conveys the incredible importance of their ring encounters. Margolick shows in dramatic fashion how Louis stirred passions and revived interest in boxing long before he beat James Braddock to become heavyweight champion. He captures the demeaning racial stereotyping of The Brown Bomber by the establishment press (including those who were seeking to be kind). And he documents in painstaking fashion, contrary to future revisionism, the degree to which Schmeling took part in various Nazi propaganda activities and supported Hitler after defeating Louis in 1936.
BLOOD BROTHERS BY RANDY ROBERTS AND JOHNNY SMITH
(BASIC BOOKS) This is the most thorough and compelling book yet on the relationship between Cassius Clay and Malcolm X. In the authors’ words, it’s “the story of how Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and the central role Malcolm X played in his life. It is a tale of friendship and brotherhood, love and deep affection, deceit, betrayal, and violence during a troubled time.” The events culminating in Malcolm’s assassination crackle with tension and are told in particularly dramatic fashion.
JOHN L. SULLIVAN AND HIS AMERICA BY MICHAEL ISENBERG
(UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS) Isenberg mined the mother lode of Sullivan material and crafted a work that’s superb in explaining the fighter as a social phenomenon and placing him in the context of his times. More recently, Christopher Klein has put together an engaging read
in Strong Boy: The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan (Lyons Press). A MAN’S WORLD BY DONALD MCRAE (SIMON & SCHUSTER) The paradox of Emile Griffith’s life was chrystalised in words that the fighter himself spoke: “I kill a man, and most people forgive me. However, I love a man, and many say this makes me an evil person.” Mcrae explores Griffith’s life in and out of the ring with sensitivity and insight. He’s also the author of Heroes Without A
Country, a beautifully written book about Joe Louis and Jesse Owens - two icons who changed America - and Dark
Trade, a look at the modern boxing scene.
SOUND AND FURY BY DAVE KINDRED
(FREE PRESS) The lives of Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell intertwined. Kindred explores the ugly underside of Ali’s early adherence to Nation of Islam doctrine and provides an intimate look at The Greatest in his declining years. He also paints a revealing portrait of Howard Cosell, turning the broadcast commentator from caricature and bluster into flesh and blood. AMERICA ON THE ROPES BY WAYNE ROZEN (CASEY PRESS) This might be the best coffeetable photo book ever devoted to a single fight. Jack Johnson is still a vibrant figure in American history, but James Jeffries has been largely forgotten except as an appendage to Papa Jack. This book gives both men their due and, in so doing, restores Jeffries’ life and lustre. The photographs are remarkable and arranged perfectly with the text.
THE SWEET SCIENCE BY A. J. LIEBLING
(PENGUIN) Eighteen articles from the 1950s and early ‘60s by the legendary dean of boxing writers. A collection of Liebling’s later articles has been published under the title A Neutral Corner.
THE HARDEST GAME BY HUGH MCILVANNEY
(CONTEMPORARY BOOKS) Mcilvanney is the British equivalent of Liebling. He’s not just a boxing writer. He’s a writer who wrote very well, among other things, about boxing.
ROCKY MARCIANO BY RUSSELL WILSON
(UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS) For sixteen years, Sullivan’s biography of Rocky Marciano stood alone atop the list of books about the Brockton heavyweight. Now Sullivan has been joined by Unbeaten (Henry Holt and Company), Mike Stanton’s equally honest, penetrating look at Marciano in the context of his times, as a person and as a fighter. Both books are outstanding.
CINDERELLA MAN BY JEREMY SCHAAP
(HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY) Schaap does a fine job chronicling the rise of James Braddock to the heavyweight championship at the height of The Great Depression. He also paints a wonderful portrait of Max Baer and explains just how important the heavyweight title was eight decades ago.
SWEET WILLIAM BY ANDREW O’TOOLE
(UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS) A solid biography of lightheavyweight great Billy Conn. The two Louis-conn fights are the highlight of O’toole’s work, but he also does a nice job of recounting the endless dysfunctional family struggles that plagued Conn throughout his life and the boxer’s sad decline into pugilistic dementia.
IN THE RING WITH BOB FITZSIMMONS BY ADAM POLLACK
(WIN BY KO PUBLICATIONS) Pollack has also authored biographies of John L. Sullivan, James Corbett, James Jeffries, Marvin Hart, Tommy Burns, and Jack Johnson. The books are heavily researched and rely almost exclusively on primary sources. Serious students of boxing will enjoy them.
THE LAST GREAT FIGHT BY JOE LAYDEN
(ST. MARTIN’S PRESS) This book is primarily about James “Buster” Douglas’s historic upset of Mike Tyson. The saga of Iron Mike has gotten old, but Layden brings new material and fresh insights into the relationships among Douglas, his father (Billy Douglas), manager John Johnson, and co-trainers J. D. Mccauley and John Russell. He also gives a particularly good account of the fight itself and how Douglas overcame the fear that had paralysed many of Tyson’s opponents.
RINGSIDE: A TREASURY OF BOXING REPORTAGE AND SPARRING WITH HEMINGWAY, BOTH BY BUDD SCHULBERG
(IVAN R. DEE, INC.) ³