Don’t be fooled by the title of this book into thinking it is simply another biography of Mohammad Ali, it is not. Remnick focuses on 3 boxers Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston and Ali during the middle and late 20th Century. Remnick uses this period of American history to show us Ali, formerly Cassius Clay transformed how the world of Boxing was viewed and in turn became a great American hero. He shows how social, political and historical factors all contributed to this.
Firstly he focuses on Patterson, brought up in a dirt poor neighbourhood, a quiet, troubled, thoughtful, often neglected child, who follows the route society affords him and inevitably gets into trouble through petty crime. Patterson gets a break though when he is sentenced for a period to a progressive camp for troubled kids. Upon returning home he begins to train at a Boxing gym where his talent is spotted. As a profession boxer, Patterson is considered to be lacking in that killer instinct and almost too polite.
Liston by comparison is considered the bad boy of boxing. He has serious criminal convictions behind him, is controlled by the mob and is by far to me the saddest figure in the book. Continually exploited throughout his entire life, he has grown up in abject poverty where he has been left to fend for himself and never catches the small break that Patterson did. Even when becoming World champion he once again receives nothing but rejection.
Ali, although also growing up in segregated America is from what could be classed as a black middle class background. While also supremely talented he is handsome, charming, cocky, everything that one needs to be ‘King of the World’
Remnick shows us how Ali was disliked by the generally American public, who saw his beliefs as aggressive Black agitation, he refused to join the draft before the tide of public opinion turned against the Vietnam War. But Remnick examines the lives and achievements of these 3 World Heavy Weight Boxers, in a social, cultural, economic and criminal context that makes for a fascinating read.
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.
[Editor’s Note: Another contributor has reviewed this on the blog. Compare and contrast!]