I wouldn’t describe this as strictly a biography or sports biography or even a history of America of the Sixties though it is a bit of all three. It does cover the facts of Ali’s upbringing in Louisville, Kentucky and his later boxing career but it concentrates largely on his first two Heavyweight title fights against Sonny Liston.
In the background we have the story of racial tension, black radicalism, especially in the form of the Black Muslims and Elijah Muhammad its leader with Malcolm X one of his leading lieutenants. The book describes well the changing relationship between a white-dominated boxing management and the generally black fighters under them. Before Ali, the boxers, generally from very underprivileged backgrounds were either “hard men” often enforcers for underworld bosses or African Americans trying to fit into a white society that held them in contempt. Jack Johnson and Sonny Liston were examples of the former with Joe Louis and Floyd Patterson of the latter. Muhammad Ali or Cassius Clay was of a different type. His family circumstance was better and although academically an under-performer he was bright, opinionated and funny. He was his own man, not afraid to follow his beliefs and become a Muslim and oppose the Vietnam War in spite of an American media and society unable or unwilling to accept his views. He was much more than just a sporting hero he was an icon for the world and this book is a literate portrait of a mould-breaker.
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.