BEST BOX­ING BOOKS

Thomas Hauser re­veals his choices for the best box­ing books ever writ­ten

Boxing News - - Contents -

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

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