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Updated October 2022

100 Books on Boxing: A Reader's Guide

  "I find man revealing himself more completely in fighting than in any other form of expressive endeavor."
W.C. Heinz, The Professional (2001)

Find books in 4 categories below,
or search by author or boxer here

Biographies and autobiographies
by and about boxers
26 reviews
General books on boxers and boxing
37 reviews
Fiction: novels and short stories that represent boxing culture
32 reviews
How to box
6 reviews
Non-fiction is easily the strongest field of writing about boxing. Books about notable boxers appear just about every year. There are also plenty of how-to-box books and many excellent essays (and essay collections) about boxing. The fourth field, boxing fiction, is less well-known, in part because it is less visible. In addition to a few novels about boxing and boxers' careers (e.g., Bertram Millhauser's Hot Leather), there are many novels and short stories that feature boxing matches or fist fights between men who know how to box. The best of these works highlight the social meaning of boxing rather than treat boxing as cultural wallpaper, that is, treat it as background material without interest of its own. There are a few general comments on boxing fiction below.

In the following reviews, my goal is to say something about the book and the writer's attitude towards boxers and boxing. A number of non-fiction writers are not enthusiastic about the sport itself. In reviews of boxing fiction, I comment on how the book connects boxing to masculinity and what it says about the use of boxing to measure manhood. The price given is what I paid for the book on Amazon, but prices vary.

Each link above take you to a list of reviewed books in that area. My glove scale ranges from 1/2 to 3 (no glove means I haven't entered comments yet):
= Ok.   = Pretty good.   = Worth reading.   = A must.
Some reviews are of more than average length (Pacquiao, Griffith, Ali); the longer form is linked to the entry below in each case. I welcome suggestions for additions to this list. I will correct factual errors called to my attention. All material copyright 2022 Allen J. Frantzen.

November 2022
(August 2017)

Fiction       Back to top

Too much writing about boxing in fiction (and elsewhere) is limited by the most popular stereotype about boxing itself, which is that boxing is a way for losers to gain self-respect. "Boxers are desperate men," a friend once said to me. "Me too?" I asked. "Am I desprate?" Then I asked, "How many other boxers do you know?" It turned out that I was the only boxer she knew. Even so, she was confident that boxers were desperate men.

Some respected authors believe that boxers use the sport to express rage they can't otherwise articulate. There are a few boxers of whom that might be true, but it is a mistake to assume that men box because they are unable to voice negative feelings. Negative views of boxing are expressed most often by writers who have never boxed. They underestimate the cool, calculated attitude seen in great boxers; great boxers know that lack of emotional control undermines a smart offensive strategy.

In addition to a few novels about boxers, I review books in which boxing is used to characterize a historical period or to tell us something about a man who has a boxing history but who is now engaged in other work. For example, Patrick O'Brian makes effective use of boxing in his naval fiction, and few writers can top Sebastian Barry's use of boxing in a novel about World War I.

Barry, Sebastian. A Long Long Way
Burke, James Lee. Crusader's Cross.

Burke, James Lee. Feast Day of Fools.
Child, Lee. Die Trying
Child, Lee. Never Go Back
Child, Lee. Nothing to Lose
Child, Lee. Worth Dying For
Dana, Richard Henry, Jr. Two Years before the Mast and Other Voyages
Gardner, Leonard. Fat City.
Hammett, Dashiell. "His Brother's Keeper, in Nightmare Town: Stories & Red Harvest
Heinz, W. C. The Professional
Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man.
Kennaway, James. Tunes of Glory
Kent, Alexander. Band of Brothers
Kent, Alexander. Stand to Danger
Lehman, Ernst. "The Comedian," The Short Fiction of Ernest Lehman
Millhauser, Bertram, and Beulah Marie Dix. Hot Leather (The Life of Jimmy Dolan)
McGivern, William P. The Big Heat
O'Brian, Patrick. Blue at the Mizzen
O'Brian, Patrick. The Far Side of the World
O'Brian, Patrick. The Truelove
O'Brian, Patrick. The Yellow Admiral
O'Hara, John. Appointment in Samarra.
Prosper, Proz. Closer to the Sun
Roth, Philip Roth. American Pastoral
Shaw, G. Bernard. Cashel Byron's Profession
Steinbeck, John. "The Chrysanthemums"
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair

Toole, F.X. Rope Burns.
Traver, Robert. Anatomy of a Murder.
Tully, Jim. The Bruiser.
Vlautin, Willy. Don't Skip Out on Me.
Zola, Émile. Germinal.

Ali, Muhammad: Jonathan Eig, Ali: A Life
Ali, Muhammad: Walter Dean Myers, The Greatest
Anon. Unnamed Boxer: Ackerley, J. R. My Father and Myself
Atlas, Teddy, & Peter Alson, From the Streets to the Ring: A Son's Struggle to Become a Man
Argüello, Alexis: Christian Giudice, Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Dempsey, Jack, with Bob Considine and Bill Slocum, Dempsey, by Jack Dempsey
Dempsey, Jack, with Barbara Piatelli Dempsey, Dempsey, by Jack Dempsey
Dempsey, Jack, with Myron M. Stearns, Round by Round: An Autobiography

Douglas, Buster: Joe Layden, The Last Great Fight: The Extraordinary Tale of Two Men and How One Fight Changed Their Lives Forever
Duran, Roberto: Christian Guidice, Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran
Foreman, George, God in My Corner
Greitens, Eric, The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL
Griffith, Emile, "It's All Behind Me Now"
Griffith, Emile: Ross, Ron. Nine . . . Ten . . . and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith
Kahn, Roger, A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring Twenties
Leonard, Sugar Ray, with Michael Arkush, Sugar Ray Leonard: The Big Fight; My Life in and out of the Ring
Mancini, Ray: Mark Kriegel, The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini
Marquez, Anthony, Kung Fu Rockstar  
Norton, Ken. Going the Distance
Pacquiao, Manny: Gary Andrew Poole, PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao
Patterson, Floyd: Alan H. Levy, Floyd Patterson: A Boxer and a Gentleman
Patterson, Floyd: W. K. Stratton, Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing's Invisible Champion

Spinks, Michael and Leon Spinks: John Florio & Ouisie Shapiro, One Punch from the Promise Land:
Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title

Sullivan, John L. Reminiscences of a 19th Century Gladiator
Tunney, Gene. Jack Cavanaugh, Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ
Tyson, Mike: Peter Heller, Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story

Tyson, Mike: Joe Layden, The Last Great Fight: The Extraordinary Tale of Two Men and How One Fight Changed Their Lives Forever
Tyson, Mike, & Larry Sloman, Undisputed Truth

GENERAL BOOKS       Back to top
Anderson, Eric. In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity.
Baumer, William H., Jr. Not All Warriors

Blewett, Bert. The A-Z of World Boxing

Boddy, Kasia. Boxing: A Cultural History

Cannon, Jimmy. Nobody Asked Me, But . . . The World of Jimmy Cannon

Claridge, Gordon, Ruth Pryor, and Gwen Watkins. Sounds from the Bell Jar: Ten Psychotic Authors

Dixon, Tris. Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing.

Doezema, Marianne. George Bellows and Urban America

Early, Gerald. The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture.

Early, Gerald. The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture.

Frantzen, Allen. Boxing and Masculinity: Fighting to Find the Whole Man.

Fried, Ronald K. Corner Men: Great Boxing Trainers

Gems, Gerald R. Boxing: A Concise History of the Sweet Science.

Gorn, Elliott J. The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America
Hamill, Pete. The Times Square Gym, Photographs by John Goodman
Hauser, Thomas. The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing
Heinz, W. C. The Top of His Game: The Best Sportswriting of W. C. Heinz
Heller, Pete. "In this Corner ... !": 42 World Champions Tell their Stories
Kent, Graeme. The Little Book of Boxing
Kimball, George, and John Schulian. At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing
Liebling, A. J. The Sweet Science  
Miletich, Leo N. Dan Stuart's Fistic Carnivale

Oates, Joyce Carol. On Boxing

Oden, John E. White Collar Boxing

Ong, Walter J. Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness
Plimpton, George. Shadow Box: An Amateur in the Ring
Rolon, Carlos (Dzine). Boxed: A Visual History and the Art of Boxing.
Sammons, Jeffrey T. Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society

Satterlund, Travis D. Fighting for a Gender[ed] Identity: An Ethnographic Examination of White Collar Boxers

Seltzer, Robert. Inside Boxing

Sheridan, Sam. The Fighter's Heart

Sheridan, Sam. The Fighter's Mind

Snyder, Todd D. 12 Rounds in Lo's Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia.

Silverman, Jay, ed. The Greatest Boxing Stories Ever Told

Trimbur, Lucia. Come Out Swinging: The Changing World of Boxing in Gleason's Gym

Tunney, Jay R. The Prizefighter and the Playwright.

Wacquant, Loïc. Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

HOW TO BOX       Back to top

Baumer, William H., Jr. Sports as Taught and Played at West Point

Dempsey, Jack. Championship Fighting

Frazier, Joe, with William Dettloff. Box Like the Pros

Lachica, Alan, with Doug Werner. Boxing's Ten Commandments: Essential Training for the
    Sweet Science
O'Reilly, John Boyle. Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport, ed. John W. Hurley.

U. S. Navy. Boxing. The Naval Aviation Physical Training Manuals. Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1943. $15.


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My Father and Myself. New York: New York Review Books, 1999.

It is a stretch to include this book on a list of books about boxing, but there is a connection worth making, even though the boxer mentioned is never named. There is little written on gay or bisexual boxers, which is not a surprise, so even brief references are worth noting. Ron Ross wrote a book about Emile Griffith, an openly bisexal boxer, but there is little else available.

The topic surfaces in this memoir by J. R. Ackerley (1896-1967), a British Broadcasting Corporation commentator and an English literary figure (editor of The Listener). In the book, which was first published the year after Ackerley died, the author devotes a few pages to a four-year affair he had with a British sailor who was a boxer.

The memoir is a cold account of Ackerley's home and family life, which was dominated by his father, who was syphilitic and who raised a second family that his first family knew nothing about until he died. Like thousands of middle-class men, Ackerley went to public (i.e., private) school. He and his brother both became officers in World War I. Ackerley survived the war (his brother did not), after which he went to Cambridge. Public school, university, and military service were all theaters for gay life, and Ackerley, so handsome that his nickname was "Girlie," had many opportunities for gay sex. He saved his sexual adventures for his life in London after he left Cambridge.

In London Ackerley pursued what he refers to as "my Ideal Friend," the man of his dreams. He was introduced to this man by a gay acquaintance. The "Ideal Friend" was "a sailor, an able-bodied seaman, a simple, normal, inarticulate, working-class boy." Ackerley knew this man's family but does not say how he knew them, or where the man was from. He was "small in stature and a lightweight boxer quite famous in the Navy." He wasn't just a sailor, therefore, but a skilled athlete who succeeded in one of the most difficult competitive contact sports.

The boxing sailor had no interest in girls, took other male lovers after he left Ackerley, and married when he was about 40 (p. 164). Between voyages and on leave, the sailor visited Ackerley in London. Ackerley rented an apartment in Portsmouth, where the boxer was stationed, so the two could see more of each other (p. 168).

Men like Ackerley picked up sailors in seaports, since sailors, like soldiers, were always short of cash. In London, these men had scaled pay for the sexual favors they dispensed, with Horse Guards expecting the highest compensation. In these exchanges, the Ackerleys were looking for love; the men they picked up were not. "He did not want emotion, only fun," Ackerley writes of his "Ideal Friend."

Alas, Ackerley offers not a word about the boxer as a boxer except to say that he had a perfect body (he seems not to have been especially handsome). He wryly touches on one topic found in boxing books. "He was an athlete, always boxing or training for it," Ackerley writes, so their sexual activity was limited because the boxer needed "to conserve his strength" (p. 166).

I was hoping for some discussion about how the boxer navigated his activities and his awareness of his difference from most of the sailors he knew. Whatever interest Ackerley took in this man's life aboard ship and away from their apartments is disappointingly not apparent in the book. Didn't it mean something that he was not just a sailor and a simple boy but also a boxer?

Ackerley says he would have married this man had he been able to do so. The sailor took the "female" role when they danced, which the boxer enjoyed (p. 166). At other times, the boxer sounds like a conventional suburban husband. Coming home to a dinner that Ackerley had prepared, the boxer said, "What, chicken again!" (p. 168). That was "the only speech he ever made that has stuck in my mind," Ackerley observes, revealing something about the depth of their relationship. For his part, Ackerley behaved "like any possessive housewife."

Ackerley claims that he was able to keep the sailor from thinking that either he or Ackerley himself was "queer" or living a homosexual life. To this end, Ackerley isolated his "friend" from Ackerley's cynical gay acquaintances, who included some important English literary figures (W. H. Auden, for example).

A few questions about this discretion suggest themselves. The boxer is said to have had no sexual experience before he met Ackerley, but it seems probable that the sailor was less innocent than Ackerley thought. Sexual relations between men were traditionally a much-discussed and dreaded topic in the British Navy. The boxing sailor must have been familiar with this subject, if only as a matter of humor. It is likely that sailors like him knew a few things about sex with men and knew of others who accepted the sexual attentions of gay men for money. He must have known that he was unusual; other men had sex with women and he would have heard them boasting about it.

Ackerley's "Ideal Friend" was a boxer with a reputation ("quite famous in the Navy"). Ackerley's source on this fame must have been the boxer himself or perhaps the boxer's family. One wonders how the boxer squared dancing nude with another male with his reputation as a well-known Navy boxer. It is difficult to imagine that these activities did not create some cognitive dissonance for "this simple, normal, inarticulate, working-class boy."

We can see that the nation's laws about same-sex acts (not to mention the regulations of the British Navy) did not get in the way of homosexual relationships. The chief subject of My Father and Myself is the author's failed but rich connection to his father. Ackerley's relationship with the boxing sailor offers just a brief glimpse of same-sex relations in England in the 1920s and 1930s, where legal and social lines, however rigid, could nonetheless be crossed and ignored by people of all classes.

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Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ. New York: Random House, 2006.$27.95
review pending

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Christian GUIDICE: Alexis ARGÜELLO
Christian Giudice, Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2012. $26.95.

Another boxer, not unlike Ali and Duran, with a large political following, although in this case a murky affair in which the boxer is seen as, first, the whipping boy of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas, and then as their puppet, perhaps even their murder victim. Argüello was an underappreciated boxer who fought between 126 and 140 lbs. and compiled an extraordinary record. Giudice feels that he never got the recognition he deserved until he lost to a much younger and fitter Aaron Pryor not once but twice. The "rise" narrative is a tedious chronicle of victories spiked by the very rare loss, 88 fights, 80 wins, 70 knock-outs. The "fall" is briefer and grimmer, but also a spotty tale told in a disjointed and meandering style. Giudice does an impressive job of interviewing sources and gathering details, but he's no detective and he tends to swamp the narrative in details. It's a better book than his book on Duran, however, even though Duran was a more compelling subject. This comes about in part because, unlike Duran, Argüello learned English and could communicate directly with the author.

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  From the Streets to the Ring: A Son's Struggle to Become a Man. New York: Harper, 2006. $7.00.

A cut above most of the books listed here, punctuated by some wise and useful comments. Atlas takes what's left of the gloss off the Tyson-D'Amato father-son myth, showing both men to be thoroughly worthy of contempt. In the fashion of these books, Atlas buffs his own tough-guy image and doesn't attempt to justify his carelessness in financial matters. Some unexpected gems include his work with dancer Twyla Tharp and actor Willem Defoe. There's a lot of good sense in this book even though its take on Atlas's father-son connection fades in most of the chapters. Still, this is a useful boxing book with a point of view not many trainers express.

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In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

The public understanding of homosexuality has changed since this book’s publication in 2005, and the status of gay athletes has changed as a result. Dated though it is, In the Game will interest readers who love sports and also think about masculinity. Anderson does not so much as mention boxing, but what he says is of interest to boxers as men who love individual sports.

Anderson came out as a gay track coach in 1993. He was inspired to do so by Patrica Nell Warren’s 1974 novel, The Front Runner, which is about a gay coach. Anderson’s coming out took place more than a quarter century ago; Warren’s book is a quarter century older than that. Anderson’s experiences as a gay coach are described in Trailblazing, which he published in 2003. He tells more stories in this book, but In the Game also has a theoretical focus on sexual identity.

The book begins with an ugly episode in which a player on Anderson’s team was beaten by another athlete who assuemd that the men on Anderson’s team were gay (pp. 2-3). The tenor of this episode sets the tone for the book, but In the Game actually charts a decline in homophobic violence.

Already in 2005 it was clear that the stigma long attached to homosexuality was weakening. When this book appeared, gay marriage seemed a remote possibility. Just few years later, gay marriage is common, if not commonplace, in many parts of the country. Likewise, sports and gay identity once seemed antithetical. But today people don't care about an athlete's sexual preference; or, if they do, many support difference. Fans realize that sexual preference is not connected to physical ability, and people have grown accustomed to a wide range of lives, styles, and identities for athletes.

When Anderson began his research in 1999, he could hardly find gay athletes to interview. Five years later he had heard from so many gay athletes that he had to limit his data to 60 of them (p. 44). He found few examples of the prejudice he set out to chronicle. For example, he notes that gay athletes’ fear of getting beat up by their teammates "may actually be unfounded" (p. 84), an ironic statement, given his extended reaction to his opening anecdote (pp. 2-3). He recounts the experience of a Japanese baseball player who made a gay pornographic film but then went on to a successful career in the U.S. The player insisted that he was not gay but made the movie only to earn money. He was forgiven. As one pro said, "You don’t mess with the best" (p. 160). Asking if corporations drop athletic sponsorship because of gayness, Anderson finds that, emphatically, they do not (p. 150). Talent trumps sexual experience, and, increasingly, talent trumps concern about athletes' sexual preference.

Anderson could see that ideas of masculinity were becoming "less conservative" (p. 7) prior to 2005. "Conservative" is not an appropriate adjective (even if only implied) for violence against homosexuals. There is nothing conservative about criminal behavior (i.e., one person beating another). Anderson is determined to present gay athletes as victims of violence and prejudice. This intransigence stems in part from the preconception that masculinity is a "cult" that excludes gays, as the book’s title insists, rather than a malleable fact of human existence open to gays as well as other men.

(More about this book)

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William H. BAUMER
Not All Warriors. New York: Smith & Durrell, 1941.

Baumer taught at West Point and wrote about the non-military careers of some of the men who attended West Point, among them James McNeill Whistler.

Baumer's book is available online, since it is in the public domain: go to this link, provided by Bill Thayer.
There is more about Whistler's pugnacious side to be seen, very much incidentally, in Daniel E. Sutherland's biography, Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), which material I include in the following.

Whistler was a combative man in more than the intellectual sense. He loved to argue into early morning hours with the pre=Raphaelite brotherhood formed by Swinburne and Rossetti, among others, and Sutherland writes that they "encouraged Whistler's combative streak quite literally" (p. 73). One of them, William Holman Hunt, often boxed. Whistler had lived in Paris before moving to London and commented on "the boxing matches of English students" there. So far as I know, Whistler might have taken boxing lessons in Paris but did not have much training in the sport. What Whistler did do was get into fights with, for example, a cab driver in Paris (p. 74), a Haitian passenger on a steamship (p. 98), and even a weapons merchant (pp. 95-96, p. 98). After a scene caused by Whistler's fight with a construction worker in Paris, Sutherland writes, it seems that "Whistler had come to accept combat as a natural state" (pp. 106-7), perhaps a problem for a man seeking to make his way by selling controversial paintings to the wealthy.

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William H. BAUMER
Sports as Taught and Played at West Point. Harrisburg, PA: Military Service Publishing, 1939.

Along with football, soccer, basketball, fencing, gynmasium, hockey, swimming and diving, wrestling, baseball, golf, and 7 others, boxing had a place at West Point in Baumer's day. The boxing chapter, like the others, includes illustrations. It is short (pp. 89-105) but full of good advice as well as valuable historian perspective, both provided by Baumer with the help of then-boxing-coach William J. Cavanagh. The amateur boxer works for pleasure, physical exercise and fame in more or less circumscrbed circles," Baumer writes. Collegiate boxing was slow to take off because of the stigma created by corruption in boxing at professional levels. The instructions are very clear, and they hold interest for many reasons. For example, I don't see the word "jab" here but rather "left lead to the face." Plebes (first-year students) did not use their right hands during the first semester of boxing classes; otherwise, Baumer says, they wold never have learned how to use the left hand (p. 96). "The marking of boxing bouts is not base solely on the damage done," Baumer writes, "but on form, clean blows sruck with clenched hands, making a man miss and countering; aggressiveness; and condition at the finish of the bout" (p. 105). Amen to that. Very useful pages for any amateur boxer to read.

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The A-Z of World Boxing. London: Robson Books, 1996. $29.95

"An authoritative and entertaining compendium of the fight game from its to the present day." That's the subtitle, and it's accurate. Just about 430 pages, with an excellent index, the book contains dozens of short essays. There are entries for great boxers as well as entries on topics that are less obvious but important, including comebacks, comics, legislation, measurements, and firsts in boxing (the first book on boxing was published in 1747, "A Treatise on the Useful Science of Defence," by Captain John Godfrey).

I have read many entries and found them all to be excellent. This is a very useful reference tool, and the index is essential. Otherwise it would be hard to track down information about such boxers as Emile Griffith and Floyd Patterson, who do not have entries of their own. If you love boxing as much as I do, you'll find that this book makes great bedtime reading. The volume is full of photographs and is beautifully produced, a treasure and a pleasure to hold and page through.

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Kasia Boddy
Boxing: A Cultural History. London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2008. $35.

This book aims to be an encompassing study of boxing, although the emphasis falls on the modern period. The first two chapters are an excellent history of the sport. Boddy believes that the "golden age" of boxing was over by 1830 (p. 8), by which she seems to mean that the more ritualized forms of the sport began to fade then. Up to that point, she suggests, boxing had more to do with honor and less to do with simple prowess. Today boxing seems like show business, and honor and other shades of the duel seem antique. As Boddy points out, however, boxing histories are always nostalgaic, always looking back to a golden age. She honors the convention herself.

As to conventions and golden ages, at the very end Boddy turns a skeptical eye on boxing today (her book appeared in 2008, so a decade ago). She focuses on Mike Tyson, heroicized by Joyce Carol Oates and others, and his ultimate failure to live up to the high hopes set for his career (pp. 367-69). She takes an amusing look at writers and jazz musicians who try to describe themselves as boxers (a trope that brings Gerald Early's essays to mind (a writer I wish Boddy had consulted more often).

For writers and artists who interpret boxing and boxers, Boddy offers a long and useful conclusion. She deflates the claim that writing and art get closer to boxing than boxing itself, or at least get so close to boxing that pictures and texts can make you sweat and duck punches (p. 391). That is nonsense, as anybody knows who has gloved up and gone into the ring. Art can "pack a punch," and texts can do the same, but nothing compares to the experience of getting punched in the face by a skillful boxer, or taking one in the ribs that shows up as a bruise for a week. What those claims and comparisons do establish, however, is something that writers and artists often want to diminish or simply look away from, which is that boxing expresses competition in a form that is intensely and immediately personal. It is, therefore, a splendid measure of what Jack Donovan calls "the reality of meritocracy" in the world of men (The Way of Men, p. 54). Everybody wants a piece of that--everybody wants a spot in the meritocracy, to be seen as ducking punches and winning glory. But to do that you have to get into the ring. Picking up a pen won't cut it.

If you want to know what it is like to get punched, then you should box. Don't seek your thrills by reading about boxing--even if that means reading a book as wonderful as this one. Boddy has given us a great book, and I look things up in it all the time. Fortunately there is a good index and there are a lot of illustrations. A must-have for anybody with an interest in boxing, no matter how it is expressed.

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Nobody Asked Me, But . . . The World of Jimmy Cannon. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978. $6

Jimmy Cannon (1909-1973) was so well-known as a sportswriter when he died that his editors (his brothers) did not bother to include a line of biography about him in this collection of his columns and longer articles. That's too bad. Cannon does not even have a decent Wiki entry. The one up now (August 2018) is bare-bones and does not so much as mention this collection of his work. Nobody Asked Me is certainly the best way to become familiar with this writer, who covered other sports as well. He knew many of boxing's great names during his career in journalism (which began when he was just 17 years old). If you buy a copy of this book without the dusk jacket, you won't learn much about the author.

There is a thick cloud of pain and nostalgia around the collection. The first essay, "The Not-So-Good Old Days," is a meditation on the writer's impoverished boyhood. This is no trace of sentiment. His own youth comes up because Cannon emphasizes the dominance of youth in sports. "Sports is the country of youth," he says, "not show business" (3). Writing this in 1971, he saw kids around him as bigger, healthier, and better-understood, if not happier, than kids were when Cannon himself was a boy. Certainly kids in 1971 were, on the whole, treated better. When they got out of line, kids like Cannon were hit by policemen or beaten by their dads. The violence went both ways. Boys grabbed boxes off of trucks and robbed grocers; Cannon once saw a kid "belt a nun in a classroom" (4). It makes sense that the book is subtitled "the world of Jimmy Cannon," for Cannon did cast a wide net and captured a lot of his era, not just its sporting life, in his writing.

The dark meditation of the first chapter is followed by another downbeat essay, an elegy for Greenwich Village when it was "a metropolitan hamlet, the village of the longshoremen and the truck drivers and the people who work for the city." It was also a haven for the Irish. The Irish were a struggling people. Cannon's Village considered Notre Dame University and the "Fighting Irish" as people like themselves, poor and struggling (9). John Kennedy and Al Smith both come in for their share of Irish Catholic hero worship.

Boxing is the first sport Cannon mentions. "Boxing was my neighborhood's sport," he writes. Now-unknown boxers were celebrities there because "they were our own, and they walked our main streets" (3). The book ranges beyond the neighborhood and beyond boxing but never loses its grip on the main (and mean) streets Cannon walked. It is divided into eight sections: essays on the neighborhood, baseball, boxing, general thoughts on "losers and little people," horseracing, football, war, and Broadway. A mix of cynicism and painful loss touches each one.

The boxing chapters (pp. 77-160) are justly famous. Many of them were written as obituaries, so the downbeat mood persists. Some chapters are the length of short columns. Others, such as the essay on Tony Zale, are pithy but extended commentaries on boxing as well as boxers. Zale's fights were great "because Zale is a man consecrated to the brutal ideals of his calling," writes Cannon. "Such purity must be appreciated even when the cause is without value and a selfish crusade entered into for money" (105). The boxer had "the valor of the workingman doing a dangerous job" (106). Why did Zale fight so hard? When Cannon asked him, Zale said that boxing was tough but not as tough as working in the steel mills. Cannon supplies a vivid account of Zale's three fights with Rocky Graziano. The grit is so real you can feel it on your teeth. Boxing without idealism: that's what Cannon saw.

The editors have done their brother a favor by cleverly sequencing the chapters without regard to chronology. A chapter about one boxer with a famous opponent is usually followed by a chapter on the opponent (e.g., Joe Louis, 114-16, and Ezzard Charles, 116-18). The essay on Louis appeared in 1951, the one on Charles in 1968, but it seems just right to read them in sequence. Another great pairing in Sonny Liston (128-34) and Floyd Patterson (134-36). Cannon was no fan of Patterson, who, as heavyweight chamption, "had the same prestige Warren Harding earned as President" (134). A fan of Ali, Cannon nonetheless criticizes the boxer's conduct following his defeat by Joe Frazier. "But going around the country, Ali has preached with a popeyed fervor the scriptures of himself," telling the "kids on the campus lecture circuit that he won easily, but he was swindled out of the decision because of his religious beliefs" (156).

A very fine book, if not a must-read. A pity that it does not have an index. Books like this are a lot more useful to boxing fans if they come with the standard tools.

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Never Go Back A Jack Reacher Novel. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. $20.

Rated as a thriller, this book would get 3 gloves easy. It's got great suspense, a thick and plausible layer of inside-information on military intelligence, and a sprinkle of references for boxing buffs.

As fans of the Jack Reacher novels know, Reacher is a one-man demolition derby. But he's also a lady's man, and at the end of this novel he turns out to have a literary flair, knowing more about the romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) than any reader has a right to expect.

There are three great fight scenes (ch. 1; ch. 45 & 46; ch. 66). The third of Reacher's 3 fights begins with Reacher wryly warning his opponent that there will be "No ear biting" (p. 378). He plans his moves, even while reflecting on his opponent's psychology, then throws a "one, two, right, left" and leaves the opponent "upright but good for an eight count, which he didn't get, because fighting in the dark on the edge of Lafeyette Square was not a civilized sport with rules" (p. 380). These are the clearest boxing references in the book's fight scenes. They are a handsome salute to the civility that ought to govern good action in the ring--a code that does not apply here.

The fight that opens the novel is stunning, but refers not to boxing but to martial arts (in a dismissive way, as useless on the street). There is one more very violent scene, in two parts, on board an aircraft, but it's not about boxing at all, although I don't think you will forget it.

A terriffic read.

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Nothing to Lose. New York: Delacorte Press, 2008. Twelfth in the Jack Reacher series.

Like many of the novels in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, this one begins with Reacher in a fight. As if often the case, he faces four or more opponents, each one of them confident that there is strength in numbers. Child often inserts boxing terms and boxing strategy into these battles, which are extremely violent and sometimes funny as well. At 6-foot 5-inches, and 250 pounds, Reacher is too big to box, but his use of strategic boxing moves creates the turning point in his fights.

At the start of Nothing to Lose, Reacher faces off against four men in a restaurant. Approaching them, Reacher slowly raises his left hand, fingers folded to the palm, and as the men stare at it, he flicks open his empty hand and catches one of them with "a colossal uppercut to the jaw" (ch. 4, p. 15). A nice feint. It won't work with a gloved hand, but boxers know that an unusual gesture in the ring can have just this distracting effect.

Later, in a bar, Reacher fights six men. This time the fight goes the distance. He downs two by throwing a bar stool at them. Reacher takes a left hook from a third man and answers with "a straight right into the center" of his opponent's face. After a few more moves, Reacher decides that one of the men is down for a seven count and four of them for an eight count. Reacher is nothing if not a precise numbers man. One remains. There are a few boxer-like exchanges with the last man standing, including a straight left and a "breathless haymaker," before the action changes gears (ch. 29, pp. 139-40). After creating more mayhem, including inflicting an extremely dangerous wound by pushing a chair leg into his opponent's abdomen, Reacher instructs the bartender to call an ambulance. "His beer was where he had left it, still upright on its napkin. He drained the last of it and set the bottle back down again and walked out the front door into the night" (p. 144). Classic Reacher. Classic Child.

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Die Trying. Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press, 1998. $28.00

One of the pleasures of reading the Jack Reacher novels out of sequence is finding that some staples of the series as we know it from the last 8 or 10 books have origins we would not expect. I have two examples here, one directly related to boxing. In this novel, Reacher is the captive of Beau Borken, an enormously fat (about 400 lbs.) tyrant. Borken tells Reacher he's not a boxer.

"Clearly trained in some way. But you're not a boxer. Because your nose has never been broken. A heavyweight like you with an unbroken nose would need to be a phenomenal talent, and we'd have seen your picture in the newspapers. So you're just a brawler, probably been in the service, right? So I'll be cautious with you. No kicking, just a bullet." (ch. 23, p. 267) The passage is a nice mix of error and truth. Reacher's unbroken nose is part of his handsome presence; he is not a boxer; Reacher has been in the service. But Borken is wrong when he says "you're just a brawler." His fans know that Reacher is a deadly opponent, and that he disables and kills mere brawlers who set out to destroy him. This is a good example of an overconfident bully underestimating the hero.

Having read several of the later Reacher novels, I've come to expect him, or his narrator, to articulate the Reacher Credo, which is is "Get your retaliation in first."

I was surprised, then, to find in Die Trying that this martial advice originates not with Reacher but with Borken. As if teaching Reacher something, Borken says "The brave man retaliates." He continues, "But the man who is both brave and clever acts differently. He retaliates first. In advance. He strikes the first blows. He gives them what they don't expect, when and where they don't expect it" (ch. 25, p. 306).

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Worth Dying For. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. $28.00

Jack Reacher inflicts all manner of violence on the bad guys he tracks down. Once in a while, as in chapter 52 of this novel, he's up against somebody who knows something about boxing. In this case Reacher's opponent is a former Nebraska linebacker who, a few chapters earlier, broke Reacher's nose with a gun butt (p. 256). Reacher has reset his own nose (ouch, but knock yourself out, Jack! See p. 264). Now he has a chance for revenge, which is Jack No Middle Initial Reacher's real middle name.

Two 300-pound former football players are among a group of ten who handle defense for a local tyrant farmer and his family. The pair arrives to mess up Jack, who greets them with a shotgun and orders the one who broke his nose to tie up the other one. Jack sets up a fight with the man who hit him. "Bare knuckles," Jack says. "No rules" (p. 323). The kid smiles, falls into a boxing stance and prepares to lead with his left. He "was dancing around like the Marquess of Queensberry," Child writes. "Maybe the last fight he had see was in a Rocky movie." The kid fires his jab, which Reacher quickly bats aside.

There being no rules, Reacher jams his right elbow into the outer edge of the kid's left eye socket, "hoping to crack the skull along the line of his temple." The kid staggers back. Reacher steps in with "a vicious uppercut under the chin, convulsive, far from elegant, but effective" (p. 325). There is quite a bit more, but the fight ends with the kid on the ground, showing spirit by scrambling to get up. However, having your opponent on the floor is "gutter rat heaven," and that's how Reacher fights. Reacher kicks him hard in the ear and then stomps on his face, making sure to break his nose. "Eight blows in six seconds," which is slow by Reacher's standards, he thinks, but then he takes into account the fact that this was a strong opponent who was used to taking some punishment. Not this kind of punishment, however, not the punishment U.S. Army Rangers are used to taking themselves.

On to the next chapter. Leave it to Child to find a way to make boxing look soft.

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Gordon CLARIDGE, Ruth Pryor, and Gwen Watkins.
  Sounds from the Bell Jar: Ten Psychotic Authors. New York: Macmillan, 1990; repr. Los Altos, CA: ISHK, 2017. $18

We ordinarily associate boxers with traumatic brain injury, not with psychosis or forms of insanity that do not result from such trauma. We think of sad cases (Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson) and are grateful that some have escape this fate (e.g., Manny Pacquiao). Fortunately, this book brings up two instances that connect psychosis and the history of boxing. Both illustrate the connection between boxing and forms of creativity such as writing.

Sounds from the Bell Jar is a collection of essays about the relationship between psychosis and creativity. Two men who both boxed and wrote are discussed: The English writer and art critic John Ruskin; and his lesser-known contemporary, John Clare. The authors stress the continuum between what we see as normal and what experts regard as psychotic, with psychosis being defined as detachment from reality, marked by delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations.

First, the great English writer and art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900). Like other men of his time and his educated class, he knew that boxing lessons were part of what made a gentleman a gentleman. However, Ruskin was raised by a fanatically overprotective mother, a determinedly religious woman who intended to see that her son was “devoted to the service of God,” as the authors here put it (p. 134). She herself bullied and whipped Ruskin as a boy, but she made sure that the violence of sports was off limits to him.

Ruskin said that his mother would not let him “step into a boat lest I should fall out, or learn to box lest I should bleed at the nose.” As a result, unlike most educated men of his age, he developed no athletic skills.

The model for develping those skills was George Gordon, Lord Byron, one of the most important poets of the Romantic age (1788-1824). Kasia Boddy offers a very good overview of his boxing interests (pp. 53-59). In a more recent work, Monica Fairview provides additional insight. She remarks that boxing

was considered part of a gentleman's education. In an age when dueling was still tied to the concept of honor—even if it had been made illegal—and gentlemen needed to defend themselves against footpads and thieves, being able to fight was still an important skill for self-defense. One of the most prominent academies for fencing was 'Gentleman' John Jackson's [in London]. Some of the most distinctive members of Jackson's were the Duke of York, the Duke of Hamilton and the Prince of Wales himself.
Karen Downing writes, "We know from his diary that the poet Lord Byron took regular boxing lessons [at Jackson's], and that he considered boxing a sport that developed both the body and the mind, a widespread concept at the time. Byron owned an elaborate wooden screen that was painted with boxing figures.

But for someone raised as Ruskin was raised, Byron would hardly be considered an acceptable role model; Ruskin was born shortly before the poet's death. The authors of From the Bell Jar maintain that Ruskin's mother's views have much to do with Ruskin's psychosis, and indeed his descent into outright insanity.

Less well-known than Byron or Ruskin is the book's second example, a psychotic genius named John Clare (1793-1864), contemporary with both of the well-known figures. "It was Clare’s destiny to demonstrate that it was possible for a peasant to become a poet in English society," the authors write (p. 115). As a child he worked as a laborer with his father; he was laughed at by his fellow workers for carrying around a book with him (p. 116). This crossing of class boundaries was a significant achievement, since the status of the poet was gentlemanly and elevated, and publishing books was for the educated, not for laborers. These conditions make Clare's references to boxing all the more valuable.

Clare was institutionalized for a good part of his life but, unlike most "mad" people in his age, he was treated kindly and well. He varied between states of clarity and eloquence and times of complete confusion, and boxing figured into this thoughts. "When a stranger confronted him, his mind ran on prize-fighting, while the sequence of his thoughts was disconnected" (p. 125). It was difficult for visitors to know what caused Clare to jump from the wide-ranging topics of his prose and poetry to boxing. He did not Because he was, for a time, a successful author, Clare had experiences those who shared his origins would never know. For example, he made several visits to London to see publishers. By coincidence, on a visit in 1824, he saw Byron’s funeral cortege passing, a sight few peasants would have shared.

When he was hospitalized in the 1840s, Clare wanted to go home but could not be discharged. He thought he knew why, a sign that he had boxing on the brain. "They won’t let me go, however," he told a visitor; "for, you see, they’re feeding me up for a fight; but they can’t get nobody to strip me." Boxing came to outweigh writing.

Asked if he felt more proud of his reputation as a poet than as a prize-fighter, Clare replied rather absently, 'Oh, poetry, ah, I know, I once had something to do with poetry, a long while ago; but it was no good. I wish, though, they could get a man with courage enough to fight me' (p. 128).
In his hallucinations, Clare imagined that he was Byron, and, at other times, even that he was Shakespeare. "His sense of identity with the famous did not stop at poets: it embraced prize fighters and criminals too" (p. 129). Byron, we know, was both prizefighter and poet. At least in his own mind, perhaps, Clare saw himself a gentleman boxer too.

This book reviews the history of many psychotic authors, including Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Ruskin, and the medieval mystic Margery Kempe. In the process, the authors point to cultural facts about boxing that are worth remembering—that the boxing worlds of the elite and the low-born were separate; the boxing and a gentleman’s status were connected; and that a peasant who both wrote poetry and boxed could imagine that he stood with the best in either category, an illusion few shared until, perhaps, Muhammad Ali appeared on the scene.

References used here:
Monica Fairview, "Pugilism: Boxing, Diversity, and Mr. Darcy." Sept. 2, 2020. Seen October 12, 2022.
Karen Downing, "The Gentleman Boxer Boxing, Manners, and Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century England."

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  Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing
. Boston: Hamilcar, 2021. $27

This is an important for boxers but a discouraging one as well. Damage is a valuable history of traumatic brain injury and a revealing look at how trainers, coaches, promoters, and boxers have chosen to interpret the undeniable evidence that this damage, often sustained early in a career, can destroy decades of a boxer's life outside the ring. You should read it for the same reason you read Thomas Hauser's The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing; neither book is a pretty picture of boxing. Dixon is a boxing insider and established boing writer. His afterword adresses concnerns about damage he himself might have sustained during his boxing years.

There are three strands to Dixon's book.

1) The most prominent strand comprises the stories of boxers who sustained serious brain damage in the careers. Nearly every chapter is built around these accounts, many of them referring to lesser-known boxers. Aggregates of these histories are hard find, and the book, incredibly, lacks an index. One page does list ten boxers who died either from or with symptoms of neurological failure, ranging from Muhammed Ali to Jimmy Young (p. 88). The best you can do if you want to read about a boxer of interest to you is to skim the references (starting p. 268) and look for names scattered in the notes there. Common sense should tell a publisher that boxing fans have favorite fighters and want to read about them without necessarily reading a whole book.

2) The second strand is research into brain damage in boxers and a history of publication concerning those data. This strand begins in 1928, with the work of Dr. Harrison Martland, who is credited with the expression "punch drunk syndrome" to refer to boxers who "were losing their faculties," with such signs as slurred speech, memory loss, "and other degenerative behavioral changes" (pp. 2-3). Martland's research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association but did not generate much response. However, the expression "punch drunk" became widespread and served boxing fans and boxers for a long time. It was decades before more sophisticated and scientific language became common; most people now refer to "pugilistic dementia" and "chronic traumatic encephalopathy," or CTE.

3) The third stand is the most important and troubling. It concerns the boxing profession's response (or lack of response) to the massive data showing brain damage in boxers. This problem is the heart of the book. If the profession takes the data seriously, it would endanger the organization's survival; by skating around the data, however, the organization appears to be denying what the public knows about the fate of such famous boxers as Ali.

Dixon contrast the handling of CTE in boxing with the NFL's response. The National Football League has also had to deal with evidence of concussions and brain damage. Dixon points out that the NFL is a vertical organization with a top-down structure. The boxing world is nothing like that. It has what Dixon calls a “sloppy setup.” Doctors trying to minimize brain damage in other sports can deal with the NLF, the National Basketball League, the National Hockey League, and others. But, Dixon writes, "In boxing, where would [a doctor] even begin? Nevada? New York? New Jersey? Texas? The United Kingdom? Germany? The WBC [World Boxing Council]? The IBC [International Boxing Federation]?" (p. 120). Who would maintain a medical database for boxers?

There are 17 commissions for boxing in US, all having different requirements (p. 142). How could that collection of groups maintain a single medical database to track boxers’ health? Nevada is doing better than many states at protecting boxers, Dixon notes (p. 135).

One fact that has complicated medical diagnosis is that in many cases more than boxing is involved in the boxer's condition. Many boxers have multiple conditions, especially addiction to alcohol and drugs, including performance-enhancing drugs. In some cases the damage was caused by violence such as brutal beating outside the ring. Boxers can’t blame CTE for everything that goes wrong with their health.

Dixon strongly emphasizes the boxer's own motivation. In boxing, he notes, a concussion diagnosis, or CTE, "is seen as some kind of humiliation. It means you can’t be any good" (p. 261). Dixon sees this sense of shame coming from the term "punch drunk."

Boxing is one on one, two boxers out there, alone. What happens to the boxer in the ring is a measure of his power over another man—or his lack of that power. In team sports like football it is different: the player is one of many, and injuries and damage he sustains can look like a sacrifice for the team and its supporters. That's what "taking one for the team" means. In boxing, you take one for yourself, nobody else, and the punishment you take is fully on display to anybody who is watching.

Dixon's afterword addresses concerns about damage he himself might have sustained in his boxing years and also points out that even after he was injured he continued to spar and could not say no to it "for professional reasons" (p. 252). Internal pressure also matters: many boxers find it hard to give up stage center. Boxers have to learn that machismo includes taking good care of yourself.

Boxers who die in the ring or shortly after fights are rare; but boxers whose post-ring years are ruined by brain damage are sadly common, as Dixon has shown. With due attention to the risks, I encourage you to focus on the rewards. That said, never forget that there are certain things you must do to protect yourself.

First, gear up: wear all the protective gear that your boxing association recommends and requires.

Second, make sure your coach is measuring your sparring partners carefully and not matching you with bigger, more experienced, and potentially dangerous boxers.

Third, don’t spar too much, and when you do, make every round count for your development as a boxer. Dixon makes it clear that many boxer sustain as much brain damage in sparring as they do in official fights (pp. 3-4, 20, 234) and that smart boxers limit their exposure to sparring (p. 113).

It is important to be a smart boxer. A smart boxer knows that it is one thing to be brave and to take risks, and another to be foolhardy and minimize the risks you run. A smart boxer, like a successful knight, weighs his resources and his opportunities and does not take foolish risks. The same goes for a smart boxing coach.

July 2021
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Marianne DOEZEMA
George Bellows and Urban America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992/ $20 (used)

This is an outstanding study George Bellows and his art. The book falls into three parts, beginning with Pennsylvania Excavation from 1907. This was the first of the Bellows' "big, brash paintings" to get attention after he moved to New York City from Columbus, Ohio. The second section is about Bellows's boxing picutre. Called "At Sharkey's: Boxing," it is a splendid discussion of Bellows's boxing works and their political context, especially race relations as boxing constructed them. His boxing oil paintings and lithographs are Bellows's best-known works. They appeared throughout his short but important career (born in 1882, he died in 1925). Doezema concentrates on the painter's concern with his own masculinity, or what she calls his "quest for manhood" (p. 83).

Her take on masculinity is admirably complicated. She suggests that a man of Bellows' background would have been of two minds on the subject. On the one hand, Bellows sought to identify with the ruggedness of the ring and was drawn to the sleazy side of boxing. These were forces opposed to his genteel upbringing in Columbus and they fed into his modernism (he is one of the so-called "ashcan" school of artists, more interested in the ordinary than in the refined). On the other hand, it was expected that someone of Bellows' background and education would criticize boxing and the "rapacious knaves" who patronized the sport. Some of the elite saw boxing as "a vulgar and violent sport" loved by people of "depraved character" (p. 87). Boxing was outlawed when Bellows moved to New York City, but that changed, and by the time of his death he was drawing fashionable people who showed up at fights.

In some of Bellows's boxing pictures, Doezema believes, boxers are "aggrandized, even heroicized." In some of his works "condemnation and adulation coexist." She thinks that the ruggedness of boxing clubs and the danger of being associated with them were as flames to Bellows' moth. Going to the sordid places was "a quest," she writes, "a rite of passage, and a test of manhood" (p. 88). This has a satisfying ring to it, and I see no reason to quality her insights or to dismiss comments about the paintings as records of the artist's "visual and psychic experience of an event" (p. 103).

Doezema looks very closely at the surface of the paintings. Her analysis of their structure and texture and color is superb. She marshalls details of many kinds to support her view that the boxing paintings can be seen as "autobiographical" works. As he moved from more mannered styles and techniques to those that were freer, Bellows was able to express more of himself and his emotions, and thus "to create a kind of cathartic exposé of his journey to the enticing urban underworld" (p. 83). I can only say "perhaps so."

I recommend that you pursue Doezema's insights in the light of the short essay by Christopher Bedford in Carlos Rolon's book Boxed. Just as critics enlarge the paintings they write about—as Doezema does here—artists themselves recombine, reorganized, and conflate their "visual and psychic" experiences as they draw and paint. It seems to me that a lot comes between this artist and the work that he left behind. That suggests to me that the path from the picture to the man who made it is not a straightforward one.

Doezema's is a wonderful book, a great gift to the history of boxing and George Bellows's place in it.

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Gerald EARLY
The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture. Hopewell NJ: Echo Press, 1994. $16
There are 4 essays about boxing in this collection of 14 essays by Gerald Early, 110 pages, or about one-third of the book. The others address the remaining words in the title. The focus of the boxing essays is clear from their titles: "The Black Intellectual and the Sport of Prizefighting," "The Unquiet Kingdom of Providence: The Patterson-Liston Fight," "Battling Siki: The Boxer as Natural Man" (Battling Siki being the ring name of Louis Phal, a boxer from Senegal), and "The Romance of Toughness: LaMotta and Graziano."

Each essay builds inventively and informatively on the topic its title suggests. The first essay, for example, offers a quick survey of boxing fiction between 1870 and 1930 and its connection to changes in boxing itself during this period (see pp. 5-12). The essay on Liston's first-round defeat of Floyd Patterson in 1962 takes a harsh look at liberal politics and race relations during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. The essay on toughness sees boxing autobiographies as expressions of male resentment that go nowhere.

The energy of the book, as these essays capture it, is to set the idealism of some boxers and boxing writers against the cynicism of others, all the while questioning the possibility of a meaningful discussion of race that leads somewhere new. This observation is true enough, its way: every position has its limitations. This truism applies to Early's position as well.

That said, the boxing essays are memorable; punchy and pointed, they take no prisoners. The essay on boxing and the intellectual is worth the price of the book and is so rich as to be nearly a book of its own. It ranges very widely over boxing fiction, with well-informed and detailed analysis of the boxing archetypes and metaphors in these works, with special emphasis on matters of race. I was struck by Early's suggested connection between F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Owen Wister's The Virginian (p. 9).

A professor of African-American studies at Washington University, Early has thought long and deeply about boxing history and fiction. His essays almost too casually incorporate insights from a range of postmodern critics and philosophers. His treatment of boxing moves in several directions at once. One of his assertions is that boxing matters more to "the black masses" than to "the white masses." The lower and middle classes of "the black masses" focus on "the meaning of being an American, the preoccupation of black achievement and status, and the whole business of heroism and male mythology" (p. 33). The surprising conclusion to this discussion is the claim that Muhammad Ali was not "the most complex of all American heroes," as many think (as did Ali himself). This is a distinction Early reserves for Floyd Patterson, whom he describes as "the most disturbed and disturbing black presence in the history of American popular culture" (p. 33). The essay on the black intellectual concerns, of course, Early himself, as one would expect; other essay also bring in his own identity in useful and brave ways. But if I would have admired nothing else in this book, I would have been entirely persuaded by Early's analysis of Patterson as a black intellectual. Ali too was an intellectual, but the difference between him and Patterson in this regard is that Patterson wrote about boxing. He was, Early says, "one of the most thoughtful men every to enter the boxing ring" (p. 35). The general rubric for Early's discussion of Patterson is the link between piety and passion. For Early, Patterson had too much of the former (he criticizes the boxer in unsparing terms at many points) and too little of the latter. Patterson's was not simple piety but what Early calls "redemptive piety" (p. 39). I saw no reference to Early's book in Jonathan Eig's 2016 biography of Ali; I wish Eig and others had taken Early's work into account.

I cannot summarize essays so distinguished and deep as these four. I can only recommend that you pick it up this book and pour over it. I don't know any other author who would write that "black people, in the final analysis, were never comfortable with boxing for the same reason the were never comfortable with Patterson," desiring acculturation but being unable to achieve it, looking for ways to escape "the blackness of blackness" by redefining blackness itself (p. 39).

Early positions Patterson between Sonny Liston and Ali in their attempts to define themselves. Early believes that Liston accepted his defeat as a black man, whereas Ali sought to redefine the terms of blackness by becoming a Black Muslim. Patterson did not believe that the black man, whether as boxer or as intellectual, could accomplish either aim. He chose what I would see as the middle way, a path of suffering acceptance. Early has no time for that path (or for Patterson), as he makes clear. He considers Patterson's solution "bumblingly unreal," "terribly Victorian," and "staunchly and unquestioningly philistine," the essence of "the neurotic yet innocent nobility of black respectability (p. 40).

Quite a mouthful. Quite an essay. Quite a book. Incredibly, it went to press without an index, a serious omission in a book that links so many topics creatively and provocatively.

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Richard Henry DANA
Two Years before the Mast and Other Voyages. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2005. $29.95

Richard Henry Dana (1815-1882) wrote a famous memoir, Two Years before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea, which was published in 1840. Two Years is not a boxing book but it does contain an account of an unusual ship-board boxing match that reaches an unexpected conclusion. Nat, who is "broad-backed, big-headed" and about 16 years old, bullies George, a younger, smaller boy from a Boston school who is on the sea for the first time. George begins "to assert his rights against his oppressor." One day the two get into "a violent squabble" and George offers to fight Nat "if he could have fairplay." The ship's chief mate forces them to stop and says that they will either make peace or "fight till one gave in for beaten." The boys refuse to make peace and so the mate calls up the crew (the captain is ashore). Following contemporary practice for a boxing match, the mate "marked a line on the deck, brought the two boys up to it, making them 'toe the mark.'" He stretches a rope at a height just above their waist and forbids them to strike below it.

The boys fight, Nat taking the offense and quickly bruising and bloodying his opponent, whom the crew "expected to see give in every moment." However, "the more he [George] was hurt, the better he fought." George defiantly says that he will fight until one or the other is killed, and at this the men cheer him on, with shouts of "Well crowed" and others. At this Nat seems to lose heart. He sees that he has nothing to gain and a lot to lose, while his smaller opponent is already gaining glory in the contest, since he fights "for honor and freedom, and under a sense of wrong." Nat gives in, "not so much beaten, as cowed and mortified," and that is the end of his bullying. George thereby "became somebody on board" and the two do not quarrel for the rest of the voyage (pp. 224-25).

Dana went to sea to recover his health--not an obvious choice of a venue for this goal, it must be said--during his years as a Harvard undergraduate. Lucid and as gripping as many a sea novel, the book concerns Dana's journey from Boston to California, departing August 14, 1834, and returning Sept. 22, 1836. An account of his journey to Cuba was published in 1840 and a chronicle of his trip around the world much later, in 1968.

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Sebastian BARRY
A Long Long Way. New York: Penguin, 2006. $14

There is a great boxing match in Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way, a splendid novel about World War I. Like most authors of war novels, Barry writes about those on one side of the conflict, in his case the Irish. His narrative comprises many wars within The Great War. These include (but are not limited to) conflicts between Ireland and England, between Catholic and Protestant, the British Expeditionary Force and the Germans, fathers and sons, soldiers and civilians, and others. Boxing gets right to the heart of some of these battles.

In chapter 15, Barry writes about an inter-regimental boxing match between a boxer from Belfast named William Beatty and another Irishman named Miko Cuddy.

Irish soldiers from north and south had taken part in battles at Guillemont and Guinchy, so the Irish were now seen as one group, "Micks," with boxers from two different divisions. Prior to those battles, it seems, the Irish had not fought together, and north and south were considered enemies (p. 191). Carpenters have constructed a "beautiful arena" in a large hall where the chaplain, Father Buckley, said Mass. Making the arena even more church-like, Barry notes that there was "some Gothic detailing on the uprights."

The soldiers are excited by the prospect of a fight without death--in other words, a game. The Ulstermen and Southerners roar approval when the fighters enter and the men are shocked to see how large Beatty is, "a giant" compared to whom Cuddy is "a midget" (p. 193).

After the first round it appears to be an even contest, and the competing factions begin to banter among themselves, bringing to the surface the politics of Dublin, Derry, and Belfast. In the next round Cuddy goes down and the referee starts the count. After the second round some fights break out in the hall (p. 197). The during the next four rounds the boxers more than prove their skill and determination, and "no one could be entirely partisan now," since it was "a fight of equals" (p. 198).

I won't spoil the ending, and Barry's art is by now self-evident. One would expect the boxing match to be used to draw out and intensify ethnic and social differences between ethnic regions, officers and enlisted men, and others. That's what boxing is apparently about: fighting to settle differences. Here the boxing match has the opposite effect, at least on the audience. Both fighters are heroicized. Their mastery of the sport, and their determination and ability to tolerate pain without giving in, unify the men in the audience, and in the end their cheering is "a tuneful roar, like a choir, an awful, simple and beautiful note of deep-throated approbation" (p. 199).

Seldom has a boxing match been put to better use in fiction!

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James Lee Burke
  Crusader's Cross. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005. $25.99
It has been a while since I picked up one of Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels, famous for their moody settings, constant rainfall, and other sinister features of Louisiana bayou culture, spiced with the occasional nod to the region's cuisine. I read this one because I was curious to see what the author would make of the Crusades, which the title evokes, the answer there being not much. The shadows of the Catholic Church and the Viet Nam war hang heavily over the book and point to the ancient cause of the book's title (as do references here and there to medieval culture). The cop-hero of the book is at times more vulnerable than the people he sets out to help.

Crusader's Cross, like some of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels, includes miscellaneous references to boxing and one scene rich in fight detail. It is set, as such scenes often are, in a bar (in this case, a dining room attached to a bar). Robicheaux runs into Val Chalons, one of the book's wealthy bad guys, in the men's room. The bad guy insults both Robicheaux and his wife. Robicheaux tells himself not to take the bait, but he does. When he insults Chalons at his table, Chalons throws a drink in Robicheaux's face. Robicheax punches Chalons in the face and takes a "sliding blow on the forehead" in return, and then takes another on his ear. Robicheau slips the next punch and catches Chalons with an uppercut just under the heart, then hooks him in the eye, and then drives "a right cross directly into his mouth." At this point Robicheaux backs off because, like "fighter in the ring," he "knows when he has taken his opponent's heart."

The boxing discipline, admirably detailed up to this point, quickly breaks down. Robicheaux slams Chalons in the gut, drives his head into a wall, knocks him to the floor, and stomps "on his face when he was down." One of the cop's friends pulls him off Chalons, but not before somebody else snaps a picture (chapter 23, pp. 241-43). The bad guy goes to the ER and Robicheaux goes to jail. His wife, we learn 2 pages later, was touched that he defended her honor.

Burke has watched some boxing, that's clear, and perhaps boxed himself (there is no hint of this in his Wiki biography, however). He has a flare for extreme violence that is related in great detail. There is also an occasional whiff of sanctimony in reference to environmental pollution, but nothing too heavy handed on the "message" side. These aspects of the book, which seem to be drawbacks to me, will strike others more sympathetically. One side of the Robicheaux series is that the cop's associates consistently call attention to his weaknesses and try to protect him from them, all the while underestimating his strengths, both physical and psychological. That makes sense, since the hero does not seem to know his strengths himself.

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James Lee Burke
  Feast Day of Fools. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011. $26.99
I opened up Feast Day at the library and decided to read it because its first sentence concerns a boxer named Danny Boy Lorca. This is one of Burke's Hackberry Holland books, a dark tale set in Texas. Holland is a lawman who faces a large force of evil-doers. Their businesses range from child prostitution to drugs and arms smuggling.

A lost soul, Danny Boy has witnessed a murder. He also has visions. The townspeople attribute them either to his drinking or to "the fact that he'd been a middleweight club fighter through a string of dust-blown sinkholes where the locals were given a chance to beat up what was called a tomato can, a fighter who leaked blood every place he was hit, in this case a rumdum Indian who ate his pain and never flinched when his opponents broke their hands on his face." That's from the first sentence. The full sentence is actually 96 words long; I left out a third of it.

Preacher Jack Collins, the arch-villain, visits Danny near the end of a long night of drinking. Collins examines Danny's scarred face and asks him if he was a boxer. "A club fighter," Danny replies. He moved from town to town, letting the locals fight him for three rounds for $50, getting $65 if he let them beat him up. He would have to hold up his opponents so they could throw their shots. "Their gloves would be shiny with my blood, and all the time they'd be thinking how they busted up a pro" (119). It was Danny's way of making an extra buck. It's not easy to hold up somebody who is hitting you, but we get the idea.

A few chapters later comes the book's best boxing scene. Danny is trying to sell dinosaur eggs in a bar. A cowboy confronts him and offers him much less than Danny thinks the eggs are worth. When Danny digs in, the cowboy insults him as a "boy." Danny tells him that he fought at the L.A. Olympics (1984) and knew Tami Mauriello (1923-1999; he had an impressive 82-13-1 record and fought Joe Lewis for the world heavyweight title in 1946). Recalling his glory days, Danny goes on the offensive. Suddenly, he wanted to be young again, "fresh out of the Golden Gloves, lean and hard," ready to take on all comers. Danny hits the cowboy with everything he has, knocking out his teeth. The cowboy gets up, pulls a knife, and stabs Danny in the leg. Danny faints in the parking lot (237-38).

There's a boxing joke later on, not involving Danny. One of Hack's federal contacts tells a story about a black boxers and an Australian known as "the thinking man's fighter." The Australian loses and the winner says, "While he was thinking, I was hitting him" (267). This will remind boxing fans of Sugar Ray Robinson (d. 1989), who said thatthe boxer himself is the first to know when his career is over. That's when "you find you have to think your punches," he said. "The punches you used to throw without thinkin', you now have to reason" (W. C. Heinz, What A Time It Was, p. 85).

Danny's fate is incidental to the novel, which is relentlessly violent. Using a meter on which 8 is "Skip this paragraph" and 10 is "Unreadable, back to the library," I would give Feast Day 9. It is, however, arty. It has a biblical epigraph about the wilderness (Isaiah 43:20) and a final scene with a murderous anti-hero standing on a knoll with his arms "hanging over the rifle and shotgun stretched across his shoulders." At least it's not a grassy knoll. There are also "two telegraph poles that had no wires attached to the crosspieces" and an "infinite plain" stretching beyond (462-63). More crucifixion and Good Friday imagery crowds these pages. Nobody could accuse Burke of giving his allegories a light touch. He gets full credit for subtle references to Gerard Manly Hopkins and other Catholic writers.

Jack Dempsey, with Bob Considine and Bill Slocum
  Dempsey, by the Man Himself. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960. Used, $10
Dempsey by the Man Himself, published in 1960, is as satisfying as the other two autobiographies Jack Dempsey wrote or co-authored (in 1940 and 1977). This one includes a bit more than the other two do of the reflection that makes "life writing" about the subject's life and and not just about events that marked his path.

Some more valuable reflection might have come early in the book, where Dempsey declares why books that have been written about him (eight of them, by his count, p. 2) are inadequate. Actually, he says that he read just one of them, and that one in part, and that he never looked at five or six of the others. It is not clear what false impressions Dempsey wanted to reply to or who was behind them. Thus he and this co-authors missed a chance to do Dempsey some good.

Of this book, the 1960 work, the boxer says that he "read and reread every word." The book was written by the co-authors, not by the boxer himself (which no doubt applies to his other autobiographies as well). The words in this book are "honest answers to the questions I was asked," Dempsey writes. It seems that sportswriters Bob Considine and Bill Slocum asked Dempsey questions and then created this narrative from his answers. Dempsey "by the man himself" is Dempsey as he talked about his life within the structure of their interests and concerns, not necessarily the boxer's. For all his insisence on truthfulness, Dempsey always appears behind a screen, either his own evasiveness or the tact of his co-authors.

Perhaps because of the interests of Considine and Slocum, the 1960 version of the boxer's life tells more about his business dealings with his manager, Jack Kearns, than the others do. The boxer and Kearns had a bitter parting, with many lawsuits attached. The book’s best comment about Kearns is that "he mistook gratitude for stupidity" (p. 189). Kearns was sharp enough to cheat Dempsey out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and took great advantage of Dempsey's informal approach to business and his trusting ways. Dempsey seldom came out ahead in their dealings.

Even in the course of three autobiographies, some things go unexplained. For example, how did Dempsey become connected to the restaurant that bore his name? We hear about customers who showed up to take a swing at Dempsey, but nothing about how the business ran or how much Dempsey himself put into it.

Did Dempsey ever wonder why his marriages competed unsuccessfully with his professional life, most of which was lived after his boxing career? He is not short of candor, in this or in his other autobiographies. He recalls that his high-pitched voice startled people and got him laughed at during his short and unsuccessful career on the stage. These comments are more than balanced by Dempsey's frequent references to his sexual adventures, in and out of marriage.

There is just enough about Dempsey's most famous fights (Willard in 1919; Carpentier in 1921; Firpo in 1922; Tunney in 1926 and 1927). This book gives long account of Dempsey's career in the Coast Guard, which began in 1942, something he was very proud of and a sphere of masculine comradeship that seems to have replaced his boxing friendships as his life went on (ch. 19, pp. 229-42). His World War II experience balances the unfair criticism Dempsey took as a "slacker" during World War I. After that conflict, Dempsey was tried on charges of draft evasion. He was acquitted by a jury in fifteen minutes (ch. 10, pp. 118-25).

Better-written and more readable than the other two autobiographies, the 1960 version has the disadvantage of repeating information found in greater detail either in the 1940 book or the book published in 1977. One of the bonuses of the 1960 book is a picture of Demsey in 1960 standing in front of the famous picture by George Bellows that shows Firpo knocking Dempsey out of the ring in their 1923 championship fight (a photograph of this moment in the match appears a few pages earlier). On the page opposite this picture is one of Dempsey with Georges Carpentier, whom he defeated in 1921, and Firpo (who lost to Dempsey in 1923). Dempsey is said to have hung a reproduction of Bellows's oil painting in his restaurant and to have had "enlarged etchings" by the painter in his apartment in the San Remo on Central Park West (1977 autobiography, p. 245).

Plenty of interest, then, but most of it vague. Alas, nothing here is so useful here, or close to Dempsey himself, as the advice to new boxers offered at the end of the 1940 autobiography (see below).

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Jack Dempsey, with Barbara Piatelli Dempsey
  Dempsey, by Jack Dempsey. New York: Harper and Row, 1977. Used, $12.00
Jack Dempsey co-authored three autobiographies, published in 1940, 1960, and 1977. If you are interested in boxing, the one to read is the first one, Round by Round, which is by far the best of the three. The book reviewed here, Dempsey, was published in 1977. It covers most of the material in the 1940 book but does so less thoroughly. The first decade of the 20th century was important for Dempsey, who was then fighting in mining towns and trying to get himself recognized. Those chapters of the 1940 book offer an informative sketch of what boxing was like in the American west when Dempsey was growing up and shows that there was, even there, a well-connected system of scouts and managers looking for possible contenders.

The 1977 book ends with Dempsey in his 80th year. It was not his best time. He writes, on the last page, "My restaurant had been taken away, my youth was gone and my eightieth birthday loomed before me." To his credit, he resolved to remain active. If nothing else, the fact that he published this book shows that he was serious.

More successful than most boxers, Dempsey was able to turn his great fame as a boxer to his advantage. He lost the heavyweight title to Gene Tunney in 1926 and failed to regain it in 1927, whereupon he retired from the ring (as did Tunney soon after). He had 56 years to live but had just one more fight, in 1932, when he was 37. This was an exhibition 4-round fight against Kingfish Levinsky, who was 21. Dempsey fared poorly and had to admit that he was finished (p. 233).

For many years Dempsey gave exhibitions and toured with vaudeville companies. He also made movies and even starred in a Broadway play based on his life that also featured his wife at the time. The book is filled with accounts of his marriages and numerous ill-fated business deals. It is a disappointing chronicle. In chapter 27, Dempsey is still recounting events in 1933. The book has just five chapters to go. Into them Dempsey crowds over 40 years of divorce proceedings, lawsuits, and failed business relationships. He and his long-time manager Jack Kearns parted bitterly. Kearns later claimed that Dempsey fought with loaded gloves in 1919 fight with Willard. These charges were made in material published after Kearns died. They were kept secret from Dempsey, who had lent Kearns money before his death in 1963, until shortly before they were published. The dispute was settled in Dempsey's favor out of court (p. 296).

One of things that is surprising about these three autobiographies is that the later books make no mention of the 1940 autobiography. Dempsey does not seem to have been the reflective type. He seems to have chosen not to look back to his own earlier account of his life, even where it would have made sense to do so. One of the striking features of Dempsey’s 1950 book, Championship Fighting (reviewed here is Dempsey's habit of making notes that kept track of tips he picked up as he learned to box. These notes, which were the basis for Championship Fighting, are not mentioned in any of the autobiographies. When Roger Kahn was working on his biography of Dempsey, Dempsey proudly showed him the handwritten notes on which Championship Fighting was based (Kahn, p. 446). For some reason these materials seem to have played no part in the accounts that the boxer produced of his life as a boxer.

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Jack Dempsey, with Myron M. Stearns
  Round by Round: An Autobiography. New York: Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill, 1940. $12.50. Used, $10.
Jack Dempsey is the only author on this page of nearly 100 boxing books to be represented by four volumes. They include Round by Round, a 1940 co-authored autobiography; a 1950 book on fighting technique; a 1960 co-authored autobiography; and, finally, Dempsey, another autobiography from 1977.

The 1940 volume reviewed here covers the years 1902 to 1939, when the author (1895-1983) was between seven and 45 years old. This span that includes all of Dempsey's fighting career, which is the volume's main focus. Much is omitted, including three of the fighter's four marriages that took place between 1915 and 1932. Those events, and Dempsey's equally unsuccessful and numerous business ventures, are covered fully in the 1977 volume.

For boxers, the 1940 book is the one to read. It gives a detailed account of Dempsey’s experiences as a young man looking for every opportunity to get his boxing ambition recognized. He followed an older brother named Bernie into boxing. Bernie, who also fought under the name Jack Dempsey, met with little success on the boxing circuit. A lot of boxers were looking for fights and a lot of managers did their best to manage their boxers' chances to get ahead.

The best chapters are those that trace Dempsey's success at breaking through the ranks (ch. 14-16). After a couple of big wins in California, Dempsey saw a path to the top. He estimated that there were ten fighters between him and a shot at a match with Jess Willard, the heavyweight title-holder. A year later there were no fighters between Dempsey and Willard: Dempsey had cleared the field of competition.

The fighters were poorly matched, Willard at 245 and Dempsey at 180. Their fight was sensational. In the first round Dempsey knocked Willard down. Willard was counted out, and everybody thought Dempsey had won. But the enormous crowd (over 20,000) had been making so much noise that nobody heard the whistle that ended the round. Willard had been saved by 2 seconds. The fight continued for 2 more tough rounds, but Dempsey dominated. Between rounds 3 and 4 Willard's team threw in the towel, and the title was Dempsey's (ch. 19).

Not much else in the book could rise to the level of this material. But there is plenty of exciting material about Dempsey's astonishing fights as he relentlessly works his way up in the rankings to get a title match.

Dempsey's other great fights, including the title fight with Luis Firpo in 1923 and his two disastrous matches with Gene Tunney (1926, 1927), also make for great reading. The accounts in the two later autobiographies are not so close to the bones of boxing and boxing history the 1940 book is. Dempsey's first version of his fights is superior to what appears in the 1960 and 1977 autobiographies.

The last three chapters of the 1940 volume are a surprise and a bonus. They look ahead to the 1950 how-to book that Dempsey would write called Championship Fighting. These chapters include boxing fundamentals (how to make a fix, how to power a punch); what it takes to be a champion (he breaks it down into ten steps); and resourcefulness. A resourceful boxer uses everything at his command. Cases in point:

Dempsey points out that if Firpo had been more resourceful, he would have insisted that Dempsey be disqualified from their 1923 fight. Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring. The rules require that boxer to get back into the ring and on his feet unassisted. Dempsey had a lot of help, but nobody said anything, and he went on to win the fight.

The Dempsey-Firpo fight brought the neutral-corner rule into being (when your opponent is knocked down, you go to a neutral corner). If Dempsey himself had been more resourceful, he would have remember this 1923 rule in 1927, when he knocked down Tunney and gave Tunney extra seconds because Dempsey, despite being told, failed to go to a neutral corner when he should have done so. He handed the fight to Tunney.

Dempsey's fight career was over in 1927, but he boxed for many years, giving exhibitions and touring with vaudeville companies, making movies, and even starring in a Broadway play based on his life that also featured his wife at the time. The 1940 book has boxing at its heart and the picture of the boxer that emerges is a pretty good one on nearly all counts. The two later books are about Dempsey's celebrity, his family life, his failed marriages and investments. Both of these books feel depressing and chaotic in comparison to this one.

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Jack Dempsey, with Myron M. Stearns
  Round by Round: An Autobiography. New York: Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill, 1940. $12.50. Used, $10.
Jack Dempsey is the only author on this page of nearly 100 boxing books to be represented by four volumes. They include Round by Round, a 1940 co-authored autobiography; a 1950 book on fighting technique; a 1960 co-authored autobiography; and, finally, Dempsey, another autobiography from 1977.

The 1940 volume reviewed here covers the years 1902 to 1939, when the author (1895-1983) was between seven and 45 years old. This span that includes all of Dempsey's fighting career, which is the volume's main focus. Much is omitted, including three of the fighter's four marriages that took place between 1915 and 1932. Those events, and Dempsey's equally unsuccessful and numerous business ventures, are covered fully in the 1977 volume.

For boxers, the 1940 book is the one to read. It gives a detailed account of Dempsey’s experiences as a young man looking for every opportunity to get his boxing ambition recognized. He followed an older brother named Bernie into boxing. Bernie, who also fought under the name Jack Dempsey, met with little success on the boxing circuit. A lot of boxers were looking for fights and a lot of managers did their best to manage their boxers' chances to get ahead.

The best chapters are those that trace Dempsey's success at breaking through the ranks (ch. 14-16). After a couple of big wins in California, Dempsey saw a path to the top. He estimated that there were ten fighters between him and a shot at a match with Jess Willard, the heavyweight title-holder. A year later there were no fighters between Dempsey and Willard: Dempsey had cleared the field of competition.

The fighters were poorly matched, Willard at 245 and Dempsey at 180. Their fight was sensational. In the first round Dempsey knocked Willard down. Willard was counted out, and everybody thought Dempsey had won. But the enormous crowd (over 20,000) had been making so much noise that nobody heard the whistle that ended the round. Willard had been saved by 2 seconds. The fight continued for 2 more tough rounds, but Dempsey dominated. Between rounds 3 and 4 Willard's team threw in the towel, and the title was Dempsey's (ch. 19).

Not much else in the book could rise to the level of this material. But there is plenty of exciting material about Dempsey's astonishing fights as he relentlessly works his way up in the rankings to get a title match.

Dempsey's other great fights, including the title fight with Luis Firpo in 1923 and his two disastrous matches with Gene Tunney (1926, 1927), also make for great reading. The accounts in the two later autobiographies are not so close to the bones of boxing and boxing history the 1940 book is. Dempsey's first version of his fights is superior to what appears in the 1960 and 1977 autobiographies.

The last three chapters of the 1940 volume are a surprise and a bonus. They look ahead to the 1950 how-to book that Dempsey would write called Championship Fighting. These chapters include boxing fundamentals (how to make a fix, how to power a punch); what it takes to be a champion (he breaks it down into ten steps); and resourcefulness. A resourceful boxer uses everything at his command. Cases in point:

Dempsey points out that if Firpo had been more resourceful, he would have insisted that Dempsey be disqualified from their 1923 fight. Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring. The rules require that boxer to get back into the ring and on his feet unassisted. Dempsey had a lot of help, but nobody said anything, and he went on to win the fight.

The Dempsey-Firpo fight brought the neutral-corner rule into being (when your opponent is knocked down, you go to a neutral corner). If Dempsey himself had been more resourceful, he would have remember this 1923 rule in 1927, when he knocked down Tunney and gave Tunney extra seconds because Dempsey, despite being told, failed to go to a neutral corner when he should have done so. He handed the fight to Tunney.

Dempsey's fight career was over in 1927, but he boxed for many years, giving exhibitions and touring with vaudeville companies, making movies, and even starring in a Broadway play based on his life that also featured his wife at the time. The 1940 book has boxing at its heart and the picture of the boxer that emerges is a pretty good one on nearly all counts. The two later books are about Dempsey's celebrity, his family life, his failed marriages and investments. Both of these books feel depressing and chaotic in comparison to this one.

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Allen Frantzen
  Boxing and Masculinity: Fighting to Find the Whole Man

Due late summer 2022

"Boxing and Masculinity is a spellbinding, a compulsively readable account of becoming a man who boxes. It is a wonderful tribue to men and to boxing culture, complete with the beautiful boxing art of George Bellows." --Janice Fiamengo, editor of Sons of Feminism: Men Havee Their Say

From the preface:
Boxing as tradition, rebellion, combat, and competition

Boxing and Masculinity supports tradition and rebellion, two chambers of the beating heart of boxing. For much of its long history, boxing has been seen as resistant to authority and social norms. It has been regarded as lawless and barbaric. Boxing is a martial art, a discipline that celebrates combat and competition. Essential to warrior culture, combat and competition form the other chambers of the heart that powers this great sport.

More at this link.

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Ronald K. Fried
  Corner Men: Great Boxing Trainers. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1991. $35.
This collection of essays about nine memorable boxing trainers is both a history of the sport in America from the 1920s to the late 1980s and a digest of the advice these trainers offered their famous boxers. The trainers are Ray Arcel, Jack Blackburn, Charley Goldman, Whitey Bimstein, Mannie Seamon, Freddie Brown, Al Silvani, and Eddie Futch. Lou Stillman's legendary New York City gym, where many of these trainers worked for a time, gets its own chapter, which in itself is a brief history of American boxing up to 1967, when Stillman's closed.
Fried's opening essay is a marvelous introduction to boxing, and not just to its history. It's an essay that revolves around the central question of success in the ring: is it the boxer, or is it the trainer? Larry Holmes is quoted as saying that "fighters make trainers, trainers don't make fighters" (p. xiv). Most boxers give much more credit to their trainers, and even Jake La Motta, who told Fried that "a great, great, great majority of trainers, they don't know what they're talking about," came around to admitting that Futch, Dundee, Arcel, and others were exceptions to his rule (p. xv).
For amateur boxers like me, the book is a rich source of insight into ring technique, the "sweet science." Memorable pages include Futch's detailed recollection of Ali's weak uppercut. Ali dropped his right hand to throw the punch, and Futch told Joe Frazier, his boxer, to take that moment to "step in with a left hook." That's what Frazier did to knock Ali down in the fifteenth round of their fight in 1971 (pp. 322-23).
Futch and other trainers had amazing powers of recall. They not only saw everything that happened in the ring, it seems, but also remembered how it happened. Many of the essays and interviews stress the trainer's need to know his boxer inside and out and how to bring out the boxer's best. These trainers display an equally impressive ability to see into their boxers' opponents and figure out not only how to exploit their weaknesses but when to do it. (Give Fried credit for expressing skepticism about some of the trainers' claims.)
I learned more about boxing technique from reading this book than I did reading any of the biographies and autobiographies discussed on this page. It's often the case that the boxer is the jumbo jet, but he's not going up or down without air traffic control, and for him, air traffic control is the trainer, the fighter's "chief second" (p. xviii). He's the man who takes charge of everything that happens between rounds and keeps his cool. He's the one who makes sure that takeoff, flight, and landing go well.

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Christian GUIDICE: Roberto DURAN
Christian Giudice, Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran. Wrea Green, Lancashire (UK): Milo Books, 2006. $15

Roberto Duran was great boxer but a hard one to like, difficult to admire. This is an honest and unsparing book, but it sometimes seems muffled, perhaps because Guidice seems somewhat to be overwhelmed by the scope of his material. A lot must have been lost (or added) when his interviewee's remarks were translated. There are anecdotes within anecdotes and a lot of details. It seems that Guidice wrote down and included nearly everything everybody told him in his relentless pursuit of Duran's history.

For all the yarns and tales, however, Guidice never pierces the boxer's armor or brings the reader closer than an arm's length to the man's heart. This is a shame, because every successful boxer brings with him an entire world that is biographer can explore. I think the language barrier has a lot to do with this distance.

The best chapters are the early ones that put Duran in the context of boxing in Panama and that recount the discovery of his enormous power and resolve. Duran's decline seems like that of a dozen other great boxers--generous to a fault, little money left to show of the wealth he gave away, and so on.

He was "a fighter who made war on life," Guidice says in his final, memorable summary (p. 310). There's a phase that bears thinking about, as does Guidice's statement that in the ring Duran "punched to kill" (p. 309). There are not a lot of boxers to whom the conventional ideas of boxing clearly apply, but Duran is one. We often read that boxers do what they do because of their rage. Guidice's tough look at Duran suggests that in Duran's case, the clichés hold. He was indeed a dangerous boxer.

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Jonathan EIG: Muhammad ALI
Jonathan Eig, Ali: A Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
This biography of Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) by sportswriter Jonathan Eig has been highly praised. At 539 pages (plus notes and index), Eig's book is twice the length of the average boxer biography and comes close to
Undisputed Truth,the overblown autobiography of Mike Tyson, co-authored with Larry Sloman. Eig does justice to Ali's fame as a boxer and a social activist. For comparison, Walter Dean Myers' The Greatest (2005) is about one-third the length of Eig's biography (they use the same cover photograph). Strangely, Eig does not mention Myers' book, which is more about the boxer and his fights and less about the boxer's notoriety. If you are new to reading about Ali's career, read Myers.

No boxer before or since Ali managed to engage national politics the way he did, so there is justification for a big book about him, all boxing fans would agree. Eig builds the story of Ali's life by weaving the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests into the boxer's ring history. The focus on Ali's role in civil rights causes is important. But Eig shortchanges other boxers who faced discrimination in earlier times and who, as Elliot J. Gorn (1986), Jeffrey T. Sammons (1990), and others have shown, advanced the cause at great cost. So far as I can see, Gorn and Sammons are not cited in Eig's book, even though their books would have done much to put Ali's achievement in historical perspective. Ali has stature in part because he stands on the shoulders of giants.

Biographies are partly autobiographical. They reveal aspects of the writer as well as the writer's view of the book's subject. It is reasonable to ask what Eig's relationship to Ali was. We learn that one of Eig's daughters wrote to the retired boxer to say that "Jonathan really loves you" and that Ali and his wife subsequently invited Eig and his daughter to meet them in Phoenix. And then what?

In place of a preface setting out the path of his research and how his research affected his relationship with the boxer, Eig offers six vignettes that trace the trajectory of Ali's "great gift" from his rise to the boxer's "downfall" (p. xv). This design casts the narrative as a Greek tragedy, with an emphasis on the hero's misfortunes and his circumstances rather than on his errors of judgment. This approach contributes to the impression that Ali himself was not responsible for his "downfall." His admiration for Ali to one side, Eig makes Ali a tough sell as a tragic hero.   More . . .

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  Fat City. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969.  

Fat City, Gardner's first (and only) novel, was greeted with great enthusiasm when it was published, and his essay on the fight between Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 is regarded as a classic ("Sweeter than Sugar" is included in At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing, ed. George Kimball and John Schulian [New York: The Library of America, 2011, pp. 276-87].) About Fat City Ross Macdonald wrote, "0I have seldom read a novel as beautiful and individual as this one." Walker Percy's praise was more modest: he described the novel as "a solid good job."
Fat City is tells the story of two boxers, Billy Tully and Ernie Munger, who believe that boxing is the route to a better life. They spar at the beginning of the book, after which point their lives follow separate paths. This is a book about men of modest boxing talent steered by a well-meaning but self-serving trainer who is not above exposing them to fighters with far superior talents. The boxers' expectations rest on the illusion that even modest boxing ability will lead to financial and professional success.
A boxing novel stands or falls on its account of boxing, not on its version of the world of boxing, the poverty, the managers, the gyms, and other elements that make boxing what it is. When it comes to action in the ring, Fat City skims the surface. The inner workings of fights are not explored; rounds are painted in broad terms.
However, the book draws considerable power from its account of two worlds outside the ring: married life, invariably desperate and impoverished; and California's cultures of migrant labor. Both Tully and Munger are forced to work as day laborers who pick fruit and vegetables in miserable conditions that emphasize the economic and social traps they have fallen into. Gardner does not have a light touch. Here's a memorable scene that brings the boxers together for the first time after they spar (this is from the start of chapter 17).

In the midst of a phantasmagoria of worn-out, mangled faces, scarred cheeks and necks, twisted, pocked, crushed and bloated noses, missing teeth, brown snags, empty gums, stubble beards, pitcher lips, flop ears, sores, scabs, dribbled tobacco juice, stooped shoulders, split brows, weary, desperate, stupefied eyes under the lights of Center Street, Tully saw a familiar young man with a broken nose. His first impulse was to move away through the crowd to avoid being seen, but they had both come here for the same reason. He approached him, calling, and even the name came to him. "Hey, Ernie." The other looked around blankly. "How's it going? You making the day hauls now?"
Ernie stood with his hands in his pockets. "Shit, man. Wife's pregnant, I get up in the middle of the night two times now and come down to pick up a few extra bucks and run into a mob like this" (p. 116).
That's 20 descriptive terms, all striking the same note, before we get to Ernie's broken nose.

We frequently see the boxers' unrealistic expectations mirrored in those of Ruben Luna, their trainer, who cannot separate his welfare from that of his fighters. What he wants for himself (the image of a successful trainer, winning boxers) determines what he makes possible for them. It is no surprise that his interests and theirs diverge at every point. Luna has his merits, however. He knows that boxers shouldn't be booze hounds and ought to eat well and live orderly lives like his. Unlike his boxers, he has a union job (p. 19).
Wisdom seldom shines through to relieve the book's thick gloom. There is a glimmer. Near the end of the book, Ruben reflects on his many boxers' many failures: "As if in rebellion against his influence, they had succumbed to whatever in them was weakest, and often it was nothing he could even define. They lost when they should have won and they drifted away" (p. 169). The coach seems to have decided that his boxers did not want to win badly enough. It's pretty clear throughout the novel that he is right. His boxers do not train as if they want to win. Success in the gym (showing up, working hard) and in the ring would have firmed up the self-confidence that, as men, they seem to lack in every part of their lives. Gritty, but a good book.

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Gerald R. Gems
  Boxing: A Concise History of the Sweet Science. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.

This book is divided into seven chapters: boxing in the ancient world; "the evolution of boxing" into the modern era; boxing and social class; boxing and race; ethnicity; religion; and gender and boxing. The conclusion talks about deaths in the ring and boxing safety. Appendices concern sanctioning bodies, weight classes, and the rules of boxing. There are a lot of notes, an extensive bibliography, and a useful index.

Gems is a suburban Chicago author, and his knowledge of boxing history in and around Chicago is especially strong. This shows up in the chapter on religion. The discussions of Jewish boxing in Chicago and of the role of the Catholic Church in promoting boxing for young men in Chicago are rich in local history.

The longer chapter on gender deals with evidence from a much wider geographical and historical spread. Even though women's boxing has been around for centuries, Gems emphasizes the resistance and disapproval it has inspired. He concludes this chapter by remarking that female boxing is "disrupting traditional notions of gender and identity" (238). This comment prompts me to ask what traditional notions of gender and identity there were to be disrupted four years ago, when this book was published. Nearly all "traditional" concepts relating to sex and sexual behavior have been disrupted in the last two decades, especially those relating women to power.

It seems to me that one area in which public views are still "traditional" has to do with gay boxers. Gems is uncharacteristically terse in his discussion of the gay boxer Emile Griffith, who killed Benny Peret in 1961 (see Ross's book and Grffith's essay). Gems does not discuss Paret's homosexual slur against Griffith, seen as the immediate cause of the fatal beating that lead to Paret's death. The author claims says that Griffith "acknowledged" his homosexuality in 2005, but his "Stonewall" moment that year belatedly recognized his gayness. His sexual conduct was well known at the time of his fights with Paret, and Griffith took few pains to be closeted. If Griffith's homosexual interests were not known already in 1961, Paret would still be alive. Gems also passes too lightly over the career of Orlando Cruz, a gay Puerto Rica boxer. So do do John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro in their 2016 New Yorker article about Cruz. Cruz is understandably popular with the LGBT set, but he is sometimes booed and he is not a popular boxer. In my experience, boxing itself is not so popular with the LGBTs.

Gems spends much more time on women in boxing, without raising the question of lesbians in the ring. He thereby reinforces one of the most stereotypical and traditional patterns to be found in discussinos of sexual identity. It is usually the case that men are compared to men and women are also compared to men. Women are a unified entity, men are not. Women are women. Men are straight or gay. Women who box make news because boxing is "masculine" because it is something that "men" do. Gay men who box make news, when they do, because boxing is "masculine" in another sense--that is, it is something that "real" men do. In truth, however, homosexuality in boxing is hardly ever mentioned. In almost 60 years, Gems can think of exactly 2 gay men who-- box, Griffith and Cruz.

More could be said. Female boxing reinforces some stereotypes just as it challenges others. Do more people today disapprove of female boxing than disapprove of male boxing? In my experience, fans at Golden Gloves fights in Chicago are notably more enthusiastic about female boxers than male boxers. Traditional notions of what men and women should be doing depend, as Gems says several times in reference to gender, race, and ethnicity, on social norms. These have been changing rapidly in the last 20 years. When women are associated with violence in the same way men have always been, does this lift up women? Does it not thereby also lift up violence? It's good for women to box because that's transgressive and shows women assuming powerful roles in a male world. But it's bad for men to box because violence is bad and men are stereotypically violent.

Yet boxing itself is transgressive in many people's minds. They see it as a form of violence that should not be sanctioned. What happens to this idea when women box? Is boxing morally better then, then less offensive because the violence is not damningly male? These are some questions that I would like to have seen Gems pursue. There is more going on here than "disrupting" the "traditional" views of men, women, and violence.

I found Gems' chapter on boxing and ethnicity especially good. Boxing seems to be the sport of outsiders, or at least that is how Gems views it. Boxing is a way to get acceptance, overcome prejudice, and so on. But it is more than that. It can create real strength and protection. Gems' describes Jewish boxers protecting Jewish children going to school from the threats of ethnic groups hostile to the Jews. This evidence suggests that "acceptance" and "survival" should not be interchanged as concepts. Gems elaborates the theory that excellence in sports is a way for outsiders to acculturate themselves to what are perceived as white-race standards. This view, like Gems' views on sex and gender, shows its age.

Sports are also ways to celebrate the dominance of cultural origins and traditions, not just ways to gain acceptance. My boxing coach insists on seeing me as Irish, even though I have just one Irish grandparent and have a German last name. Germans are not famous for boxing; the Irish are. My ethnicity is, in the standard phrase, "socially constructed" by my coach. It has nothing to do with my identity except as it is perceived in terms of boxers' histories in the ring. My coach sees dominance in the ring as a sign of wider cultural dominance, not as acceptance.

This is a well-researched and insightful history of boxing. It sends out shoots in many directions, leads to a lifetime of reading about boxing. I was sorry to see that my used Amazon copy of the book had been de-acquisitioned from a community library, a fate which seems common among boxing books on the second-hand market. A public library is exactly where this book belongs.

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Elliott J. GORN
  The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986.

This an outstanding book that has worn its three decades well. The book traces the history of bare-knuckle fighting in the United States from the colonial era to the last such fight in 1889. Two big ideas drive the argument.

The first concerns social class. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Gorn writes, boxing "really belonged to working-class males who rejected bourgeois standards of value, laborers dispossessed by new economic alignments, and men who lived in the netherworld of gambling, bootlegging, and petty crime." The sport and its spectacular contests spoke "to these men--deeply divided by cultural and religious conflicts, by competition for status and power, and above all by a wrenching transformation of America's economy" (pp. 96-97). Later, white-collar men would take to boxing, either as an activity for themselves or as spectators, as a way of reinforcing their sense of masculinity, which is said to have been eroded by their sedentary, managerial occupations. (That's a very big assumption and it has seldom been challenged--worth doing.)

The second idea pairs nicely with the first. Gorn believes that American society always had an dualistic view of boxing. "Boxing's appeal always rested on a creative dualism between violence and order, impulsiveness and self-control, brutality and restraint," he says (p. 171). It was because boxing was indeed a "sweet science" requiring a lot of skill and discipline, Gorn believes, that the sport became acceptable to spectators outside the working class.

The book returns to these ideas often. They are rich, but they have their limits. It seems entirely possible that laborers and managers liked boxing for the same reason. White-collar workers were divided by the same cultural and religious conflicts that divided workers, and they too competed for power and status. Boxing no doubt gave some of them the same temporary sense of freedom it gave their social and economic inferiors, whose masculinity was probably not in doubt.

Likewise, the idea of dualistic views of boxing has its appeal and its limits. It enlarges the simplistic view that boxing is about one thing (i.e., violence). However, dualism replaces one oversimplification with another. It teaches that is boxing is really about two things. This too seems to be a conceptual trap. An ambiguity defined between brutality and restraint imposes a pair of terms designed to limit possibilities of the sport. Many writers have shown that order cannot be maintained without violence. The tension between violence and order seems to be illusory and not at all like the tension between impulsiveness and self-control. They are opposites. Violence and order are not opposites: the opposite of violence is peace and the opposite of order is chaos.

Great boxing might require both brutality and restraint, if not at the same moment. Boxing is about more than two, or three, big ideas and the tensions between and among them. The dualistic hypothesis is better than a monolithic one, but dualism can also oversimplify, especially if it is based on false dichotomies, e.g., violence and order.

These reservations aside, however, Gorn's book is a model cultural history and it is a pleasure to read. Hats off to him for pointing out that "the same biases that rendered women voiceless in the writing of history simultaneously excluded the majority of men, in particular workers, ethic minorities, and the poor" (p. 13). So much for the idea that all history was about men. As Gorn implies, all history, in the conventional sense, was about the few, not the many.

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God in my Corner. With Ken Abraham. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007. $22.99

George Foreman has many distinctions as a boxer, chief among them the length of his career. He won the Olympic gold medal in 1968 and paraded around the ring waving a small American flag, not what a lot of people expected of a black boxer at the time. He defeated Joe Frazier to win the heavyweight title in 1973, lost the title to Ali a year later (after two successful defenses), and retired for the first time in 1977. Then, in 1994, when he was 45, Foreman went back into the ring and won the title from Michael Moore (who was 26 at the time). He retired in 1997 and had to be talked out of another comeback by his wife at the time, a story told in this book (p. 199).

This remarkable boxer's ring history is background to God in my Corner, which focuses on his conversion experience, his struggle to establish himself as a minister and preacher, and his exceptional success as an entrepreneur. Most famously, he is the face behind the Foreman Grill, of which there are said to be something like 100 million sold. The grill is just one of Foreman's many adventures, which include having his own television show.

God in my Corner is a book about Foreman's spiritual path, but this turns out to be a useful and revealing way to learn about the boxer. The author's Christian perspective influenced his boxing style, as we learn in his discussion of boxing without hate (p. 188-91), meaning that he did not box to injure his opponents. His faith made him a better sportsman; he sees boxing "as a sport requiring skill and strategy, not simply raw power" (p. 190).

"Learning to box" is one of many good sections in the book. Foreman was spotted as a potential boxer while he was in the Job Corps, where his "mean, bullying ways" often got him into fistfights. Somebody told him to take up boxing, and Foreman took up the challenge. Luckily he asked the right person, Charles Broadus, who showed him the difference between fighting and boxing (pp. 10-11). After his first fight, which showed Foreman how little he knew, Broadus bought him a new pair of boxing shoes and Foreman worked his way up in competitions, including the Golden Gloves (he was not a winner there). Broadus got him to the Olympics in 1968 and eventually Foreman became one of Sonny Liston's sparring partners (Liston's is a sad story: "He spoke little, couldn't read, and rarely let his true thoughts and feelings be known." He died at 38 [p. 14].)

There are several such glimpses of the boxing world in the book, but in the main it is a book of spiritual advice, not a book about boxing. Other valuable sections include Foreman's thoughts on loss and adversity (chapters 9 and 11). He believes that setbacks can make us stronger. In his case, there's a spiritual side to this: "I needed to suffer those defeats so I could hit bottom and look up," he writes (p. 103). His account of his significant losses is gripping: the loss to Ali in 1974; the loss to Jimmy Young in 19; the loss of his investments to dishonest partners; and the loss to Evander Holyfield (pp. 107-8).

There is a lot left out of the book. I haven't read Foreman's autobiography, By George (2000), written with Joe Engel, but I will. Until I read the article on Foreman in Wiki I did not know he had been married four times, for example. I expect this book and others written by Foreman leave a lot out, both by design and of necessity.
July 2019.

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Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978 (1950). $17

The subtitle of Jack Dempsey's book on how to box is "Explosive punching and aggressive defense." You won't find "aggressive defense" associated with other boxing books, but the paradox suits the author's boxing style. The book is much more than a "how to box" book, since it also offers a brief account of this memorable boxer's long and varied life. He is famous for having worked his way up in boxing as an outsider, and he serves as a link between the roaring 1920s and America's frontier past. The link is elaborated in Kasia Boddy's discussion of the fighter in Boxing: A Cultural History.

Dempsey is seen as an outsider, but he was never an outsider as far as boxing was concerned. One of his first comments about himself is that he grew up in Manassa, in southern Colorado, with two brothers who were fighters. They started training him on defense when he was seven years old.

This early training is not usually noted in writing about Dempsey. One of the young boy's responses to his brothers' tutoring was to write down what they said, another fact about him rarely noted. "I jotted down every detail of those instructions," he writes, and to it he added whatever occurred to him when he practiced what he had been told (p. 15). This habit stayed with him as he matured. His writing traces what he calls his "mental journey" from Manassa to Toledo, the site of his great victory over Jess Willard in 1919, when Dempsey was just 24.

Dempsey's writing habit struck his business manager, Max Waxman, as odd, and no doubt others who were aware of it also thought it was peculiar for a boxer to make notes. Waxman ribbed him about it: "What are you writing down all that junk for? You're supposed to be a memory expert," Waxman said (p. 17). Dempsey knew what he was doing in this regard and many others. He knew that writing was a big assist to an accurate memory.

Dempsey focuses on the content. "I'm confident that those 384 pages represent the most thorough study ever made by any prominent fighter of his own technique and of the pointers he had received first-hand from others" (17). Dempsey studied his notes, reworked them, organized them. "I combed it; I sieved it; I sluice-boxed it again and again," he says, getting his mining background into his boxing education. Then he compared his treasure-trove to what others had written about boxing. Not unexpectedly, in my view, he reports that he was "amazed at the hazy, incomplete and distorted conceptions of self-defense possessed by many who are supposed to be experts" (p. 18). He describes these books as links that could not hold together well enough to form a chain (p. 15).

Dempsey's overriding concern was the commercialization of boxing in his time, and his own part in making it a spectacular and financially-driven sport. He believed that the desire for financial success had degraded trainers and encouraged them to take on poorly-trained fighters. In Dempsey's view, just about anybody thought he could fight. He also believed that many boxers had neither offense nor defense, and that their trainers were unqualified and knew little about boxing (p. 13)

Dempsey's advice about how to box is helpfully illustrated. One of the things I respect about this book is that it never makes boxing look easy. At every turn Dempsey emphasizes that getting your body into your punches--the meaning of "explosive punching"--takes a lot of concentration. There is a good chapter on training at the end and a final chapter on how to watch a fight. A great book, definitely of its time, but one of the best how-to-box books ever written.
January 2020

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Box Like the Pros. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. $15.99

The cover of this excellent beginner's guide to boxing shows Joe Frazier knocking down Muhammad Ali in the first of their three fights (1971), which was Ali's first defeat. There were 2 rematches, and Ali won both (1974, 1975). Frazier went on to lose to George Foreman in 1973. The Viet Nam war shadowed the fights with Ali. Ali famously opposed the war and Frazier supported it. Surely their first fight was the high point of Frazier's career (hence the cover for this book).

Box Like the Pros is Frazier's gift to the profession. This guide from a master fighter is well-thought out and fully illustrated. The first chapter, "The Fight Game," is worth the price of the book. It is a partial and certainly partisan history of a century of boxing in the US, very entertaining.

Chapters 2 and 3 concern basic ring rules and fitness levels you should achieve before you start to box. Chapters 4 and 5 are about gear and gyms, the latter chapter offering good advice on what to look for in a boxing gym and cautioning those interested in boxing away from fitness clubs that don't have experienced coaches or even a boxing ring.

The good stuff comes in chapters 6 through 9: what to expect from a coach, how to organize your boxing workouts, and what to expect once you are ready to spar and perhaps go on to fight. All the basic points are clearly explained.

All of the material in chapters 6 through 9 is specific, illustrating punches and offering advice about moves to avoid--i.e., don't pull your head back to avoid a punch, because your opponent can catch you with a hook you won't see coming; don't move back in a straight line (p. 122), since that allows your opponent to move in on you (unless you are throwing your jab). The book moved up a level in the last two chapters, which are about sparring, boxing styles, and, best of all, some paragraphs on how you can expect your fights to change who you are. Hundreds of rounds into sparring with my boxing coach, I can confirm everything Frazier says about the benefits of throwing and taking punches. Lots of people claim to be interested in boxing and some of them take boxing classes. Most of them do not get into the ring to hit and get hit. If you do, whether you win or lose, you've done something nobody can ever take away from you, and chances are you will want to do it again.

For comments on Frazier, see entries by Jimmy Cannon and Ronald K. Fried on this page.

A great fighter and a great man, Frazier died in 2011. He left us a great book.

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"It's All Behind Me Now." Boxing and Wrestling, Pp. 30-35, 62-63. April 1963

"I know what it is to die--and to be reborn again." That's the surprising first sentence of an article written by Emile Griffith and published in this magazine one year after he won the fight that killed Benny Paret.

Griffith is referring to two events. The first is his loss of the welterweight crown to Paret in 1961, an event that turned Griffith's boyhood dream of being an athletic champion into a nightmare. The second event was the fatal fight in 1962. Of that event, Griffith writes, "I won back my title by knocking out Paret, but I lost virtually everything I had ever gained in life." That is an unfortunate choice of words, since Paret really did lose everything. Griffith was reborn as the world's welterweight king, but also felt that he had entered a world he could never "look in the face" again" (p. 32). [Some excerpts from this essay are reprinted in Ron Ross's book, pp. 69-72, where they are followed by pictures from the fight.]

Griffith discusses the hate mail he received after Paret's death but concentrates on the support he received from boxing fans and other boxers. The latter included Willie Toweel, whom Griffith had knocked out in 1960, and who also killed an opponent, and Sugar Ray Robinson, a high-flying champion who was in some ways a model for Griffith. Robinson had also killed a man in the ring; Jimmy Boyle died after their fight in 1947.

Griffith's managers, Gil Clancy and Howard Albert, insisted that Griffith get back into the ring as soon as possible. He did. In his first fight after Paret's death, Griffith had his opponent (Dupas) on the ropes and found himself stepping back. He did the same in a fight with Denny Moyer. Griffith won both fights and indeed won all fights that he took in the remainder of 1962 after Paret died. He soon quit backing away from an opponent he had on the ropes.

More than once Griffith says he thought about quitting the ring in 1962 but that this managers told him he should not, that he would let down his supporters if he did, and that children especially looked up to star athletes and needed Griffith and as a model. This is something Griffith seems to have believed, even if, outside the ring, little he did could be said to offer a model for the young.

The key paragraph occurs early in the article.

I told my managers I could never fight again. That I had wanted to knock Paret out because of the things he had said about me before the fight and to prove I had been robbed of the title in the second bout. It would be stupid to deny all this.
I wanted to win more than anything else. But anyone who said or wrote that I wanted to kill Paret was just vicious or stupid or both.

This is Griffith's only reference to the mockery Paret displayed at the weigh-in in 1962, a replay of anti-gay remarks Paret had first made about Griffith before their fight in 1961 (see Ross, pp. 57-59). Griffith's essay does not offer much insight into the fight that killed Paret. He does not describe Paret's homosexual slurs or talk about how, going into the fight, his managers suggested he should respond to them. Nor does he recount anything in the fight itself or take readers to the crucial moments in which he beat Paret when he was defenseless.

The reader is left to poke around the edges for insights. There is one worth mentioning, at least. "Ever since I was a little boy," Griffith writes in his third paragraph, "I dreamed of becoming a champion in one of the big sports--baseball, basketball or boxing--anything, because I loved all kinds of athletics" (p. 32). Readers of Griffith's obituary in the Los Angeles Times can set that statement against one by Ross, who visited Griffith when the boxer's dementia was advanced.

"By 2009, there was no more intelligent conversation," Ross is quoted as saying in the obituary. "His passing is a blessing. I visited him three weeks ago. It was just so sad to see him like that, knowing he had this tremendous athleticism and instinctive skills once. He could do anything--play tennis, dance, sing. He never wanted to be a fighter."

Not true. Becoming a boxing champion was one of Griffith's boyhood dreams, he himself said in this article. It was a dream he realized not once but three times in the three titles he held. Ross seems to be implying that Griffith was forced or conned into his remarkable career in the ring. We do the boxer more credit if we acknowledge that Griffith wanted to be who he was, for better and for worse.

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The Heart & the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2011. $15.95

Greitens points out that fear grips warriors of all kinds. In this book, which is about how he became a Navy SEAL, Greitens has good things to say about fighting fear. He writes that "uncontrolled fear rots the mind and impairs the body." Greitens boxed as a college student and as a Rhodes scholar. He was successful in part because he could fight fear. "I'd learned in boxing and in my [humanitarian] work overseas that human beings can inoculate themselves against uncontrolled fear," he writes. "When I first stepped into a boxing ring to spar, my heart rate was high, my adrenalin pumped, my muscles were tens--and I got beat up" (142). After years of training he could still appreciate the danger his opponent posed but he could keep his heart rate steady, relax, and fight well. Greitens states that men in the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs training program--among the most physically fit and aggressive men in the country--were overwhelmed by fear during training exercises. "They quit, I believe, because they allowed their fear to overwhelm them," Greitens writes. These men "focused on all of the pain that they thought they might have to endure and how difficult it might be" and chose to leave the program (p. 186). If fear can be decisive at that level, how much more discouraging is it for the new amateur boxer?

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The Times Square Gym, Photographs by John Goodman. New York: Evan Publishing, 1996. $24.95

A splendid book. Hamill's short essay is full of drama, history, and nostalgia. His is a very dark view of boxing, which he sees as a "blood sport" as ritualized as the Catholic Mass, "brutal, primitive, and dangerous." His definition of "heart," a much-loved virtue among boxers, is equally dark: "the willingness to endure pain in order to inflict it." For him, the famous gym on Times Square was, like Times Square itself, part of a vanished world that has since been replaced by a far inferior one. Hamill thinks that World War II was responsible for the Golden Age of boxing. He takes his hat off to Muhammad Ali, a showman whom Hamill calls a "terrible example" for the next generation of boxers, lesser boxers who lacked Ali's gift for showmanship. Hamill's take is not the same as that of many boxing historians. Hamill believes that men returning from World War II understood not only violence but social class in ways that could not endure. These men grew up in the Depression with rough people, fought the war, and returned to lives of low expectations. But they had honor and they had respect. Hamill thinks that what they admired most in great boxers was great intelligence. There's an angle you don't often see developed. This book should be in every collection of boxing books, a real period-piece and full of beauty.

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Dashiell HAMMETT
  "His Brother's Keeper," in Nightmare Town: Stories.     Ed. Kirby McCauley, Martin H. Greenberg, and Ed Gorman. New York: Knopf, 1999. "His Brother's Keeper," pp. 162-74, was written in 1934.
Hammett, Red Harvest,     in Hammett: Complete Novels. New York: The Library of America, 1999. Pp. 1-187.
Red Harvest was published in 1929.

Hammett (1894-1961) is a much-admired author of what is known as "hard-boiled" crime fiction (sometimes also called "pulp" fiction). This is sub-genre is said to be characterized by lack of sentimentality and an emphasis on violence, gritty realism, urban decay; dialogue is rich in period slang (death is "The Big One" and "Bird" is, curiously, a man). Boxing is the perfect sport for Hammett's fiction, a kind of wallpaper that registers corruption and dishonesty and takes brutality for granted. Hammett has no particular insight into boxing or boxers to offer; it's one more opportunity for one kind of person to exploit another.

Hammett made two forays into boxing-related fiction. One is in his first novel, Red Harvest, published in 1929. The book's loose structure reflects its development as four "novelettes" published in the periodical Black Mask between 1927 and 1928. Notes to the Library of America edition describe it as "a raucous and nightmarish evocation of political corruption and gang warfare in a western mining town." It is narrated by a man who presents himself as an organizer for the International Workers of the World (IWW) and who is visiting Personville (also called Poisonville). It's a good set-up for the narrative, since, as a stranger, the narrator has to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of surmises, constructing his narrative as he does so. This book is both crime and mystery, and it has depth and many points of interest.

The ninth chapter, "The Black Knife," gives an account of a fight between Kid Cooper and Ike Bush. The fight has been fixed, and is supposed to end with Ike's KO in the sixth round (61). The town bets heavily on the match, which the narrator, in a conversation with one of the boxers before the fight, tries to unfix. By the time we get to the fight, we've learned a lot about Personville and about the narrator, so the chapter, although short, capitalizes on previous tension and complicates the plot in a useful way. The boxers are not well-matched. One is a "clumsy bum" who throws wide, harmless swings that just about anybody could avoid. The other "had class--nimble legs, a smooth fast left hand, and a right that got away quick" (67). He has to try not to win the fight. When the winner lands his KO shot, Hammett writes, "everybody in the house felt the punch" (69).

Some of these elements appear in "His Brother's Keeper," a short story included in Nightmare Town (1934). "His Brother's Keeper" is all thrill and no mystery. The thrills are minor and go by quickly. The story focuses on Loney and his nineteen-year-old boxing brother, whose career Loney manages and who narrates the tale. Immersed in corrupt urban politics, Loney uses his brother's boxing career to further and protect his own interests, including Loney's affair with the wife of a prominent city official.

The boxer is a timid lad who does everything his brother tells him to do. He is scheduled to go up against Sailor Perelman, a fighter with a strong reputation. He is warned about the dangers of this match by Pete Gonzalez, a highly regarded manager of two other boxers and a wrestler. Pete treats the boxer with rough disdain, hoping to persuade him to leave Loney and become one of his boxers. Pete tells the young boxer that his face shows he has often been beat up, that he has often been matched with better fighters, and that his battle scars reveal that he knows little about boxing (163).

The boxer does not disagree. "Well, of course, I'm not a boxer," he says in reply to Pete's challenge (words seldom heard in boxing fiction I have read). The boxer points out that he wins most of his matches, but Pete is unimpressed. "I wouldn't want to pay for winning what you're paying, and I wouldn't want any of my boys to," Pete says (163). Loney overhears the conversation in which Pete is trying to persuade the boxer to sign up with him as his manager. He comes over strikes Pete "across the mouth with the back of his hand," showing that he is a dangerous fighter himself (164). Amazingly, Pete backs away, reminding Loney that Big Jake, the politician whose wife Loney is seeing, might have something bad in mind for him.

The big match involves a fix. Loney knows his brother is more a fighter than a boxer and that he has more power than technique in the ring. However, he urges him to go into the fight with Sailor Perelman as a boxer, and this proves to be a sure way for him to lose several rounds to the skillful and strong opponent. Events don't go entirely as planned. Beyond saying that I can't say anything without giving away the ending.

An uneven and only modestly productive writer, Hammett wrote within a very small compass. There is a certain kind of modernist minimalism behind Hammett's prose, but compared to his great and exact contemporaries--William Faulkner (1897-1962); Ernest Hemmingway (1899-1961); F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)--Hammett is an author of modest achievement. Had two of his four novels (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man) not been made into successful films, he would probably be remembered as much as a victim of both McCarthyism and Hollywood blacklisting as he is as a writer.

When somebody asked him for his "secret" as an author, Hammett is said to have replied, "I was a detective, so I wrote about detectives" (quoted in the introduction to Nightmare Town by William F. Nolan). There is no detective in "His Brother's Keeper," however, but there is no mystery, either. I gather from various online sources (one of the best is by Mike Gross) that there are plenty of fights outside the ring elsewhere in Hammett's work.

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  The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986. $9.95.

This is one of the toughest and most disheartening books on boxing I have read. It is tough on boxing, not just on the world-wide organizations and local and state politics that control the sport. The main thread of the book is the career of Billy Costello, who won and defended the World Boxing Council superlightweight title in 1984. Costello boxed professionally from 1979 to 1999, with a record of 40-2-0; he died of lung cancer in 2011 at age 55. He lost the title to Lonnie Smith in 1985 and lost a fight to Alexis Arguello in 1986 (TKO). After 1986 and up to his retirement in 1999, Costello fought just 9 times, winning all those matches.

Hauser takes us through the ins and outs and the ups and downs of Costello's career on his way to the title. Along the way we meet managers, trainers, coaches, television producers, promoters, and boxing league officials. For most of them, concern for Costello or any fighter was secondary at best.

Hauser has many targets, including Ring magazine and its fighter rankings in the late 1970s (chapter 7; see pp. 86-92). One account of corruption and incompetence follows another, showing boxing to be manipulated by managers who tie fighters up in complicated and one-sided contracts. Hauser shows that it is the most carelessly regulated of all national sports. Hauser's criticism of the boxing organizations that rank fighters and award titles is unsparing; chapter 8, the gist of his analysis, is probably the most important in the book.

The sadest chapter follows. Chapter 9 describes a disastrous month in 1982 from which boxing has yet to recover. It began with the televised bout between Ray Mancini and Duk Koo Kim, which resulted in Kim's death (Nov. 13). At the time, Kim was not ranked among the top 40 boxers in Korea. Less than two weeks later (Nov. 26) came Larry Holmes' beating of Randall Cobb. The rounds were so brutal and one-sided that commentator Howard Cosell repeatedly wondered why the fight was not stopped. It was the last fight for which the disgusted and outraged Cosell provided commentary (pp. 105-109). More dismaying events followed. It is easy to date the peak of boxing's prestige to this period, after which it became an outcast and an orphan.

Hauser skillfully uses these chapters not only to expose boxing but to establish the context for Billy Costello's career, and specifically to set up the match in which he won the title in January 1984 (chapter 10). Much of the book is devoted to the progress of Costello's career and his difficulty in getting attention when Gerry Cooney and other boxers were favored by the media. Costello and Mike Jones, his manager, come off as two of a very small number of admirable people in the book.

Moreso than many other books reviewed here, The Black Lights needed an index. It has important historical insights into boxing and its history, and it discusses the careers and insights of a lot of trainers and fighters. There isn't even a table of contents, and to find a record of Costello's fights you have to go online. It's a gritty book, not a puff-piece, but it should be easier to use for reference. There isn't even a photograph of Costello, or of anybody else, in it.

For boxers, "the black lights" are the lights of unconsciousness (the expression is explained by Ali in a short quote given in the frontmatter). Black lights, as I understand them, are also ultraviolet lights that are used for diagnostic purposes, such as detecting counterfeit bills. The title is well-chosen; this is indeed a diagnostic book, putting boxing under a black light that shows is to be an ugly world indeed.
July 2019

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  The Professional. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2001

Ernest Hemingway read this book and sent Heinz a note, saying "the only good novel about a fighter I've ever read and an excellent novel in its own right." Heinz's wife, hearing this, said to Heinz, who was a life-long fan of Hemingway, "This must be the greatest day in your life." Elmore Leonard, no slouch, recounts these details in his introduction to the book, which is, by any standard, a remarkable and clever boxing novel.

As Leonard notes, Heinz's creed about fiction was that "the writer should be kept out of there. He should not tell, but show." This is a familiar dictum (along the lines of "A poem should not mean / But be," Archibald MacLeish, "Ars Poetica" [1926]) and it creates a dry, tense narrative that forces the reader to work, make inferences, and connect points that the writer does not make himself. The principle on display on every page is "less is more." The understatement and brevity of expression contrast with the garrulous, self-congratulatory tone and style on display in many of the books listed here.

A stellar sports writer, Heinz had a gift for compression. Each of the novel's 27 chapters is a vignette and a reminder that the author was used to packing a lot into 900-word newspaper columns. The same gift emerges in The Top of His Game: The Best Sports Writing of W. C. Heinz, a collection of Heinz's columns and magazine essays (Library of America, 2015), noted briefly below. Events and people seem bigger and more imposing because the author does not inflate them or their psyches.

The Professional seems to be about the fighter, but it's really about his trainer and the sports writer/narrator. Can there be a boxing book that offers less direct insight into the man who stars in the ring? Not one that I can recall. His manager talks a lot, but rarely in sentences more than a few words long. For a boxing fan, the gold nugget is on pp. 235-37 of the 2001 edition reviewed here. It has to be said that Heinz cheats a bit. The narrator, a sports writer, is talking to the boxer about boxing. I see this as Heinz the writer talking to Heinz the boxer, which is to say that the telling and the showing seem close together.

The scene: the training camp, a few days before the big fight (chapter 19). The writer (Frank) asks the boxer (Eddie) how he feels about the men he fights. Eddie says he likes some of his opponents and Frank explains why: "Each guy brought out the best in the other guy and gave him the greatest fight and his greatest moment" (p. 234).
Eddie describes a very good fight that forced him to use everything he had, both in skill and in strength: Eddie: "I mean, for ten rounds I wanted to kill him and he fought like he wanted to kill me, and then I wanted to kiss him. First I wanted to kill him. Explain that."
Then Eddie asks Frank a question I've been asked: "How come you like boxing so much?"
Frank: "Because I find so much in it."
Eddie: "How do you mean?"
Frank: "The basic law of man. The truth of life. It's a fight, man against man, and if you're going to defeat another man, defeat him completely."
In the next exchange, Frank elaborates: "I find man revealing himself more completely in fighting than in any other form of expressive endeavor. It's the war all over again, and they license it and sell tickets to it and people go to see it because, without even realizing it, they see this truth in it" (pp. 235-46).
Frank is referring to World War II, the subject of the first essay in The Top of His Game. Reading "Transition," the first essay in this collection, one can see how closely connected Heinz's experience as a war correspondent was to his early career in sports writing. More than once he ran into athletes who, as soldiers, were fighting battles Heinz, as a correspondent, witnessed. Heinz himself saw some of these men at war against the Germans and then, later, at war on the football field or in the boxing ring.

Not to be lost in this discussion is Frank's use of "expressive endeavor." Not many people I know think of boxing or any sport as an "expressive endeavor," and in football or basketball one can see why--in any team sport. But in boxing, with tension so high and just two men involved, expression and interpretation are paramount.

Heinz's years as a writer close to athletes is clear in sections of the novel that parallel his columns. When Frank describes Eddie's day leading up to the championship fight at ten p.m., it's clear that numerous details, down to Eddie's dinner and cups of tea, were taken from Heinz's observation of Rock Graziano before his September 27, 1946, fight with Tony Zale, ranked as one of the great fights in boxing history. Many writers include their three fights (1946, 1947, 1948, with Graziano winning the 2nd) among the great battles in boxing.

A few words about boxing, warfare, and violence fit in here. Some people don't understand boxing because they don't understand violence and can't think of anything worth fighting for. On this topic, you cannot do better than read Jack Donovan's celebrated essay, "Violence is Golden" (found in A Sky without Eagles, pp. 17-23). As he points out, those who like to say they "abjure" violence rely on it every day. They rely on police protection, for example. They want home invaders stopped. It takes violence to protect those who denounce violence. The theologian and philosopher René Girard also identified this symbiotic relationship, writing that "people fail to realize that they are indebted to violence for the degree of peace that they enjoy" (Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, p. 211). See also Heinz's essays in The Top of His Game (noted briefly just below).

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  The Top of His Game. New York: The Library of America, 2015. $16.

These essays were written between 1947, when Heinz was getting his start, and 1979. There are 15 columns from the New York Sun and nearly as many from other journals where he published. There are also 10 chapters reprinted from a collection Heinz called Once They Heard the Cheers, published in 1979 and three essays between that time and 2000. (Heinz died 2008). The Top of His Game includes a great index of names, so this is an easy book to use.

There is a lot here, much of it memorable and often moving. The first essay, "Transition," from Fall 1945 (pp. 3-46), is worth the price of the book and will be difficult to forget for anybody who cares about battle and boxing. It's a long but gripping narrative about how Heinz got from World War II to sports writing. The brevity of many entries (900-word columns) is frustrating because they begin to feel formulaic, terse, even oracular. They were written for sports insiders in another age, hard-boiled readers of daily newspapers that had more print than picture. The longer pieces are among the best of the best. They include essays about the day of Graziano's first fight with Zale (pp. 113-30) and the memoir of Graziano (pp. 19-48). Cover to cover, red meat here for the true boxing fan.

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Christopher ISHERWOOD
A Single Man
. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001 (New York, 1964). $15.95.

This is by no means a boxing novel, but the book reveals some of the sport's power to deepen the reach of fiction, and, in this case, the sport's power to expose fiction as shallow. The author, Christopher Isherwood (1904-86), was British. He is famous for gay fiction related to his years spent in Berlin between World War I and World War II (the Weimar Republic). The musical Cabaret was based on The Berlin Collection (1946), a book that captures Isherwood's fascination with handsome boys of the Germany the working classes.

So far as I know, Isherwood had no interest in boxing, but in Berlin he did have an affair with Berthold "Bubi" Szczesny, a German-speaking Czech who is mentioned early in Christopher and His Kind and who is identified there as a boxer. "Bubi" had the essential elements for Isherwood's eye: a pretty face, blue eyes, blond hair, and a body "smooth-skinned and almost hairless, although hard and muscular." He presented Isherwood with "the whole mystery-magic of foreignness, Germanness" (chapter 1).

A Single Man was writtten during the California period of Isherwood's life. In California he wrote movie scripts and became a U.S. citizen. A Married Man is set in Los Angeles and concerns a day in the life of George Falconer, a gay professor of modern British literature at a small university. His lover, Jim, has recently been killed in an automobile accident. George is both remote and impulsive. Foreignness is his to command, since he is British. He views his Californian students with amused condescension and spends little time worrying about what he teaches them. With few exceptions, they regard him as a curiosity.

Boxing had masculine and sexual associations for Isherwood. The sport comes up four times in George’s thoughts. Walking across campus, he sees two men engaged in a fierce game of tennis.

Their nakedness makes them seem close to each other and directly opposed, body to body, like fighters. If this were a fight, though, it would be one-sided, for the boy on the left is much the smaller. He is Mexican, maybe, black-haired, handsome, catlike, cruel, compact, lithe, muscular, quick and grateful on his feet. . . . . He is going to win. His opponent, the big blond boy, already knows this; there is a touching gallantry in his defense. He is so sweet-naturedly beautiful, so nobly made; and yet his classical cream-marble body seems handicap to him. . . . His helpless bigness and blondness give him an air of unmodern chivalry. He will fight clean, a perfect sportsman until he has lost the game. (p. 53)
Surprisingly, the dark player is going to win. It is basic to Isherwood's sexual worldview that in homosexual relations the tall blond man masters the shorter, darker man, just as the blond Anglo-Saxon invaded and mastered the natives of ancient Britain, Isherwood’s "black-haired British ancestor[s]" (Christopher and his Kind, chapter 1). We see here that George regards boxing as a more intense and a higher form of competition than tennis. Not everybody would think of a tennis player as "cruel," for example, and the players are stripped to the basics, as boxers are.

The second reference is less direct. When he makes his understated theatrical entrance into his lecture hall, George is aware of the boys in his class and their "aggressively virile informality" as it is expressed in clothes. "They look as if they were ready at any minute to switch from studying to ditchdigging or gang fighting." These are the two sides of Isherwood's masculinity, the intellectual and the tough brawler, the upperclass figure and the Berlin proletariat, which are also the two sides of his students.

The third reference is less revealing still. In the campus gym, a man named Buck is working out with a handsome student. Buck "knows all about the history of sport" and he is telling the student "how someone took someone else in the seventh round." Buck mimes the knockout: "Pow! Pow! And boy, he’s had it." His audience is a well-built young man named Rick, who spends hours in the gym "yakking about show biz, about sport cars, about football and boxing" (pp. 106-7). George is happy to be on a first-name basis with both men but has no real connection to either one. What stands out here is that all three men, even while in the gym, are observers. They are not the men in the arena, where Theodore Roosevelt knew that masculine men wanted to be. They talk about boxing; they don't box. Other men are having the real excitement. The book's only fights are those recalled in bar scene, a pickup place where George met Jim when Jim was still in the Navy. Near the end of his day, George has a drink with a student named Kenneth, who, with his girlfriend, are the two most beautiful people in George's class (p. 61). The narrator recalls the bar in its earlier heyday.

You could flirt but you couldn’t fight; there wasn’t even room to smack someone's face. For that, you had to step outside. Oh, the bloody battles and the sidewalk vomitings. The punches flying wide, the heads crashing backwards against the fenders of parked cars!
Kenneth and George leave the bar and race to the ocean, stripping as they go. Kenneth leaps into the water, "a fearless native warrior" (p. 162). George nearly drowns in the surf and Kenneth saves him, joking as they walk to George's house nearby that the older man should never be let out on his own (p. 164).

To his credit, George does not think of two of these episodes as boxing. The fourth is brawling, the opposite of tennis, in other words--no art, no technique, no display of beautiful bodies, no layers of racial and national allegory, just wide punches and heads banging fenders. Art, technique, and sportsmanship are confined to the two men playing tennis; the winning boxer in the third example is good at what he does--he's a power hitter. The second and fourth examples are combat without rules or form. The might represent the masculine to Isherwood himself, but George finds nothing to interest him in either one.

Boxing serves Isherwood as a means of recapturing some of the magic of "Bubi" from Berlin and something of the power of the beautiful (blond, I presume) invader about to conquer Isherwood's "black-haired British ancestor." On the tennis court in the blond will be defeated, but in George’s home the invader, Kenneth, will conquer. He is beautiful; George is not. He is taller than George, and throughout their evening together George follows where Kenneth leads. Before they meet that evening, George suspects that Kenneth is a sort of genius who understands life in ways George himself does not (p. 60).

Here as in much of Isherwood's fiction, very little is said but much is implied. Sexual longing dominates pages and passages, but interpersonal relationships do not develop. The fiction of A Single Man is all about the single man's thoughts of himself, his presentation of himself, his thoughts about others' thoughts of him. Isherwood seems to have enjoyed thinking about and describing sexually attractive men. For him the blond and the dark-haired men capture the political allegories of the twentieth century. That gives them the only weight they have in the book; they are otherwise merely objects he sees and thinks about. Somebody like Kenneth, who asks and answers questions, is of interest to George so long as he is reacting to George or talking about him. Kenneth matters for what he represents, not what he is or who he is. This distance is nicely captured when George walks across campus and sees Kenneth and his girlfriend sitting under a young tree. They wave to him and he waves to them, imagining that they are on an island and he is the ship passing by. They have the meaning he assigns them for a few moments. Then he leaves them behind. They no longer matter.

I could not help but think that if George had pulled on a pair of gloves, absorbed some punches, and landed a few, he would have had a much better sense of himself and would have realized what it is to have opponents who also have punching power. The men in his book are much like punching bags. They never strike back. Every boxer knows that about punching bags and knows that's why the bags do not train you for what happens inside the ring when you hear that "ding ding."

January 2021
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  Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story. New York: Penguin, 1989. $18.95.

Heller writes a good boxing book because he has been a manager and a trainer of boxers. His unique perspective on boxing and its recent history is outlined in "In This Corner . . . 42 World Champions Tell their Stories (Da Capo Press, 1973, 1994). This book appeared in 1989 and was written well before the "upset of the year," Tyson's February 11, 1990, lost to Buster Douglas in Tokyo. Tyson racked up 8 more wins before his Nov. 9, 1996 loss to Evander Holyfield (and another a few months later). So the Tyson of this book is 36-0, the man at the peak of his performance. This book is a valuable history of boxing for the span of Tyson's best years, but bad signs are everywhere, and it is impossible to read this book and settle for the myth that boxing reformed Tyson and turned a thug into a sports hero. The books ends with a forest of dark predictions about Tyson's lack of discipline and his multiple character defects (bully, arrogant, thug, criminal behavior, etc.). Depressing, but a very good if not great read because there is so much of Heller in the book.

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  "In this Corner ... !": 42 World Champions Tell their Stories. 1973; expanded ed., New York: Da Capo, 1994 $15.95.

Nobody writes a better boxing book that Peter Heller. For this book, first published in 1973 and enlarged in 1994, Heller interviewed boxers whose careers began before World War I and in every decade since. The enlarged edition includes interviews with Roberto Duran and Alexis Arguello (mid-1970s). Before each interview Heller offers a short summary of the boxer's career, so the book is a history of boxing as well as an anthology of memorable statements from the 42 men Heller talked to. The boxers speak in their own voices. Tyson's trainer, Cus D'Amato, claimed to have used the 1973 edition as a training manual for his boxers, and Joyce Carol Oates used it as a research tool. It's no doubt both of those things, but it is also a moving tribute both to boxers and to the history of the sport, a chronicle of the changes that have been reshaping it for more than a century. There are some opportunities for cross-referencing, such as reading about the same the fights from Willie Pep's and then Joe (Sandy) Saddler's point of view. An anthology with a good index is a treasure. If you love boxing and want to immerse yourself in its history, here's a lively read for you.

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Roger KAHN
  A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ‘20s. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999. $28
Jack Dempsey (1895-1983) co-authored no fewer than three autobiographies (1940, 1960, 1977). Much is repeated in those books but, as Roger Kahn’s biography shows, much is also left out. Dempsey's (and his coauthors') accounts are scattered and incomplete. Writing after the boxer’s death and with access to more materials, Kahn does a better job of putting Dempsey's chaotic and long professional life (only a few years of which involved boxing) into a pattern.

Kahn's idea is to wrap the boxer's life into the culture of the Roaring '20's. This works very well and makes for a compelling and clear account. Kahn acknowledges that his decision tidies up history’s "ragged edges" and runs the risk of "unbridled romanticism." But he insists, in his last paragraph, that Dempsey "all by himself" symbolized the country in the 1920s (p. 425). On the previous page he lists some of the figures Dempsey was connected to in one way or the other, not only the great boxers and boxing writers of the decade but the movie stars and the gangsters: "a battalion of humanity, a generation, marches behind the Champion" (p. 424).

The fight descriptions are very good. Especially memorable is the extended account of Dempsey's 1919 fight with Jess Willard. Willard outweighed Dempsey by about 60 pounds and was much taller. But he had little to use against Dempsey, who threw what Kahn calls "the most devastating combination of punches in boxing history," including a left hook that "fractured Jess Willard’s cheekbone in thirteen places" (p. 94). A few second later, Dempsey knocked six teeth out of Willard’s mouth.

Having been down twice, Williard got up only to get knocked down again. When he was down for the seventh time, the referee counted him out. But the round had started late (the opening bell did not sound) and the whistle (the substitute) sounded at seven on the count of ten. One minute later the next round began, and Dempsey was not in the ring. He thought he had won and was on his way to his dressing room.

Willard was on his feet and should have been declared winner because Dempsey was not present at the start of the round. Willard lost because he did not have a manager (he was reportedly too cheap to hire one).

This is not the only fight Dempsey won by losing. He also, on technical grounds, lost his fight with Firpo in 1923. Luis Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring by the Argentine heavyweight (1894-1960).

The Marquis of Queensberry Rules require that a fallen boxer must get up unassisted. Kahn reports that some two dozen people claimed to have helped Dempsey into the ring (p. 346). Firpo did not object and nobody on Firpo's team was paying attention. But Firpo should have been given the victory.

The title of the second part of Kahn's book is "Loser and Still Champion," perhaps the best stroke in the book. Dempsey should have been the loser in his fight with Willard and his fight with Firpo, victories without which he would never have become the legend of Jack Dempsey. Dempsey himself was an old-fashioned fighter, as his two losses to Gene Tunney showed, but his earlier opponents were less skilled than Dempsey and his team were at taking advantage of bizarre circumstances and accidents. Dempsey owed his fame to not one but two such incidents.

The proportions of the book are clear. Before his first professional match in 1914, Dempsey fought in backroom bars in the mining towns of Utah and Nevada. When he could not get fights, he worked as a cowboy and a farmhand (Kahn, pp. 12-13). All this is covered very quickly. Arrangements for the fight with Willard are already the focus in the second chapter (the first is about the culture and the period, not Dempsey). Dempsey was seen as a "romantic figure" before his fight with Willard I in 1919, so the mythology had already taken hold (p. 33).

The problem with this approach is that Dempsey's famous common touch, which Kahn and others emphasize, so often, was the result of his upbringing, about this this book says next to nothing. Dempsey said that "any kid, rich or poor, might go into" boxing, but that "only a poor kid would stay in it, and that would be because he had no other place to go" (Kahn, p. 322). Perhaps that is why the 1920s and 1930s produced many great boxers, including Dempsey himself, who started out poor in rural Colorado and really did have nowhere to go but up. A rare success story, he became both rich and famous and did a better job than most of hanging on to some of his money.

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  Tunes of Glory. 1956; Edinburgh: Canongate, 1988. $7.50

Tunes of Glory must be one of the best first novels of the mid-twentieth century. Published in 1956, Tunes of Glory is better known as the splendid film made from the book in 1960. The film was directed by Ronald Neame, and the screenplay was written by Kennaway himself, who was nominated for an Academy Award for it. (The Oscar went to Richard Brooks for his adaptation of Elmer Gantry, the Sinclair Lewis novel of 1927.)

  Boxing figures into Tunes of Glory, from first to last a military novel, indirectly but powerfully. The novel is about a regiment of Highlanders and Jock Sinclair, their tempestuous Acting Lieutenant-Colonel. He is a central character so powerful and compelling that he appears on nearly every page of the book, usually by name or, if not, by implication. Other characters seem either to be thinking about him or talking about him all the time. Jock Sinclair is very the definition of "commanding presence."

  The subject of boxing comes up first after Jock plays the bagpipes for a young soldier. Jock, who is good at everything, is an accomplished piper. Although he is completely intoxicated, he plays a march and its variations, known as pibroch, so well that he leaves the corporal "dumb with admiration." Jock then offers to teach the corporal and to help him with the pibroch, which is defined "a form of music for the Scottish bagpipes involving elaborate variations on a theme, typically of a martial or funerary character" (Wiki). Both words, "martial" and "funerary," loom large in this book. Jock suggests that they might meet at mid-day the following day. But the corporal says he cannot do so because he will be in the gym boxing (p. 23). Jock sends him on his way, and the corporal goes back to his freezing barracks, thinking of the pibroch in his bed, even though he really wants to think about his girlfriend. He falls asleep and dreams of her, but "her face was transformed, for the Corporal dreamt of his Colonel" (p. 24).

  About 80 pages later this episode acquires new significance. Jock walks into a lounge area in the barracks, carefully groomed and looking his best: "He found his charm again that morning," the narrator says (p. 101). Jock settles in with his drink and talks about his career during the war, during "his glory days." The is a rare topic for Jock, who mostly talks about everything else. While the other men "had all heard about his piping days and his boxing days," few of them had heard him talk about the war (p. 102).

  Kennaway again aligns piping, boxing, and combat a few pages later. Jock is arguing with the Colonel who has been sent to take over Jock's command. The Colonel, unlike Jock an educated gentleman, is looking for some concession, some sign on Jock's part of a willingness to compromise. "But Jock never fought to finish with a handshake," the narrator says. Instead, "he fought to kill" (p. 116). Tirelessly competitive as well as ruthless, Jock is seen by all as a great leader and a great piper who was also, at one time, no doubt also a great boxer.

  Jock is last seen as a boxer near the end of the book. Jock is addressing a roomful of his men. "Like a boxer at the start of another round, Jock moved away from the desk again and stretched himself straight" (p. 169). I can't develop this scene without giving away the ending of Tunes of Glory, and I'm afraid of what Jock's ghost, or Kennaway's, would do to me if I did that. It is enough to note that Jock's address is given the form of "another round" of boxing, a broad hint of the spirit of his words.

  I can expand on briefly on the connection between Jock and the Corporal who boxes. Like Jock, the Corporal is a piper and a boxer, two elements of warrior identity in this book that might well be shared by several others in the regiment. What sets Jock apart, though is that he "never fought to finish with a handshake. He fought to kill." (3/2017)

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Alexander KENT
  Band of Brothers
Kent introduces a boxer for a brief scene in the third book in the series, Band of Brothers, which was published in 2006, well after most of the other Bolitho novels appeared. This boxer is known only as Stiles. He is an ordinary seaman who is younger the others, and is one of a handful of men Bolitho has brought ashore with him. The objective of their small party is to intercept a boat involved in a smuggling operation in the Channel Islands.
More experienced hands speak to Bolitho about the risks of handling the craft and reaching the target ship. Then Stiles speaks up. He is "younger and more aggressive" than the others and is "said to have been a bare-knuckle prizefighter around the markets until he had decided to sign on. In a hurry, it was suggested" (101). This implies that Stiles had some trouble with the law. In reference to dangers of stopping the smugglers, Stiles asks, "Will there be a reward?" Bolitho seems to ignore the question as he mulls over strategy. Then he replies to Stiles sharply, saying "It's our duty!" Bolitho, frequently identified as an idealist, expects the men to laugh at him. "Instead, Stiles replied, 'That'll 'ave to do, then!'" (102).
Kent gets a lot out of this brief exchange. Idealism and greed are the opposing forces of the conflict that the scene will eventually resolve. That's the heart of the conflict between commerce and smuggling. It's the Navy's duty to interfere with the latter. Kent sets up Stiles as a shady character. Violent, young, aggressive, and even greedy, Stiles responds in a way that shows he follows Bolitho's lead.
Bolitho's mission is to stop a ship being used to smuggle arms in support of the revolution building in the American colonies (the year is 1774). "Personal greed" as well as independent spirit could "sustain a rebellion," the narrator comments (no doubt reflecting Bolitho's thoughts). Just because a cause is political does not mean it is without the promise of financial gain, and on both sides.
It turns out to be Stiles who sees the smuggling ship. Kent describes him as the outlook for the crew. "The prizefighter" is "poised high in the bows, one arm flung out," and "outlined against the heaving water." On either side of him is "an endless, pale backdrop of sea and sky" (102). A character who appears only once, Stiles is shown in a heroic pose. Bolitho picked him (and the others) for this dangerous mission. Kent uses Stiles, a proven warrior, to speak for the other sailors in the boat. The hardened young boxer takes up his idealistic young leader's call to duty, the virtue that binds the band of brothers after whom the book is named.

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Alexander KENT
  Stand to Danger
Alexander Kent's series about his fictional hero, Richard Bolitho, comprises thirty volumes. It compares favorably to C. S. Forrester' eleven-book series about Horatio Hornblower. Both authors, like Patrick O'Brian, are immersed in sailing technology, but neither author achieves O'Brian's stratospheric level of detail (see comments on O'Brian's three novels, below).
One of Kent's major figures, Bolitho's shipmate, Stockdale, was a boxer before he became a seaman. Kent introduces Stockdale in Stand into Danger, the fourth book in the Bolitho series, which is set in 1774 (the series begins in 1772 and runs to 1819). In the first chapter, "Welcome Aboard," Bolitho heads up a party on shore to find the men needed to fill the ship's complement of seamen. In theory men could no longer be impressed (captured at gunpoint and forced to work on ships), so the party is looking for volunteers. One of Bolitho's men, Josh Little, who is the gunner's mate, was once a fighter. He leads the party. He has several broken teeth, we learn in aside, "the true mark of a fighter" (p. 20).
Bolitho's group approaches an inn where some men have gathered around a barker and the fighter who earns money for him. The audience disappears when the sailors arrive (fearing capture) and upsetting the barker, who quickly moves to engage a new audience. He is a "small and darting" man, but his fighter is "big and powerful," a man "stripped to the waist, his arms and fists hanging at his sides like weapons waiting to be used" (p. 20). The barker says that anybody who can fight this man for 2 minutes will get a guinea (a machine-struck gold piece originally worth one British pound, more than a seaman could earn in weeks). The boxer bears the marks of many beatings, including a broken nose, and there is "something pathetic and despairing about him" (p. 21).
Bolitho goes into the inn but his men stay behind; from inside he hears shouts and laughter. It turns out that Josh Little knocked the prize fighter down. The barker turns on the fighter with a chain and beats him. Bolitho himself has felt defeated in the past, not welcomed well aboard the ship; unable to find the 20 volunteers his lieutenant wants, he is fed up. He orders the barker to belay the beating and offers the fighter volunteer duty for the King's service. The fighter agrees. He gives his name, Stockdale, roughly, his vocal chords "mangled in so many fights that even his voice was broken" (p. 23).
Bolitho tells Stockdale he can leave any time, before they get to the ship. Stockdale replies "No sir. I'll not leave you. Not now. Not ever." On the way back to the harbor, Stockdale vanishes and nobody is surprised, although Bolitho is disappointed since he was seeing Stockdale as "a change of luck, like a talisman." Then Stockdale returns with a bounty of food and drink that he has bought with his savings. The men feast in a barn, and Stockdale will not take Little's winnings. Stockdale brings a bottle of brandy for Bolitho and becomes a protector who will save his master's hide on many occasions in the thousands of pages to come.

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  Boxing's Ten Commandments: Essential Training for the Sweet Science, with Doug Werner. San Diego: Tracks Publishing, 2007. $12.95

A tight, no-nonsense guide for committed beginners. These authors have published two other books about boxing, Boxer's Start-Up and Fighting Fit, and this book seems to begin where those leave off. Lachica jumps right into stance and rhythm, and talks about footwork, range, the jab, angles, and many other boxing skills. The rules make sense and sound great on paper, but putting them into practice, especially when sparring, is far from easy.
  The book is loaded with photographs showing stages of important boxing moves. The pictures give the boxer a good idea, for example, of what he looks like when he drops his hook and signals his move. Puzzling expressions, such as "keep the hook arm within the frame of the body," quickly become clear. The authors use their last "commandment," which is having a plan, to outline workouts and routines for the highly disciplined boxer and also to spell out the boxer's equipment needs.
  This is a book for a serious boxer. I think that just about anybody who could meet the high expectations of this guide would already know quite a bit of what the authors have to offer. Trainers who don't coach a lot of boxing will find this a very useful source for picking up tips and strategies for their boxers. PR for the book calls it "the real deal," and I agree. If you are really new to boxing, work with their Boxer's Start-Up first.

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  The Last Great Fight: The Extraordinary Tale of Two Men and How One Fight Changed Their Lives Forever. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007.
This book is better than most boxing books at demonstrating the mix of folly and corruption that makes modern boxing what too often seems to be: a carnival side-show, with managers and promoters standing in front of the boxers, who are the freaks on display, and entertaining the crowds who pay to laugh at them.

Joe Layden considers the 1990 match between Mike Tyson and James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo to have been “the last great fight.” Writing some 15 years later, Layden does not explain why there were no more “great fights” after that one. Douglas’s victory over the once-invincible Tyson shook the boxing world, but other fights have been better, as boxing contests, even if they were less surprising.

The book begins and ends with a focus on the decline of both boxers. Tyson’s is the more striking, since he was by far the greater boxer and indeed seems to be in everybody’s list of the top 10 heavyweights. As a man, however, is left much to be desired, as even Tyson himself told Layden with they talked.

It would make sense to think of the 1990 match as “Mike Tyson’s Last Great Fight,” because that is what it was. The book spends only 30 pages on the event itself (ch. 7), but that account is very good. One of the best things in the book occurs in this chapter. Layden describes the subdued spirit of the crowed gathered for the fight and the intensity of the fight itself, taking place in a half-empty arena.

By contrast, the crew broadcasting the match started to see that Douglas was doing far, far better than expected, and the sensed that the fight would be epic. Their manager had to quiet them down and remind them what they were doing in Tokyo. Douglas was in his best shape and Tyson not in shape at all.

However, Tyson eventually landed one great punch , dropped Douglas, and “voided eight rounds of ineffectiveness” (p. 145). The fight seemed to be over. But Douglas got up on the count of nine, came back in the next round, and won his place in boxing history with a right uppercut in round 10.

The match was the last important fight either boxer would have. Douglas’s victory over Tyson was the high point of his career (46 fights, 38 wins, 6 losses), which effectively ended just a few months later, when Douglas lost to Evander Holyfield. Layden writes revealingly about Douglas’s performance in that fight (October 1990). Knocked down, Douglas made no attempt to stand. Instead, he stayed on the canvas for 2 minutes. The referee (Mills Lane) said that Douglas “never tried” to get (p. 193). You can’t recover from a performance like that, and Douglas did not. His time at the top was very brief.

After his loss to Douglas, Tyson made a better showing. He had 20 fights after 1990 and won 13 of them. But there was not much glory to be hand, for most of his opponents were not from the top ranks. At the same time, Tyson’s personal problems multiplied. He lost five fights, and three of them mattered: two to Holyfield (1996, 1997) and one to Lennox Lewis (2002). After that he had three more fights and lost the last two. His career ended in 2005 (58 fights, 50 wins, 6 losses).

Although he was a formidable boxer, Tyson was also a complicated and dangerous man. His personal problems dominate the book, generating what Layden calls “the personal static of his personal life” (p. 239). Tyson served three years of a six-year sentence for rape (1992). He managed to early $400 million in his career and save none of it for his old age. Like other boxers before him (Layden mentions Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and others), Tyson had to enter “a lower circle of entertainment hell” (exhibitions matches especially) to make ends meet (p. 259).

Tyson had no illusions about his accomplishments. He passes into history as a man aware that he threw away many opportunities. His defenders point to the usual crowd of exploitative opportunists dragging the boxer down. But, like Tyson himself, Layden does not deny the boxer’s role in his decline. Layden lists 16 headline-making events between and 1997 and 1999 that chart the boxer’s return to boxing following his rape conviction. He notes that, in addition to being unwilling to train, Tyson refused to follow referees’ orders in the ring (pp. 245-46).

The epilogue is devoted to Douglas, who had a better upbringing than Tyson but who was no more stable than Tyson was. Near the end of the book, Douglas was tring his hand as an entrepreneur, but Layden suggests that the boxer’s dreams won’t go far (pp. 266-67). Layden underscores the personal weaknesses of both men. Tyson was all fight but difficult to discipline. Douglas at times seemed not to care about boxing at all.

One valuable thing about any boxing book is what it can tell the reader about what might be considered background or peripheral topics. You would not expect to read a book about Jack Dempsey without reading about Gene Tunney, for example. In Layden's book, we have to keep track of the worlds of two boxers, not one.

To find this kind of information, the reader needs either an index or an exceptionally good memory. Like a lot of boxing books, Layden's does not include an index. More surprising is the lack of a table of contents; since the book comes from an important publisher, the lack of this basic tool is difficult to understand.

Since the book’s publisher didn’t provide one, I will. Here is a quick look inside The Last Great Fight. These chapter titles are mine, not Layden’s or the publisher’s.

[ Background 1-5. Family histories, boxers’ development ]
1. Background: Buster Douglas 5-18
2. Background: Mike Tyson 19-40
3. Douglas in the 1980s 41-55
4. Tyson in the 1980s 57-76
5. Tyson-Douglas: prelude to the match-up 77-95
[ The fight 6-9 ]
6. Pre-fight: The boxers arrive in Tokyo (Feb. 1990) 97-122
7. Day of the fight 123-51
8. Post-fight 153- 71 (includes International Boxing Federation rules on handling knockdowns)
9. Leaving Tokyo 173-93 Douglas as champion
[ The meaning of Tyson’s loss ]
10. Boxing in a new era 195-211
11. Boxers’ views of Douglas 213-24
12. Rematch unlikely 225-30
13. Tyson’s career after loss to Douglas 231-60
14. Epilogue (Nov. 2005) 261-67
Acknowledgments 269-74
Sources and notes 275-300
Bibliography 301-8

August 2022
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  "The Comedian." Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2000. $25.

This is a novella about Sammy Hogarth, a nationally-famous comedian, and his brother Lester, who is his legal counsel and business manager. A key part of Sammy's televised comic routine is to set up Lester as a clueless bungler, as the butt of his jokes. Sammy is preoccupied with launching a new comedy series. Lester himself has become famous as a result and has to put up with mockery and even cat-calls on the street. Lester is about to lose his girlfriend, who wants him to stand up to his bully-brother. Sammy's program is moving into broader syndication, and Lester insists that his brother make the new start complete by dropping the jokes about his brother. Knowing that he has a good thing going, Sammy flatly refuses.

Al Preston, who narrates the story, is a writer who works for Sammy. He has his own conflicts with the comedian, whom he sees as cruel and heartless. In the opening pages, Preston recalls a boxing match he had with Sammy in O'Reilly's Gym "only yesterday." What at first seems like boyish horsing around turns serious. Sammy belts Al with "a savage right" and keeps going. "'This is for Gleason,'" he sneered, closing in, "'and this is for Berle'" (124). Sammy matches other famous comedians' names--Caesar, Benny, Berle--to short punches to the ribs, as if to punish Al for not making Sammy as famous as these figures are. Al grabs Sammy in a clinch, sidesteps a blow, and then "catches him with everything [he] had, flush on the button" (125). Startled but uninjured, Sammy makes a joke--it turns out to be his stock-in-trade--about Lester, who "'happens to be a salami sandwich'" and could not "'fight his way out of a paper bag'" (125). This bit of humor that brings laughter from the men who are watching the famous entertainer throw punches.

This boxing scene is well-handled. It reveals that both Al and Sammy know how to box. It also shows how easily Sammy can use an event to ridicule Lest. Equally important, it reveals that, unlike Lester, Al is no patsy.

The opening boxing sequence and its stunning recapitulation at the end of the story are both omitted from the marvelous "Playhouse 90" version of the novella (1957). The play was, incredibly, done for live television, and justly regarded as a classic. Given that the telecast was live, it would have been very, very difficult to work a sweaty boxing scene into the opening, not to mention stage the scene at all, most actors being unable to meet the athletic demands of the scene, say nothing of doing so in a single take.

The TV version does not adhere to the ending of the novella, which is discussed below. If you read beyond this point before you read the novella, you will find the ending spoiled, so you are advised to read the novella first. If you intend to see the TV version, the following material won't spoil the ending for you.

[You have been warned. Spoiler material follows.]

Kelly watches Julie, Sammy's wife, who is having an affair with Lester. Kelly has figured this out. To buy his silence, Al offers him cash, which Kelly refuses. Instead he demands the watch that Connie (a secretary who is doing to marry Al) gave to Al. The watch later ends up in Sammy's hands, meaning that he has learned from Kelly about Lester's affair. As Sammy holds the watch, Al notices his bruised knuckles and things, "Kelly, the poor son of a bitch . . . (166). The novella has cleverly avoided a scene between Lester and Sammy, but at the very end Lester walks onto the set on which Sammy is performing one of his celebrated monologues. Sammy smothers his brother in "a welter of blows . . . pummeling the senseless, battered head, finishing it off with a final crack . . ." (175). All this has taken place before a live studio audience and a television audience of millions. As the significance of what he has done dawns on him, Sammy turns and walks off stage, "off all the screens of all the living rooms in the land" (176).

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  Sugar Ray Leonard: The Big Fight; My Life in and out of the Ring. New York: Viking, 2011. $26.95.

Boxers and their co-authors never seem to realize that other boxers have written books just like the one they are writing. Leonard's book is true to form in lots of ways but stands out for its unusually smug and gloating tone. From time to time humility is manufactured to cushion that rare defeat or divorce, but it quickly disappears behind the boasting façade that is the genre's most predictable feature. There's almost nothing to be learned about boxing from this book. Leonard himself is the usual wasteful drugging drunk who sobers up on cue to win his next big fight and prove to himself that he is indeed still a man. Where he might have said something interesting about his performances--e.g., his clowning around that led to Roberto Duran's famous "No mas" conclusion--he fails. "I won't fight with this clown any more" is a lot different from "No more," as if Duran had been taking a beating. He wasn't. A book full of clichés deserves to be remembered with one: Leonard pulls his punches. It's not a tell-all book; it's a tell-a-bit book, smile for the camera, look into the mirror just long enough to tell yourself how wonderful you really, truly are. Nah. Skip this one.

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Graeme KENT
  The Little Book of Boxing. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press, 2009. $15
Potentially a useful book, but the only section that has any organization is the list of bare-knuckle champion (pp. 126-36), which is chronological. The publisher calls this an "unrivalled feast of the sport's drama, excitement and ribaldry," but don't get your hopes up. Finding anything is a challenge, and if you want to go back to the book to check anything, you'd better make your own index.

There is a lot of entertaining information here--if it can be verified, of course; but I seldom have taken the book off the shelf because I know there is no way to find anything in it. The short paragraphs sometimes have headings that indicate the subject has been covered earlier (e.g., "The Great Champions-6" means that 5 others have been discussed). But this is no way to organize a book. My copy was a gift. I'd never recommend that you buy a copy for yourself.

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  At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing. New York: The Library of America, 2011. $35

If you buy just one collection of essays on boxing, buy this one. There are 48 essays covering many eras of boxing in America. Many of the essays can be found in other collections, but this one has unusual range. Very useful are the short introductions the editors give to each entry, since these often contain an assessment of the strengths of the piece that follows and information about the author that has a comfortably "insider" feeling. Books like this are a form of history and are especially valuable in an era in which so much cultural history, including boxing history, is left behind, croweded out, and then forgotten. The collection begins with Jack London's (d. 1916) essay on Jack Johnson and ends with Carlo Rotello's (b. 1964) essay on the end of Larry Holmes's career.

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  The Sweet Science. New York: Ferrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2004. $16
This is a frequently quoted source by a famous New Yorker writer. The phrase "the sweet science" alludes to "the sweet science of bruising," meaning that it takes skill (science) to hit your opponent. It comes from Pierce Egan's essay collection Boxiana (1828; Egan lived 1772-1849).
There's a good introduction to this edition by Robert Anasi, who takes a long view of boxing history very much like that of Liebling himself, and who, again, like Liebling, is a man who knows about boxing because he watched it for many years. These men's view of boxing has just about disappeared. Boxers have overtaken boxing, and media favors boxers more notable for their misbehavior than for their skills in the ring. Liebling's deep knowledge of boxing, however, rests on some assumptions we might want to think about.
To get a sense of Liebling's view, consider a passage that Anasi quotes from Liebling's essay, "The University of Eighth Avenue," found in another essay collection called A Neutral Corner. Liebling writes that boxing is "an art of the people, like making love, and is likely to survive any electronic gadget that peddles razor blades" (Liebling, A Neutral Corner, p. 25). This tart reference to television (electronic gadget) and peddling razor blades (Gillette) is a jab at televised fights that once were part of American's home entertainment. That's a nice phrase, "art of the people," getting to both the skill of boxing and its connection to populism. It is also clever to compare boxing to making love, an analogy that reverberates well below its surface, and is one reason why I am calling my book on my boxing experience "The Boxer's Kiss."
I can't say that I fully subscribe to Liebling's view of boxing, which is partly conditioned by the time in which he wrote, and partly by the things that made him the observer he was. He writes: A fighter's hostilities are not turned inward, like a Sunday tennis player's or a lady M.P.'s. They come out naturally with his sweat, and when his job is done he feels good because he has expressed himself. Chain-of-command types, to whom this is intolerable, try to rationalize their envy by proclaiming solicitude for the fighter's health. (Sweet Science, p. 5) The white-collar idea that Liebling challenges is that boxing is not good for fighters. The boxer's enviable freedom to express himself is said to come at the cost of damage to his well-being. Liebling thinks that white-collar types envy boxers their opportunity to vent. To compensate, they seem to associate boxers' misfortunes (but not their fortunes) with the punishment they take in the ring. This only works to the boxer's disadvantage. When those who are skilled in other arts--the dancer Nijinsky, for example--misbehave, nobody wonders who hit them (i.e., boxing had nothing to do with it), as Liebling observes. When Hemingway won the Nobel prize, Liebling notes, nobody said getting hit in the ring made him a great writer--that is, boxing had nothing to do with his success (Sweet Science, pp. 5-6).
Two things seem amiss here. First, Liebling underestimates or seems to dismiss the danger of the sport. Even in his time, authorities worried about the dangers of the sport. Second, and more important, boxing is not venting.
I would say that it is a fundamental error to claim that the art of boxing is an outlet for "a fighter's hostilities." Angry and uncontrolled boxers are likely to make errors and pay for them. Smart boxers are not emotional boxers. Liebling must have known this. His view that boxing was naturally healthy both physically and emotionally is one I would support. Unfortunately, however, he aligns his views with those who see boxing as an expression of anger, rage, and frustration. If it is a "sweet science," it takes discipline and control, and this too every boxer knows. If you just want to hit something, work the bags. If you want to box, you have to think.
We wonder why so many people fear and loathe boxing. Perhaps we can start with statements like these found in the work one of the sport's most influential writers.

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Mark Kriegel, The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini. New York: Free Press, 2012. $18.50.
A great book that weaves respect for America as it was fifty years ago with the career of an iconic boxer. True, for many readers the heart of this book will be found in the account of Mancini's fight with Duk Koo Kim, the Korean boxer who died of injuries received in this fight in 1982. This is indeed an important moment in boxing history, but it should not overshadow all that distinguishes Mancini's boxing career before that point, or after it. Kriegel's book bravely pairs Mancini's family history with the family history of man who died, and for this reason alone it is a moving and memorable book.

Kriegel does an excellent job of tracing the consequences of this fight for boxing itself. Other boxers had died in nationally-televised matches (see Ron Ross's book on Emile Griffith), and p. 156 in Kriegel's book) but the surviving boxers were not the all-American man that Mancini was thought to exemplify. It became understandably more difficult to find sponsors for televised boxing.

The motif that delivers the most in The Good Son is not life vs. death, however, but father vs. son. It is the story of Mancini, his fighter-father, and the ancestral obligation Mancini felt he owed to his father. After Mancini defeated Jorge Morales on CBS in 1981, the boxer kissed his father on the mouth. Kriegel writes:

This was Saturday afternoon. American sons did not kiss their fathers, much less on the mouth. Unless they were Ray Mancini: "My dad used to tell me, 'You're not a man if you can't kiss your father on the mouth."' (p. 92)The book also has a memorable and very moving conclusion. It is written with love that does not spill over into admiration. This is a rare account of successful boxing in middle-class white America. It is written with respect, enthusiasm, and an insider's love of boxing that comes through on every page. There aren't too many boxing books praised by playwright David Mamet, but this is one, an enviable and merited accolade.

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  Kung Fu Rockstar, with Sonja West. Chicago, 2020. $18.

This is lively, compact, and entertaining book by a Kung Fu master describes his journey through the worlds of martial arts, business, and rock music. Anthony Marquez's message is that hard-won success in one area can lead to success in other areas. You have to believe in yourself and you have to work very hard. But you can do it.

When Marquez was four years old he visited his mother's home in the Philippines. There he saw a Bruce Lee movie, and the boy's love of martial arts was born. Back in Chicago, his older brother helped him find martial arts magazines. Marquez saw a martial arts school not far from his home and persuaded his mother to enroll him. He soon realized that there was more to martial arts than what he was learning there. A kid with a passion, he talked his dad into sending him to a new martial arts home. This one "felt like a kung fu movie," Marquez writes (p. 44). Soon he knew that he would become "a kung fu master" (p. 48).

Dreams, drive, and determination fly off every page. Marquez learned valuable lessons. In this book he passes them on. As he points out, lots of kids know what they want. But they don't understand that it takes countless hours of training and firm discipline to get it. Success requires passion and sacrifice.

Winners have to give up some things. They have to devote weekends to competitions where they test their skills. They have to eat right. They have to learn to lose without losing heart.

However, as Marquez shows, drive and determination have many rewards, especially teamwork and friendship. He has been part of tight-knit communities throughout his career and is both generous and humble in explaining how much he has benefited from them.

Marquez had his big break when he got involved in the video game Mortal Kombat when it was just getting off the ground. He played the character Kung Lao, whom he describes as a kind of Clint Eastwood figure, "a cowboy who stands on his own" (p. 117). This enterprise led to travel and fame and paralleled a triumphant martial arts career that included national championships.

Among the turning points in the author's development were his marriage and the birth of his son, Taylor (pp. 105-7). When he worked as a personal trainer, Marquez brought his son to his training sessions. He established his own gym, began to train fighters, and traded his video-game career for a life in business. His success in martial arts and in business turned out to be stepping stones. As the book's title suggests, Marquez has now pushed into another career. As an aspiring rock star, he is putting the lessons he has learned to new use.

I seldom wish that the books I read were longer. This one is an exception. I would have liked to know more about the processes involved in creating a video game and about the auditions and "the Hollywood game" (p. 147) that the players deal with. Another potential subject is the family life Marquez built around his son and how he coped with divorce and other setbacks.

This book is inspiring, tough-minded, and persuasive. Marquez sums up his points at the end. Dream big. Fight hard. Be prepared for setbacks and defeat. Don’t dwell on mistakes. Always fight harder. It would be difficult to imagine a more inspiring book for fighters in any discipline. Coach Tony's life story is honest, admirable, and motivating.


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  Dan Stuart's Fistic Carnival. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1994. $10 (used).

There are some famous misfires in the historic heavyweight matches that boxing promoters have pursued. One is the fight between Jack Dempsey and Tommy Gibbons in Shelby, Montana, in 1923, which was a financial and pugilistic failure.
Leo N. Miletich's book tells the much longer story of another match that seemed doomed to fail, the contest between Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons, his Australian challenger. This was a fight that took two years to happen (from 1895 to 1897).
The book traces promoter Dan Stuart's efforts to get the fight staged in Texas, where he was repeatedly outsmarted and out-maneuvered by public officials and attacked by religious leaders. He did no better in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the law again intervened to prohibit the match, which finally happened in Carson City, Nevada.
Miletich did a heroic job of tracking down the heap of details surrounding each effort to get the fight outlawed, prohibited, and moved. This narrative, set forth clearly and economically, becomes a partial history of boxing as it was seen by the law; by government; by the religious establishment; and by the general public—all of it bad.
You can get another view of the chaos of the boxing world from the various autobiographies co-written by Jack Dempsey (reviewed here), each one detailing the boxer's pursuit of his career as he crossed the West, riding on the open under-carriages of freight cars, and hoping that his manager could line up the fights that would lead to a shot at the heavy-weight title (which, against considerable odds, actually did happen). This was the impoverished and dangerous world of the fighters whose matches were thwarted by the righteous and the saved.
Miletich plants a lot of good information, both details about matches and negotiations and broader information about the country at the time. For example, while commenting on the enormous attention the press gave to disputes about the fight and when and were it might beheld, Miletich spends a few pages referring to what else was going on in the world—wars, revolutions, lynchings (pp. 85-88).
Miletich ends where I would not have ended, with a summary of bitter modern denunciations of boxing, including Joyce Carol Oates's description of boxing as "publicly condoned sadism" (1992; p. 210). Too bad! All Miletich can say to her and to others who denounce boxing is that it is impossible to legislate morality and that "the mystique lives on" (p. 211). There is more to the heavy-weight title than mystique and there is more to the sport of boxing that sadism, as Oates ought to know and, in my view, as Miletich should have said.
This is a very good book for boxing enthusiasts, especially rewarding for those curious about the history of the sport in the U.S. in the last 150 years.
September 2020

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  Going the Distance. Champaign, IL: Sport Publishing, 2000. $22.95.
Written with Marshall Terrill and Mike Fitzgerald.
Ken Norton's entry into the world of boxing greats came in the middle of his 50-fight career when, in March 1973 he defeated Muhammad Ali and won the heavyweight title. He is one of two boxers to have defeated Ali in his prime. Norton lost the title to Ali later in 1973, and lost to him again in 1976 in a much-disputed decision. His other significant loss was to Larry Holmes in 1978. Norton retired in 1981 with a record of 42-7-1. He was born in 1943 and died in 2013.

Going the Distance is a modest book about a modest boxer. Unlike many of his contemporaries, but like Ali in this, Norton had a middle-class upbringing with real family support. One thing that stands out in the discussion of his childhood is Norton's awareness that he owed debts to two fathers, his biological father, George Florence, who did not marry his mother but lived near her, and his father by marriage, John Norton, who raised him. Norton says that he acquired his athletic ability from his biological father and his discipline from the man who helped his mother raise him. It was this second father who was the first one to deck Norton. In the ninth grade he challenged his father to a fistfight and took it on the chin (p. 11). Fatherhood is a theme of the book. Norton's own children comment on him as a father. Norton himself was twice recognized as "Father of the Year" by organizations in Los Angeles.

Norton found his boxing career by dropping out of college and enlisting in the Marine Corps. He did well enough--he could send and receive 500 words a minute in Morse Code, having been trained as a radioman--but he tired of the discipline (this is another theme in the book). He found out that Marines who played football or boxed could follow a lighter daily routine. He got on the football team at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, but quickly got into a dispute with a white officer. Before that dispute was even a few hours old, Norton had decided to take up boxing. He modestly describes himself as "every boxing trainer's dream: a coachable heavyweight prospect with tons of athletic ability" (p. 30). His one reservation was his pretty face. In an aside, he tells Ali that "I was the one who eventually starred in a handful of movies," a category in which Norton considered himself an unqualified winner (p. 30).

These early chapters are among the most engaging. They are unfamiliar and atypical of boxers I have read about. The chapters on the big fights are all good, with Norton recalling just about every punch and every phase of the fight. His account of the traffic accident that nearly killed him and cost him years of physical and mental therapy. He was motivated to recover in part by his anger at being seen as handicapped (see p. 179, for example).

The story of his comeback from this experience recalls George Foreman's autobiography (also reviewed on this page), but the two boxers' life stories have little in common. Norton's comments on Foreman and Larry Holmes (pp. 205-6) are memorable. Also sobering is Norton's account of his split from his son, Ken, Jr., as the latter's football career took off (pp. 182-201). This is a quiet, honest, memorable book, a long look at a boxer who, like Floyd Patterson, never thought he was better than he was.

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William P. McGIVERN
  The Big Heat. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1952.
Boxing plays a slight role in this detective mystery but a satisfying one. Writing in an age in which author could assume a certain familiarity with sports, McGivern uses boxing to give his male characters authority and to reflect their self-defense skills. On the novel's first page, two detectives are playing cards and a third is handling the phone. One of the card players is described as having "tired, sagging features and thinning hair." The other is "a big man with the roughed-up features of a preliminary fighter" (p. 9).

The detectives discuss a Negro who is "young and solidly built" and who has been picked up on suspicion of murder by Burke, "a tall, well-groomed man with a long, intelligent face" (p. 9). These details acquire meaning when Bannion, the hero, walks into the room, "inches taller" than Burke, who is the tallest man in the room. Bannion's "two hundred and thirty pounds" are evenly distributed "upon a huge, rangy frame" (p. 11). Bannion's size matters because he takes a protective view of the unfortunate suspect (who is twice described as "solidly built" on the first page). When Burke suggests that he could get a confession out of the suspect "in ten little minutes," Bannion says "there won't be any of that stuff on my shift." Burke backs off. It is clear that these men are comfortable using their fists.

Bannion's prowess is on view later, in a mob boss's office. The mobster's bodyguard, George, attempts to throw the detective out. George approaches Bannion like a fighter, watching him "carefully, thoughtfully." "All right, big boy," George says. Then "he feinted for Bannion's stomach with his left" and threw his right to Bannion's jaw. Bannion "picked the punch off with his left hand" and slapped George across the face with all his power, "a terrible blow" that "sounded like a pistol shot." George is down, if not for the count. The mob boss orders George to get up and fight, but his jaw appears to be broken. "I'm not getting up," George says (p. 72).

McGivern uses ring-based boxing skills to create menacing police officers. Bannion is no "preliminary fighter" or "opponent." A detective who defends the weak and who unravels the coverup to which the novels' title refers, he is a prize fighter in every sense.

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Bertram Millhauser and Beulah Marie Dix
  Hot Leather (The Life of Jimmy Dolan). 1938; New York: Bantam, 1948.
A good and very old-fashioned novel, republished by Bantam as an inexpensive paperback ten years after it appeared under another title (given in parentheses above). A gritty look at boxing culture in New York is followed by a redeeming view of the same culture in California--the boxer as criminal, vs. the boxer as savior. It's a clever blend of noir elements with sentiments not out of place in a Hallmark greeting card.

A party celebrating the new champ's victory gets overheated, and the champ, sold out by a couple of friends, goes on the lam. Years pass, during which the boxer successfully escapes New York and starts a new life in California taking care of children with polio. Jimmy (known as Joe in California) is a hardened cynic, but at the children's home a hardened grandmother, her charming granddaughter, and a handful of kids with faith in their boxing hero chip away at this granite image with predictable but gratifying results.

The book was made into a movie the year after it appeared. The screenplay, by the novels' authors and others, stays close to the book but makes some effective twists). The film is called "They Made Me a Criminal," and stars John Garfield and Claude Rains, directed by Busby Berkeley. The film is a a grand period piece, as is the book, and it has good boxing sequences. Reading the book won't spoil the movie, and seeing the movie won't spoil the book. You can't say that often. I recommend both.

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Walter Dean MYERS: Muhammad ALI
  Walter Dean Myers, The Greatest. New York: Scholastic, 2001. $5.50.  

Writing about Muhammad Ali tends to be hyperbolic. Sportswriters seem to find the boxer's narcissism to be contagious. Myers writes about the Ali "who touched me," the "seeker of justice" and the champ who defied the odds. This is the standard gloss on Ali's life. One gets the feeling that it's obligatory, the way admiration for the Kennedy family was once obligatory. But as we have seen in the cases of JFK and RFK, the wheels turn. Myers says, in the preface, that he has "loved" Ali (who was still alive when Myers wrote; Ali died in 2016). To his credit, the writer is candid about Ali's weaknesses.

Myers' view of boxing itself is disappointing. He believes that professional boxers are by definition men who "bring rage to the ring" (17). He reinforces the stereotype of the angry young man who seizes on violence in the ring as an expression of revenge against the social injustices of his upbringing. Myers points out that Ali had a near-middle-class upbringing in a loving home and that the boxer was radicalized by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam early in his career, not radicalized by the circumstances of his early years. Ali is a poor example of the enraged boxer, a cliché that fits others (Duran, Tyson) much better.

Many great boxers have boxed without rage. Boxers who bring their emotions into the ring are not always the best fighters. It is time to reconsider, if not to retire, this boxing cliché. It certainly does not fit Ali. Nor does it help that those who associate great boxing with rage can't seem to distinguish between a fierce competitive instinct, the desire to be best, from rage, which, last time I looked, is defined as "violent, uncontrollable anger." The key word is uncontrollable. Great boxing requires great control. Emile Griffith hitting a defenseless Benn Paret nearly thirty times in a few seconds, that's uncontrollable rage, not competitive instinct.

In setting up his argument about rage, Myers points out the difference between amateur boxing, in which points are scored for punches landed and in which knockouts are rare, and professional boxing, which is about power, not contact, and in which the KO that ends the fight early is the goal. Many people don't make this distinction, even though most boxers are amateurs, not professionals. Rage is rare in amateur fights, and I don't think, weigh-in trash talk aside, it is that common in pro boxing, either.

Myers' books is informative. The photographs are excellent. The book's heroic interpretation of the boxer (that's what happens when a biographer "has loved" his subject) does not preclude some candor, although the hero worship is thick. Myers notes that Ali's celebrated and very dangerous "rope-a-dope" strategy (leaning back on the ropes and taking punches, waiting for the opponent to tire) was "born more out of necessity than wisdom" (p. 144). On this topic, the key to Ali's deadly weakness later in his career, be sure to read Jonathan Eig's 2017 biography of Ali. Eig notes that the boxer's chief defense technique was running or "floating," which takes a lot of energy. Eig also points out that Ali never learned good, basic defensive techniques.

When he got to the training camp run by the great Archie Moore in 1960, Ali had already had a taste of the fame awaiting him. He left the camp soon, having never mastered any of the defensive techniques that made "The Mongoose" (Moore's handle, also "The Old Mongoose"; see the Wikipedia article on Moore) a brilliant success in the ring. Two years later, at age 46, Moore unwisely fought Ali (he took the fight for financial reasons, Moore said) and was knocked out in the 4th round; Ali was 20.

Moore was right to predict that, as he aged, Ali would not be able to maintain the speed that was his chief defense in the ring. Eight years after he defeated Moore, Ali was already past his prime. In reference to Ali's decline, Myers does a good job of covering Ali's retirement. All boxing fans will take note of Myers' concerns about pugilistic dementia even if we don't agree that boxing is "the cruelest of sports" (pp. x-xi). Myers says that Ali's skill evolved and ended up as "raw courage" (p. 143). But courage is not a style: it is an element essential to any good boxer, not a way of doing things. There are other words for the behavior of a boxer who continued to fight far past his prime. One of those words is desperation.

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Joyce Carol OATES
On Boxing. New York: Dolphin / Doubleday, 1987. $14.99
Not your typical boxing writer, not your typical boxing book. Oates went to Golden Gloves fights with her father in Buffalo in the 1950s. Some three decades later she collected her essay about boxing, which Jeff Silverman calls "passionate, eloquent and learned," all of which praise many others echo. Her work, he says, goes "beyond the surface of sport to explore 'The Sweet Science' as metaphor, madness, spectacle, and history" (The Greatest Boxing Stories, p. 7).
Oates's work is not for everybody, and although I too find it eloquent, I also find it overwrought. She writes, for example: To the untrained eye most boxing matches appear not merely savage but mad. As the eye becomes trained, however, the spectator begins to see the complex patterns that underlie the "madness;" what seems to be merely confusing action is understood to be coherent and intelligent, frequently inspired. Even the spectator who dislikes violence in principle can come to admire highly skillful boxing--to admire it beyond all "sane" proportions. A brilliant boxing match, quicksilver in its motions, transpiring far more rapidly than the mind can absorb, can have the power that Emily Dickinson attributed to great poetry: you know it's great when it takes the top of your head off. (The physical imagery Dickinson employs is peculiarly apt in this context.) I don't think the poet's observation is apt, myself. Nobody loses the top of his head in boxing. It's not swordplay. Losing your head, maybe, is saying that we can admire boxing "beyond all 'sane' proportions." What proportions would those be?
For Oates, the "early impression--that boxing is 'mad,' or mimics the actions of madness" has validity. She thinks that the impression "simply sinks beneath the threshold of consciousness, as the most terrifying and heartrending of our lives' experiences sink beneath the level of consciousness by way of familiarity or deliberate suppression." She adds, "All boxing fans, however accustomed to the sport, however many decades have been invested in their obsession, know that boxing is sheerly madness, for all its occasional beauty. That knowledge is our common bond and sometimes--dare it be uttered?--our common shame" (pp. 101-2).
Maybe it is the function of great writing to show us sides to our own thoughts that had not occurred to us, but I keep finding my admiration for this writer's intelligence qualified by the hollowness and exaggeration of assertions like this one about "all boxing fans" knowing that boxing is "sheerly madness" (whatever that is). Madness, dreams, and memory are, for Oates, big bowls of clear water into which she dribbles boxing facts and anectodes, as if they were drops of color. We watch as the color spreads, takes form, changes, and creates a pattern in the bowl. It becomes its own thing, far removed from boxing and the ring.
Admirable writing, yes, and beautiful in places. But I'm more interested in the anecdotes and facts, and less interested in the forms they take once this wizzard drops them into the water and describes them as they swim through her consciousness.

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John E. ODEN
White Collar Boxing: One Man's Journey from the Office to the Ring. New York: Hatherleigh Press, 2005. $15.
No ordinary boxing book, White Collar Boxing comes with 24 enthusiastic blurbs from everybody from Jake LaMotta to Don King.

Oden writes about white-collar boxers, a little-known category of "regular guys," as he calls them, men who love boxing and see it as a form of having fun (p. 9). Don't expect to find that Oden himself is a "regular guy." He is a high-flying Wall Street hedge fund manager with an apartment on Central Park and a long list of well-placed connections to various Manhattan centers of power, boxing power and otherwise.

Among Oden's topics are the rounds he sparred with Hillary Swank when she was getting ready for "Million Dollar Baby." When you spar your rounds with her, drop me a line. Oden is more like George Plimpton, another celebrity who has boxed, than a regular guy. Oden really is a boxer, however; if not quite one of a kind, he is in rarified company.

All that said (and I am just scratching the surface of his distinguished history here), Oden comes across a very likable as well as very successful. He has a great take on boxing. He presents White Collar Boxing (WCB) as the best option for those who, like him, start boxing later in life, at a point at which they are settled in professional life but want a real taste of boxing.

White collar boxing is non-professional and non-amateur. WCB fights take the form of three two-minute rounds in which no winner or loser is declared. WCB, which started in New York in 1988, puts into practice the view of Bruce Silverglade, "the godfather" of WCB, that boxing is "50 percent mental, 40 percent conditioning, and 10 percent ability" (p. 10).

Those proportions show that WCB is designed for those who have not trained in the sport from an early age. White-collar boxers have already succeeded at something (i.e., their work) and don't face the mental challenge of proving that they can do something well. That's a big part of the 50%. Just about anybody can improve his physical conditioning with the right kinds of coaching, and that's a big part of the 40%. Technique is important, but lots of coaches will tell you that beginners leave most of what their coaches tell them outside the ring once the fight starts. After a few fights, the proportions shift; the mental becomes less important (experience builds confidence), and drawing on learned experience (technique) becomes easier.

I like the sound of "white collar" boxing, but there is no reason why "blue collar" boxing can't accomplish the same goals for men in the building trades, or bus drivers, or any other profession that is not "white collar." Any form of non-pro boxing that is also non-amateur takes time and money but--above all--the desire to get into the ring and experience the one-on-one competition that is boxing.

Oden is not only a boxer but a real fan of boxing, not of famous boxers. He calls boxing "the quintessential sport, the sport to which all other sports should aspire." For him the sport highlights the "moment of truth," the moment when two competitors face each other with no team or relief to step in for them (p. 12).

The second chapter gives a thumb-nail sketch of boxing from the ancient Sumerians (that is, Iraq as it was about five thousand years ago) to the present. There is not much to tell in the Christian era until the end of the seventeenth century in England, when rapid development beings. Writing in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Pierce Egan coined the phrase "the sweet science of bruising," to describe the sport (p. 18). Almost alone among commentators who refer to this familiar phrase, Oden points out that "sweet" in this context means "winning and persuasive," and that "science" means "skill." That's the kind of observation that speaks to the writer's originality and to the depth of his knowledge; he isn't just recycling what everybody else has said, in part because he isn't doing what so many others have done.

As to what makes boxing a "persuasive skill," Oden says that depends on great boxers who "exude style and grace," boxers whose "agility and skill" put the best possible face on the sport and what those who engage in it can demonstrate (pp. 19-20). This is a marvelous argument that emphasizes boxing technique, not boxers' strength, as the sport's main attraction.

It would seem that Oden saved every piece of paper that anybody who was somebody, and who was connected to boxing, sent him. He quotes these communications often. One of my few questions when I finished this readable and enjoyable book was exactly how much time Oden had for moving millions around in his working life. He also helps others organize fundraisers around WCB matches, a nice linking of his areas of expertise.

Oden's training schedule is impressive. When he has a fight coming up, he frequently trains 7 days a week, and often twice a day. "My trainer is with me for these boxing workouts," he writes, "and we speak on the phone constantly in between training sessions" (p. 180). That's a lot of time, and a lot of phone calls between training sessions. I have admired all my boxing coaches and have loved a couple of them, but I have never been able to work out twice a day with any of them, and none of them, I am pretty sure, would want to be on the phone to me constantly, or even once a day. Oden didn't really make a journey from the office to the ring, I would say, so much as he did everything in his considerable power to bring the ring as close as possible to the office.

His intensity is more than a sign of Oden's dedication to performing well in the ring. This is a man with a mission. Having climbed to the peak of his profession, Oden, like Alexander, had to find new worlds to conquer. Unlike Alexander, Oden found boxing. You can never get too good at boxing.

Unlike some of the books reviewed here, this book is good for boxing. Every boxer who reads it will be inspired as well as impressed by Oden's candor as he spells out why boxers love to box.

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Walter J. Ong
  Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981, repr. 2013. $15.
Walter J. Ong's remarkable and important book is about contest and its meaning for men. Ong has formidable status in twentieth-century intellectual life, with a string of powerful books exploring the relationship of the word as sound to the word as visual object. Given his importance, this book received surprisingly little attention. In 2021 its insights and arguments seem new. Ong discusses the connections of agonistic (conflict-based) drives, sports teams in academia, and differences between men and women as sports spectators (pp. 152-58). He views today's statistics-armed male viewer skepticaly. "No earlier oral-agonistic age could have produced this abstract [i.e., numbers-based] half-involvement with the agonia in the arena," Ong writes. "You need a writing-and-print world to bring about this effect and a computer world to mature it." Little did he imagine what "the computer world" would become. "Historically," he observes, "the agonistic, masculinizing era has given way to one of greater femininity" (p. 158). And that was his view in 1981.

Boxing is mentioned only once, in a section that relates the sport to "vicarious modes of combat" (p. 94). Ong observes that "prizefighting seems to be a variant of vicarious male ceremonial combat." This combat is seen as ritualized because the contestants do not seek to kill each other but rather to establish a hierarchy of victor and defeated. The contest is vicarious because it is undertaken for the benefit of spectators who get their thrill from identifying with the contestant without "the risk-taking of the boxers" (p. 94). Every day men who spar in boxing gyms offer that thrill to onlookers.

Ong is one of the twentieth-century's great authorities on Renaissance logic and rhetoric, and these topics feature prominently in a book about contest and competition and their intellectual environments. Contest and competition are intrinsic to the academy, he notes. The word "contest" takes its meaning from the Greek agon, an assembly that gathered in order to struggle, i.e., debate and decide (pp. 43-44). Ong links the decline of Latin in education and government to changes in argumentation and its place in schools. The decline of agonistic thought relates to changes in teaching method and to the role of speech in the classroom (pp. 134-44). This is a masterful and brief overview of the history of polemic in education.

Fighting as fighting underlies these broad arguments about language and speech. The book offers a superb combination of sports psychology and physiology and so crosses many disciplines. I first saw reference to Ong’s work in Jonathan Gottschall's excellent book on MMA, The Professor in the Cage. Gottschall comments that "the qualities of traditional masculinity—bravery, toughness, stoicism—have less and less of a place in today’s society, leading some commentators to prophesy 'the end of men.'" But "men still need to feel like men" Gottschall writes, so they take risks and fight (p. 82). He refers to Ong's book to explain the origins of this feeling.

Ong establishes why fighting is important to men. From the first, in Ong's view, the male has to fight to be male. The male embryo, at an early stage of development, has to manufacture its own testosterone from its own gonads. It must do so "to produce masculinity" and to ward off "circulating maternal hormones" that help the female embryo but not the male (p. 64, Ong quoting Judith M. Bardwick's book, Psychology of Women). "The stress situation for the male, begun in the womb, comes to a peak in the mature male with sexual intercourse," Ong writes; sex is a "test of the male's, not the female's, physical ability to perform" (p. 67).

Men start fighting in the womb, and men's tendency to argue, kid, and provoke continues this life-long struggle. Men's inescapable stress and sense of conflict surface in humor and boisterousness as well as fighting. This potentially-disruptive behavior, Ong writes, is "sexually determined": male hormones produce combative behavior (p. 52). Men are risk-takers. The strongest males in the animal kingdom breed the most offspring and have the greatest influence on the gene pool, using their strength to fight off other males. In the animal world, "almost all females have offpring, almost all males do not" (p. 56).

Ong discusses men's relationships, which sometimes sound much like boxers' relationships. "The male values a companion whom he can stand up against and who can stand up against him," Ong writes, so that "each receives assurance from the other's decently adversative stance." Men need each other but men also keep their friends "at arm’s length—an admiring arm's length." This distance, in a group of men, creates "a kind of diffuse communal narcissism." That's a great phrase, hinting at the respect athletes have for each other and pointing to the recognition that, every athlete knows, has to be earned. Men and women differ in their understanding of rough comradeship, Ong points out. Women see agonstic, combative behavior as "truly hostile in intent." Men understand it as "intense friendly aggression," something, Ong says, that is "foreign to most women’s experience" (p. 81).

"Intense friendly aggression" is what I experience every time I spar my patient and skillful boxing coach. If we didn't want to fight, we would not spar. We understand the violence of boxing and we embrace its creative potential. Boxing builds friendship and brotherhood. Every boxer who gives his best knows that, from round to round, he and his opponent experience joy that goes beyond the thrill of a contest: it is the thrill of a fight. If you don't box, you don't know what that means, and I feel sorry for you.

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Gary Andrew POOLE: Manny PACQUIAO
  Gary Andrew Poole, PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao. Cambridge, MA: DaCapo Press, 2010 [2011]. $15.
There are many admiring books about boxers on this page. Poole's book is a fan's book with a difference.
Most boxing books are written after the star boxer has given up the ring. At that point his achievement can be assessed from a safe distance. By contrast, PacMan is a "behind the scenes" book. Most of it looks ahead, not back. It ends with an account of Pacquiao's win over Joshua Clottey in 2010, his election to the Philippine Congress in his home province of Sarangani, and the drawn-out negotiations the led up to his fight with Floyd Mayweather.
Poole tells Manny Pacquiao's story from his youth, spent in the abject poverty of the southern Philippines, to his discovery as a boxer and his arrival in Los Angeles. Readers get a close-up view of the period during which the boxer's star began to shine. Poole added the last chapter (or epilogue) a year after the book was published. It offers a more pessimistic view of the boxer, as both fighter and politician than the rest of this mostly up-beat book.
The first part of PacMan is about talent, daring, and great ambition. It develops Poole's thesis that the best boxers come from the worst circumstances. But as Pacquiao's career blooms, we soon start to see familiar signs of over-reach. The boxer is involved in too many things, has too many aides, and wastes money. On the boxing side, this part of the book is strong. There are good fight narratives, and Poole relates insights into ring strategy that he picked up from Pacquiao's trainers. Poole writes about trainer Freddy Roach and gives a memorable account of Pacquiao's first few minutes with the man who would shape his fighting style. Poole himself tallied punches at some of the boxer's fights, a level of expertise not every boxing writer can claim.
During much of the early period, Pacquiao is on the rise. He has tremendous appeal, owing in part to his boxing performance and in part to his role as a voice for the poor. But soon the boxing takes second place to politics, stardom, and other distractions. Poole builds up to the extended on-again, off-again matchup between Pacquiao and Mayweather. We all know how that turned out.
As either politician or as boxer, Pacquiao is no longer a magical figure. He lost the WBO welterweight title to Mayweather in May 2015. He regained it with a unanimous decision over Jessie Vargas in 2016. Then he lost it to Jeff Horn in 2017, again in a unanimous decision. Now it is the rematch with Horn that is the melodrama of on-again and off-again.
Pacquiao is going to be 40 in 2019, and his boxing career, with or without a rematch with Horn in 2018, is all but over. As for politics, Poole points out in his epilogue that Pacquiao was poorly prepared to step into the political spotlight once he was elected congressman. To judge from many accounts, he has been anything but a star politician.
The claim at the heart of PacMan is that Pacquiao's impoverished early life is what explains his greatness as a boxer and is the key to the iron discipline he displayed in training for his fights. Pacquiao was gifted with exceptional speed and power and made the most of these strengths in the ring. But Poole believes in the link between poverty and boxing greatness. Poole observes that the greatest Mexican boxers have come from that country's poorest areas, and he suggests the same for Pacquiao:

Given its historically dire economic state, Mexico has created some of the best and most numerous champions [i.e., Mexico has created numerous champions who rank among the best boxers]. . . . Not only did these fighters have ring bravery to match Pacquiao's nearly suicidal aggression, but they were technicians par excellence. (pp.117-18)
Developing his thesis about boxing and poverty, Poole writes, "Boxers overcome so much to become the conqueror. That experience can wipe away a lot of injustice and is more fulfilling than money--and more pure than politics" (p. 278).

I admire Poole's confidence and his optimism, but I don't think his epilogue supports his conclusion. It is hard to see in Pacquiao behavior, in the ring or outside it, the anger and rage that marks other boxers known to have impoverished early histories. Pacquiao is often described as smiling before his fights, and he is unusually humble and polite in his conversations with journalists, fans, and others.

(More about this book)

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  Alan H. Levy, Floyd Patterson: A Boxer and a Gentleman. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008. $15.

Many boxers are admired for their success in the ring, not for who they were as men. Books and essays tend to make the opposite point about Floyd Patterson. He was an unusually kind and considerate man, a "sensitive male" before his time, but he was seldom a great performer in the ring. Levy's book, published in 2008 (Patterson died in 2006), was the first biography of the boxer. In this highly satisfying and rewarding work, Levy, a social historian and skillful narrator, digs into the puzzling contradictions that make Patterson a boxer unlike any other.
In some ways, Patterson's life fits a pattern that writers are all too likely to see in boxers. We see the boxer growing up in dire poverty and learn about his youthful skirmishes with the law and his time in an institution. Then the young man discovers boxing as a way to earn money and subsequently realizes that self-respect comes with victory in the ring. The boxer triumphs, but ups and downs mark his career. Inevitably there is a slow decline for both the boxer and the healthy man he was.
In others ways, Patterson's life story resists those traits. Few boxers who grew up in poverty blamed themselves for the family's living conditions and, to compensate, hid in a subway tunnel to minimize their impact on their home. Few boxers converted to Catholicism and made Christian charity a key feature of their public conduct. He took an unpopular stand on civil rights when doing so was dangerous to life and limb.
The ups and downs of his Patterson's boxing career are striking. When he beat Archie Moore for the crown in 1956, he became the youngest heavyweight champion in the world. He lost the title to Ingemar Johannson in 1959 and then regained it in 1961, another first. Those were the peaks.
The valleys were more numerous. They include two devastating losses to Sonny Liston, in some ways Patterson's evil twin, and two losses to Muhammad Ali, who shamed and belittled Patterson until Ali felt secure patronizing him. Just as Ali, late in his career, was declared the winner of fights most observers believe he lost, Patterson lost fights that most believers believe he won.
Sometimes Patterson sounds like the boxer we expect him to be. "We're a strange breed," he says at one point, "we are men who make our living with our fists" (33). But he often acted like a different kind of man altogether, as when he picked up the mouthpiece he knocked out of his opponent's mouth in a fight (32).
His behavior and sometimes his statements created doubts about how great a champion Patterson actually was. He was harmed by the devious strategies of his manager and would-be savior, Cus D'Amato, who devised ways to profit not only from Patterson's winnings but from those of Patterson's opponents. D'Amato lined up a long string of mediocre fighters for Patterson, a ploy that eventually created doubts about the champ's ability to defend his title.
Levy shows how Patterson's importance was further diminished by both Tyson and Ali. The "gentlemanly, soft-spoken champion" (68) quickly became an anachronism. The bold sexual and anti-social behavior of the younger boxers captured the imagination of the media.
Patterson is said to have had "the instincts of a fighter and the compassion of a priest" (253; see Heinz, Top of His Game, 310-11), as if this explains the puzzle of this boxer. It does not. Patterson had too few of the instincts of a fighter, some of the foremost of being self-respect, confidence, and a belief in the sanctioned use of power, which boxing demands. It's true that compassion is the hallmark of a good priest, but a good cleric also knows that he has to fight for what he believes in and to stand up for himself.
Patterson seems never to have used the spiritual resources available to him to explore the psychic damage of his youth or to grasp clearly his right to a happy life. He learned to fly an airplane, a dangerous and adventurous thing to do, but he was unable to be firm with junior-high students who disrespected his daughter, even after flying his own plane from his training camp to his home to defend the little girl (164-65). A boxer-pilot who could not stand up to teen-agers who bullied his daughter: meet Floyd Patterson. There is no doubting his talent, but talent in the absence of the will to use it creatively and constructively is no blessing.
Levy is an attentive social history and a good observer of boxing, a sport for which he has an obvious affection. In his introduction, he writes, "Actors, musicians, stars of other sports and other such for example, have often commented on their attraction to boxing as an embodiment of a most stark version of what they do." He also quotes Joyce Carol Oates's comment that "boxing is life and hardly a mere game" (6).
I would say that Patterson failed to grasp the opposite point. It's not that boxing is life but that life is boxing. Success in life requires offense as well as defense, determination, self-preservation, and a self-respect. Patterson seems to have made the same mistakes in life as he made in boxing. Neither was "a mere game." He had the talent and skill, but not the confidence, to do better at both.

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  W. K. Stratton, Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing's Invisible Champion. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2012.
This book appeared in 2012, the second biography of Floyd Patterson to appear in the short interval of four years. Alan K. Levy's biography (reviewed above) came out in 2008. The two works discuss many of the same events, including the boxer's boyhood and his fight history. There is little to separate their views on these matters, or their approach to this perplexing, renowned figure, and the social significance of his place in the history of American boxing. Given the proximity of these books, it's disappointing that Stratton did not underline some of his differences with Levy. Some response to the earlier biography (apparently the first for Patterson) would have helped readers get more out of both books. The book is slightly less admiring of its chief subject than Levy's.
If it were a competition, I would give Stratton's book the advantage. He takes a wider view of Patterson's world and offers more about the boxing scene in Patterson's time. He is especially pointed about the boxer's ties to Cus D'Amato.
Neither book has anything good do say about D'Amato, a legendary boxing manager. He is sometimes thought to have rescued lost young men and helped them find themselves as boxers. But D'Amato was devious at best. As Stratton shows, he exploited Patterson and cheated him. At one point he managed one of Patterson's opponents, a British boxer named Brian London, and Patterson in the same fight (90-91). Patterson did well to put distance between himself and this dangerous man, but not before D'Amato had inflicted permanent damage on Patterson's reputation, refusing to get him the kinds of matches that would have established his claim to the heavyweight title.
Stratton is well-connected to the boxing world and used his ties to dig deeply into the Patterson archives. In the acknowledgments he describes the extensive sources available to him, which also tell the story of Patterson's legacy as boxing writers have shaped it.
It might seem odd to praise a book for its index, but Stratton's index is a marvelous tool, very detailed and revealing. By consulting the entries under "Patterson, Floyd," the reader can get an excellent idea of the scope of the book's coverage. As I recall, there is an entry on the boxer's fear of flying, but there's no discussion of how he overcame this fear and learned to fly his own plane, a considerable achievement for a man so burdened with doubts about himself.
The book is enriched by many side-glances at other black boxers, especially Jack Jackson and Joe Lewis, both of them important to Patterson. Stratton also has a lot to say about Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali, boxers Patterson lost to in more ways than one. This book does a great job of positioning Patterson, a man of many contradictory impulses, between the old and the new in the twentieth-century history of American boxing.

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Shadow Box: An Amateur in the Ring. Guilford, CT: Lyons, 1977. $6.79
Plimpton's account of his 3 rounds with Archie Moore is the best part of the book, which ends with a very long and uneven set of chapters on the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire in 1974. There are memorable glimpses of Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway as boxers, and a highly entertaining chapter on Ali's lunch with the poet Marianne Moore, an account that is worth the full price of the book. Plimpton arranged for the boxer to meet her at tea, and Ali brought along a photographer to record their efforts to write a poem together. When they posed, Ali said to her, "We've got to show you thinking, Mrs. Moore. How you show you're thinking hard is to point your finger into the middle of your head" (p. 119). She complied.
Plimpton himself was not much in gloves, but I give him a lot of credit for throwing himself into the boxing world. He belonged to a lot of other worlds, that's for sure. How many people could start a sentence with "One thing that Ernest Hemingway had always told me was that . . ." (p. 66)? Not many.
The book is called Shadow Box. A shadow box is what Plimpton created. His essays are meant to be seen as objects presented in a thematic grouping with personal significance. Fair enough, and, in terms of the action behind the essay, brave as well. There is only a very loose sports theme to the book, however. It's the kind of book that can only be written be a man who knows everybody.
I was not able to find an edition of this book with a table of contents or an index, hard to believe, all these famous names and no way to find them for reference.

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Patrick O'BRIAN
  Blue at the Mizzen
Patrick O'Brian (1914-2000) is the author of a twenty-volume adventure series about shipboard life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars (set between 1803 and 1815). These are by no means books about boxing, but the sport gets good coverage in Blue at the Mizzen, the last completed book in the series, and in The Yellow Admiral. The series is often called the Aubrey-Maturin novels, after the names of the two main characters, Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship surgeon, Stephen Maturin.

At the start of Blue at the Mizzen, Aubrey and his crew are in England and about to set off on a voyage that mixes espionage with natural science. William Henry, Duke of Clarence, later to become William IV (1765-1837), asks Aubrey for a favor. William, who was king of the United Kingdom and Ireland 1830-37, was also known as the "Sailor king" (see the Wiki entry "William IV of the UK"). His Highness wishes to place Horatio Hanson as a midshipman on Jack's ship. Hanson is the son of a man lost during William's service with Lord Nelson in the West Indies.

This will be an arduous and dangerous voyage, and Aubrey is reluctant to take on anyone who might be considered a "suckling" (6276-77). He agrees to interview Horatio, whose name not only bows to Horatio Nelson but recalls that of Horatio Hornblower, the hero of C. S. Forester's series of naval novels. Aubrey quizzes Hanson, who is 15, on algebra and geometry and finds that he knows a fair amount. He then asks Maturin to speak to the boy in Latin and French, and this test too the boy passes easily (6279).

The voyage beings with rough seas. Aubrey interviews Hanson to see how he is getting along and notices the boy's bruised knuckles. It turns out that Hanson has had a fight with someone who called him "a pragmatical son of a bitch." Examining Hanson's hands, Jack concludes that "a heavy left-handed blow" has split the skin. He forbids further fighting. Later Jack notices that the boy's knuckles are bleeding onto his trousers. When he inquires into Hanson's boxing experience, Jack learns that Hanson and other boys "used to mill" after school and that a coachman's son, who himself learned to box from an uncle who was "a real prizefighter" (6291), taught Hanson to fight. Jack recalls seeing boxing matches between ships when he himself as a midshipman and thinks that perhaps he might set up something similar for the Surprise, his own ship. Hanson learned to box from his social inferior, the son of a coachman, but that's no compromise because the coachman himself was a prizefighter who even had gloves.

A boxing match takes place on the ship a few pages later, when several British ships are anchored off Sierra Leone. After one match Maturin sees that Hanson has a black eye and has dried blood on his face. But Hanson has won and will be fighting again in a few hours. He answers the doctor's questions "with a cheerful and full-toothed smile" (6327) and then bests a burly fighter from another ship in five rounds "of a singular ferocity" (6330).

A few days later, a master's mate dies, and Hanson is promoted to replace him. Hanson's advancement over other midshipmen causes some tension among them, but the promotion is greeted "with general approval by the lower deck." This happens because the men "set an even higher value on physical courage than on the finer points of seamanship--not that Mr. Hanson was so deficient in them, either" (6332).

Hanson is an exemplary gentleman boxer, as well-schooled in prowess as he is good manners. We might even say that his conduct is princely, since it seems to be assumed that William is not really Hanson's uncle but rather his father. Boxing is used to fill out the character in a clever way. Hanson is the most able seaman among the midshipmen; he superior in mathematics and the science of navigation. He is also the bravest. Boxing establishes his dominance over the seamen who work the ship. Although he appears very late in the series, Hanson recapitulates the outstanding qualities of Jack Aubrey himself, a balance of quick-thinking nautical knowledge and physical courage. One could easily imagine the young boxer as the hero of a series of novels about his own exploits.

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Patrick O'BRIAN
The Far Side of the World
Patrick O'Brian (1914-2000) is one of the masters of extended story-telling. His twenty-volume adventure series about shipboard life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815) ranks with the best English fiction of the last century. It stands among the great fictional cycles in the language. The Aubrey-Maturin novels are so-called after the two main characters, Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship surgeon, Stephen Maturin, men whose friendship serves as the backbone for the novels.

These are by no means books about boxing, but the sport gets some coverage in four volumes. They include The Far Side of the World (1984), tenth in the series and, I believe, the first to refer to boxing; other are The Yellow Admiral, the eighteenth; and Blue at the Mizzen, the last volume he completed. (Go here for comments on boxing in Blue and Yellow Admiral.)

In chapter 9 of The Far Side of the World (a title appended to the celebrated 2003 movie based on the first novel in the series, Master and Commander), Aubrey and Maturin are rescued from a deserted island. The hands of the Surprise want to stage prizefights to celebrate the men's return to the ship, but Aubrey refuses.

Speaking with Martin, the ship's schoolmaster, Maturin says that has never seen a fight (339, about ten pages into ch. 9). Maturin hopes to see "the peculiarly English prizefighting," which he says is "so much a part of modern life." No prizefighting, the Aubrey says, but he will permit a fight with padded gloves. The men may see "sparring and boxing like Christians, with nothing on the murdering lay, no wrestling, no cross-buttock falls or gouging or strangling, no head in chancery or catching hold of pigtails" (339).

Maturin reports that he once met a fighter named Henry "Hen" Pearce. Aubrey and his first lieutenant, Mowett, exclaim at hearing Maturin use the name of "The Game Chicken." Mowett has seen Pearce fight "the Wapping Slasher," a match that lasted over 77 minutes and 41 rounds. Aubrey too knows fighters and once travelled over 50 miles to "see Mendoza or Belcher or Dutch Sam" and "had himself lost two teeth in friendly encounters." Aubrey points out that Bonden, his coxswain, is a successful boxer, winner of a contest involving fighters from 11 ships; also on board is Davis, whom Aubrey calls "a smiter" (340).

The planned boxing matches have to be postponed because of rough seas, and then worse weather overtakes the ship and the narrative and boxing drops from view. With typical dexterity, O'Brian crams a lot of historical detail into a couple of paragraphs. I find no reference to "the Wapping Slasher," but Belcher, Dutch Sam, and Pearce are easily tracked in boxing records of the Napoleanic era (c. 1800-14). Aubrey's distinction between a prizefight and "sparring and boxing like Christians" is significant. In the Napoleanic era, boxing and prizefighting were not the same thing. A gentleman might engage in one but not, in Aubrey's mind, the other. It may well be that he did not want the hands excited by the violence of bare-knuckled battle, although it is likely that few of the men were strangers to bloody violence.

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Patrick O'BRIAN
The Truelove
Patrick O'Brian (1914-2000) is the author of the celebrated series of sea novels called the "Aubrey-Maturin" novels after the two main characters, Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship surgeon, Stephen Maturin. Twenty volumes in all, the adventure series is about shipboard life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815). These are by no means books about boxing, but the sport gets good coverage in The Yellow Admiral, the eighteenth book in the series, in Blue at the Mizzen, the last volume O’Brian completed; in The Far Side of the World; and, in an unusual way, in The Truelove, which is set in the Sandwich Islands, where Aubrey has been sent to undercut a plot aiming to give the French control over the territory.

start here The Truelove was published in the UK under the title Clarissa Oakes, tipping the hat to the name of a stow-away on board who marries a member of the crew and who causes captain and crew alike some unexpected grief.

In keeping with the unusual prominence of a woman character in a novel set mainly on the seas, the book has a boxing scene unique among those O'Brian recounted. Many of the crew are ashore, but Maturin has stayed behind to encode some of his secret correspondence for British intelligence. He hears a "confused din not unlike the roar of a bull-fight" and learns that a boxing match is in progress. Maturian has professed in other volumes to know nothing about boxing, but he is curious and picks up his telescope to see what is going on. He sees "two fine upstanding young women setting about one another with bare fists." He sees "violent, wholehearted blows" that are "well given and well received" (p. 173). Before it can come to a conclusion, the match is terminated. The sailors cry out with disappointment, but soon a large feast appears and they seems to forget all about the fight.

O'Brian does not explain the match of its context, a rare occurrence in novels that are so uniformly rich in historical detail. The women's match seems to have been part of an entertainment that came before the feast and to have no significance of its own. The islanders and the sailors alike were rooting for one contestant or the other, but their fight was obviously not the main event. We are told that Clarissa laughed at the women boxers but that the men took it seriously.

A few hours later, Aubrey recounts the events to Maturin, saying that it was a capital feast and that "the only fighting was in play" (p. 174). He adds that Bonden, his coxswain and a noted boxer, fought an islander, and got "his nose knocked sideways." Another seaman, Davies, was hurt in a wrestling match. Presumably these fights too were "in play," and part of the excitement that was expected when the islanders hosted men from the ships that called. Bonden and Davies show up in the sick bay in due time, where "medical art" had done “what little it could” for them (p. 177).

Not to be overlooked is Clarissa's injury, said to have been caused by a fall. She sees Dr. Maturin "looking like a female prize-fighter," she says (p. 131), but her black turns out to have another cause. There were already female boxers in England at the time, but it is not likely that Clarissa, with a genteel background, would have met one.

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Patrick O'BRIAN
The Yellow Admiral
Patrick O'Brian (d. 2000) is the author of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, a twenty-volume adventure series about the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815); the 21st volume was published, unfinished, after the author's death. These are by no means books about boxing. The sport gets good coverage, however, in The Yellow Admiral, the eighteenth book in the series.

The series takes its name from the two main characters, Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship's surgeon, Stephen Maturin (also a naturalist, and, not incidentally, an intelligence agent of murderous capabilities). Aubrey's coxswain, Barret Bonden, is one of the Royal Navy's champion boxers and is stationed near Aubrey's home between voyages. Bonden gets into a tavern brawl with Evans, the gamekeeper of a property near Aubrey's estate. Outraged at the disorder, Aubrey tells the men to settle their differences with "a proper mill," i.e., a boxing match, and this is quickly arranged (Patrick O'Brian, The Yellow Admiral [New York: W.W. Norton, 1996], p. 51, end of ch. 2).

Before the match, Bonden informs Maturin, who is not a boxing fan, about the rules of boxing. His fans know that O'Brian is celebrated for an exceptional grasp of historical detail. The author seems to have commanded knowledge from numerous disciplines, ranging from sailing ships and their complex workings, to navigation, ornithology, entomology, and much more, including how coaches were built, guns fired, and so on. It is no surprise that he should have turned in a comparably fine account of boxing as it was known to sports fans of the Aubrey-Maturin era, including the boxing space, length of the bout, and other matters.

The fighting space could be defined either as a ring marked by posts or as a circle of bystanders with their arms linked. Bonden prefers the former, since, he says, in a ring formed by linked arms the "other man's friends" might well kick his opponent if he were knocked down (p. 54).

Bonden says a round lasted as long as it took for one man to knock the other down or throw him down, be that one minute or twenty. After a rest of either thirty or forty-five seconds, the referee would scratch a mark in the middle of the ring and the fighters would go at it again at the command "start the mill." This is repeated until one of them cannot come up to the mark: that is, doesn't come up to scratch, the origin of that idiom (p. 55).

Number of rounds
Such fights were famously long. Bonden reports one of 43 rounds that lasted over an hour. He himself went 68 rounds in an hour and twenty-six minutes for the naval championship of the Mediterranean (p. 56). Just as naval officers in O'Brian's books can describe every phase of combat between two ships or between whole fleets, Bonden is an encyclopedia of boxing history: Jem Belcher and Dutch Sam fought over two hours, as did Gully and Game Chicken (all these are boxers whose histories are to be found in boxing books and Wiki). Fighters war no gloves, Bonden says, although some boxers used them.

Bonden says that new fighters usually could go a quarter of an hour and perhaps three or four rounds if they fought "with some pluck but with little wind and no science." He describes common fouls, including moving "to catch your man by the hair and batter him something cruel with his head held down" (p. 56). Something very like this happens to Bonden himself, who is so proud of his pigtail (i.e,. his hair, a tail long enough to sit on, uncut for ten years) that he does not trim it for the fight. His head injuries are so serious that he has to be shorn anyway, and takes to wearing a wig until his hair grows out.

The fight
Bonden's fight with Evans, bloody and long, and comes to a shocking end when Evans grabs Bonden's pigtail in both his hands and throws him against a corner post (pp. 65-68). Bonden suffers a concussion and is unable to come up to scratch, meaning that Evans wins, although he has to be helped to the mark by his friends. The fairness of the outcome is disputed and fights break out in the crowd. Between rounds the boxers to go their corners (p. 67). This and the reference to the corner post indicate that the match is fought in a square space, not a circle.

Bloody indeed, but as with all the battles in O'Brian's matchless books, absolutely riveting, quickly told, and then succeeded by a host of other memorable and equally idiosyncratic events.

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Appointment in Samarra. Thorndike, Maine: G. K. Hall, 1934, 1953 (large-print edition 1999 Random House, Inc.). $10
This novel has recently been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and recommended as a possible choice for literature classes. O'Hara is a social satirist with a sharper bite than Fitzgerald but without Fitzgerald's knack for a clever plot. I can't see Appointment in Samarra working in literature classes. It is even more dependent than The Great Gatsby on a historical period and has a very small narrative compass. It takes place over two days (Christmas and the day after) in a Pennslyvania coal-mining town of about 25,000 people in 1930. The Depression has just begun, but its effects have not overshadowed the inconveniences of Prohibition. In Gibbsville, the main concerns are getting enough alcohol for Christmas parties and keeping businessmen from getting into violent clashes over their mistresses. The historical shadow over Gibbsville is World War I. There are some lingering tensions over who fought in the war and who did not.

Of minor interest to most readers but of great interest to boxers is Tony Murascho, a minor mobster and handyman for Ed Charney, the town's major mobster. Tony is known throughout the novel as Al Grecco, the name given to him by a journalist who wrote about his first fight (the only boxing match discussed in the book, section 3 of chapter 2).

Al picks up the paper and sees that some "stumblebum" from Fargo will be fighting in Indianapolis (p. 58). Leafing through the newspaper in a diner on Christmas Day, he wonders why so many boxers come from Fargo. Al is 5'6" and weighs 130 lbs in his suit. He has a history of violence and has been arrested several times. He hit a nun when he was 14 and later served a year in prison for stealing from a poor box in one of the Irish Catholic churches in town.

When he was 18, Tony decided to become a prizefighter. He had a touch of gonorrhea but he went into training with Packy McGover, "Gibbsville's leading and only fight promoter," who said the "clap was no worse than a bad cold." Packy makes Tony lay off "women, alcohol, and cigarettes, and do a lot of bag-punching." Packy is also a good tutor of dirty boxing skills. He tells Tony how he can use his thumb (not yet attached to the body of the boxing glove and so useful for poking out eyes), how to head-butt, how to scrape opponent's eyes "with the palm of the glove," and so on. Tony wears an aluminum cup supporter, which he has dented in case he can claim a foul and then use the supporter for evidence.

That is a fine glimpse of small-town boxing ethics, I would say, more than you can find in novels entirely about the sport. Flattering it is not, but it is memorable.

Tony Murascho gets a preliminary fight, his first, at the town's athletic hall. The bouts are covered for the local newpaper by Lydia Faunce Browne. She is another revealing minor character. A female reporter who seems to have talked her way into journalism, she was usually sent into the mines (where women were considered back luck), or was sent in search of stories "riding in locomotive cabs, or spending a night in prison." Boxing is also a tough assignment for a woman: "No nice women every went to prizefights in Gibbsville, no matter what they did in New York."

After the fight, she writes her story, which begins, "I went to the boxing match last night," and, she says, "I enjoyed myself. What is this taboo that man-made convention has placed upon women going to boxing matches?" She asks if the men are selfish. Here again, full points to O'Hara for a glimpse of journalism and the status of boxing matches outside the big cities. She says the fight was beautiful and she finds Tony beautiful, with "his lithe young frame, symmetry and rhythm and the speed of a cobra as it strikes the helpless rabbit. Beauty!" She adds, "Well, there was El Grecco, to the life. . . ."

Tony's buddies find this hilarious, and it is hilarious--although it is impressive (if not too plausible) that his buddies know who El Greco (1541-1614) was. Nobody else mentions that Tony is handsome, and Lydia never so much as says if he won or lost his fight. In his next fight, Packy billed Tony as "Al Grecco," and "that was how Al Grecco got his name."

Al soon gives up boxing. He has a talent for shooting pool and making money at it, and he goes to work for Charney, a cynical and dark figure who closes out the boxing episode. "Say," he says to Al after hiring him, "Who the hell ever told you you was a prizefighter?"

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John Boyle O'REILLY
Ethics of Boxing. Boston: Ticknor and Co., 1888. Repr. Lexington, KY, 2014. $15
This volume contains two books: Ethics and Evolution of Boxing (pp. xi-99); and The Training of Athletes Tested by Every-day Life (pp. 101-75). A life of the author, an Irish and American martial artist and writer, follows the second volume.

If you think boxing isn't much more than throwing smart punches, you should read Ethics and Evolution of Boxing. O'Reilly offers pithy insights into the social and psychological importance of the sport. He was writing 130 years ago, but his observations ring true today. He knows that boxing is effective in building manly character. He knows that boxing works against the feebleness that the culture of his time--and ours--seems to instill in the young. O'Reilly criticizes those who believe that the world has become "too intelligent for idle games and exercises" (p. xii).

Even in O'Reilly's day, it seems, intellectual activity, including academic study, took all the prestige. People to look down on physical activity. Working against this bias against what we would think of as blue collar culture, O'Reilly stresses the leveling effect of boxing and other martial arts. Boxing and other martial arts are, he notes, closely connected to democratic and populist ideals. In some of the boxing fiction I review here (e.g., Barry's A Long Long Way) one can see this connection at work. When two men face off in the ring, it is often the case that they are expressing combat between competing cultures. O'Reilly comments in the role of boxing in Ireland. Barry's book is about Irish soldiers in World War I and the danger it and other combative sports posed to the island's cultural masters.

A marvelous, exciting book, highly recommended.

Parts of the second book, The Training of Athletes, are out of date, something we would expect, given its focus on diet and physical fitness equipment in the nineteenth century. Even here, however, O'Reilly is never less than entertaining and informative, and sometimes surprisingly current. He quotes the famous English novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873, author of The Last Days of Pompeii and many other works): "In these days, half our diseases come from the neglect of the body and the overwork of the brain. In this railway age the wear and tear of labor and intellect go on without pause or self-pity" (O'Reilly, p. 153). And that was before cell phones!

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Closer to the Sun

Closer to the Sun tells the story of a Billy Infante, a Philadelphia construction worker whose talent for boxing wins him some early recognition and a few promising fights on what might be his way up.

Good fight scenes make or break a boxing novel. The book has several, including a gripping match in the opening chapter.

In boxing novels, these bouts have two subjects. One is the fight itself and its consequences for the boxer's career. The other is the battle going on within the boxer, or between the boxer and somebody else, such as his coach or love interest or his family. The classic boxing novel turns a success in the ring into a success outside it. In some examples, however, a failed fight means failure outside the ring as well.

As the title suggests, Closer to the Sun belongs to the first category and focuses on the boxer's success, although his victory is not a conventional one and is the book's big reward for the reader.

Nobody in boxing novels boxes just to box. Boxers in novels seem to fight because they need something they don't have (maybe success or recognition) or want to be rid of something they do have (often anger or guilt). The boxer in Closer to the Sun is angry because he was raised by a poor father who ultimately abandoned his family. This is a standard device in novels about boxing and angry young boxers.

Billy fought with his mother when he was young and at one time blamed her for her husband's failure. Of course, men with fathers at home can make the same mistakes, and the reader plausibly looks for further cause of Billy's anger. Apart from using his skills in the ring, we don't see Billy at war with the world. We don't see him getting fired from his job, or getting in trouble with the law, or exploding in bar fights.

In fact, Billy is far from the conventional bottled-up macho man of boxing film and fiction. He weeps easily and often and seems devoted both to his mother and to the nurse he dates. He loves jazz and comes across as a foodie. That he boxes is the only violent thing about him.

In these ways, Closer to the Sun offers several refreshing changes from the usual boxing novel. But the boxer's nice-guy aura relieves rather than builds tension and suspense and, in my view, works against the premise that he's a boxer so angry he sometimes loses control in the ring. He seems to have pretty good control all around.

Billy is aware of the power his anger exercises over his skills as a boxer. Anger isn't the mark of a good boxer. Like some other emotions, anger can't be entirely kept out of fights, but successful boxers don't allow their feelings to cancel out good strategy and sportsmanship. Billy's apparent inability to master his emotions in the ring suggests that he is not meant to be a great boxer after all.

Key events in the plot involve some disagreements with trainers, coaches, and promoters, and even figures in organized crime and the FBI. These tensions keep the plot moving forward, but more might have been done with them. In my view, the novel resolves many of them both too quickly and too easily, and this becomes predictable. The reader can see already in the early chapters that things are probably going to turn out well.

The narrative is a succession of short episodes, with point of view changing frequently from Billy to his girlfriend and others. Multiple points of view are useful, but they tend to push Billy's development as son and lover--as well as boxer--out of the spotlight. Much of the book isn't about the boxer as a boxer. His love life and family life are the book's main concerns, and it sometimes seems that what the women in his life want for him is more important than what he wants for himself.

In my view, contrasts in the boxer's moods, his moments of decision, and other narrative turning points could be more marked. If the narrative had been divided into chapters, stages of his growth would be easier to see. It is a rather long book, and its both shape and dynamics of development are hard to find.

A couple of details ring less than true. It's not likely that Danny, a hard-nosed business agent and big name on the city's boxing scene, would have to explain to Sid, Billy's manager, the meaning of "opponent" (that it, an obscure boxer paid to boost a rising star's record). And even a good-natured and anxious-to-please kid like Billy doesn't need to tell his guests twice where he bought the gelato he's serving for dessert. The novel makes the most of its Philadelphia setting and is rich in detail. Some boxing novels overdue the gloom; this one is definitely prepared sunny side up.

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Carlos Rolon (Dzine)
  Boxed: A Visual History and the Art of Boxing. New York: Paul Kasmin Gallery, $25.

This is a large-format art book with some excellent text, written by Rolon (an artist known as Dzine) and others. There are short introductory essays by Franklin Sirmans, an art historian and curator, and Christopher Bedford, an art museum director and art historian. There are nearly a hundred pages of contemporary boxing images (pp. 24-111); these are followed by shorter collections of boxing works by other artists and photographers. The section on Gleason's Gym (pp. 112-41) is especially good. These sections strike me as more eloquent on the subject of boxing that Dzine's own works, pp. 184 ff. Rolon's aim is to present "the history of pugilism as an art form in itself" (p. 5).

The longest essay, a "historical timeline" (pp. 10-24) is richly illustrated and offers an overview of boxing from the earliest surviving images of fighters to the early twenty-first century. We seem to see a shift from idealized and admiring images in the early period (Greece, Rome) to the brutal paintings of the modern era, including works by George Bellows (New York City, painting 1907-24) and the cynical works of modern artists. It is difficult to know what the early images were saying to their audiences, however. The historical essay offers observations that do not necessarily lead anywhere, such as the point that early images show two boxers separated, each fully legible, whereas modern boxing art shows the contestants tangled up (as does Bellows, for example).

" The short introductory pieces offer good commentary on the artwork collected here. "From a Distance" is a one-page essay by Bedford that surprisingly creates some distance between the viewer and the images in this book. Bedford points out that other media have long celebrated boxing, with its "macho heroes and romance (homosocial and otherwise) in and around the ring." Literary giants have written a lot about boxing, "hyperbolic fight ekphrasis" (i.e., description). Not so art, Bedford says, which "has abided by an altogether different orthodoxy when it comes to boxing." It's good to read that artists, for all their talk about creativity, are orthodox. He continues:

Race, class, corruption, commerce and exploitation in various guises (and often in combination), are the prevalent critical themes. One is not supposed to enjoy boxing as it is depicted in art, to behold the spectacle of the good fight in bloodthirsty reverie, or gaze in the grip of admiration at a boxer's intellect and prowess. Rather, one is supposed to frown, to look askance at the brutality of the spectacle, the exploitation of fighters at the ends of their promoters and managers, and to take careful note of the relationship between the boxing game and racial minorities, class inequity, lack of education, and absence of privilege. (p. 7)
Bedford believes that photography is more generous to boxing than is art. Photography offers a focus on the "romantic toil of training, the warmth of male camaraderie, the ragged glory of the aging, overused gym," he says, suggesting that photographs, no matter how candid, are easier to romanticize than art in other form. Courageously, Bedford acknowledges that some of the art in this very collection illustrates what he calls the "orthodox critical" view that amounts to "a wordless indictment of the sport" (p. 7). Bedford suggests that art that takes a heroic view of boxing and art critical of it are equally distant from boxing itself. Boxing and boxers stand together, while fans, "artist-critics," and "intellectual partisans" are on the other side of the divide.

Also good is Franklin Sirmans' essay, "Punching Your Way out of a Paper Bag" (pp. 4-5). Like Rolon, Sirmans recalls watching boxing with his father. He also comments on some of the art that the book reproduces and calls attention to Rolon's work elsewhere, including his attention to Emile Griffith and Benny Paret among other "less heralded" fighters (Paret died days after a fight with Griffith in 1962). For more on boxing and boxers vs. intellectuals and fans, see essays by Gerald Early reviewed on this page.

A very fine book.

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  Nine . . . Ten . . . and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith. New York: DiBella Entertainment, 2008. $15.
Ron Ross tells the story of Emile Griffith (1938-2013), who held championship titles in three divisions (welterweight, junior middleweight, and middleweight). Active from 1958 to 1977 (85-24-2, 23 knockouts), Griffith is remembered not because he had a distinctive style or had exceptional grit in the ring. He is remembered as one of few modern boxers who won a fight in which his opponent sustained fatal injuries; Benny Paret died of injuries nine days after fighting Griffith on March 24, 1962. Griffith is also remembered as an openly bisexual boxer, a reputation that would be considered risky for boxers even in 2018. During Griffith's twenty-year career that profile must have been extremely provocative.

It is inevitable that his part in Paret's death would be linked to Griffith's sex life. The book that probes this link remains to be written. Ross does not analyze Griffith's boxing talent or explored his sexual orientation--often mentioned, usually in descriptions of the boxer's flamboyant excess--or seek to connect them. Instead, he weaves these two strands in an entertaining pattern in which one and then the other dominates.

I could have done with fewer anecdotes about Griffith's chaotic family life and would have appreciated a straightforward chronology instead of the one Ross provides, which skips between the early phases of Griffith's fighting career and his boyhood in the Virgin Islands. Ross also relies on heavy-handed humor to explain away some of the boxer's weaknesses, sounding at time a bit too much like Griffith himself.

(For a long form of this review, go here.)

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Philip ROTH
American Pastoral. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997. $26

Boxing figures into the narrator's recollection of his military service and how it broadened his view of society (Nathan Zuckeman). This is a common boxing theme, boxing as a social leveler, an activity in which a man's background and education are not the best predictors of his success, and it has timely resonance in a novel about the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s. As one might expect with Roth, the focus, even in boxing, ends up on Jewish identity.

Here is Zuckerman's recollection:

[In the Army I met] Guys I would never have life met in my life. Accents from all over the place. The Midwest. New England. Some farm boys from Texas and the Deep South I couldn't even understand. But got to know them. Got to like them. Hard boys, poor boys, lots of high school athletes. Used to live with the boxers. Lived with the recreation gang. Another Jewish guy, Manny Rabinowitz from Altoona. Toughest Jewish guy I ever met in my life. What a fighter. A great friend. Didn't even finish high school. Never had a friend like that before or since. Never laughed so hard in my life as I did with Manny. Manny was money in the bank for me. Nobody ever gave us any Jewboy shit. A little back in boot camp, but that was it. When Manny fought, the guys would bet their cigarettes on him. Buddy Falcone and Manny Rabinowitz were always the two winners for us whenever we fought another base. After the fight with Manny the other guy would say that nobody ever hit him as hard in his life. Manny ran the entertainment with me, the boxing smokers. The duo--the Jewish leathernecks. Manny got the wiseguy recruit who made all the trouble [211] and weighed a hundred and forty-five pounds to fight somebody a hundred and sixty pounds who he could be sure would beat shit out of him. ''Always pick a redhead, Ee-oh," Manny said, "he'll give you the best fight in the world. Redhead'll never quit." Manny the scientist. Manny going up to Norfolk to fight a sailor, a middle-weight contender before the war, and whipping him. . . . [212]

It would be hard to find a denser collection of fixed ideas about boxers. One of them concerns mismatched opponents, which sets up the expectation that the underdog will win. That's why it is important that Manny hits his opponent harder than anybody ever hit that opponent before. Roth tranfers the commonplace ideas to a Jewish boxer population, itself a novelty, and also to Jewish leathernecks, also a novelty in war fiction. In this novel, boxing is part of the all-American wallpaper; it also helps to establish Zuckerman's warrior credentials, such as they are. The interest here is that the Jewish buddies are theselves very different, and it's the one with the lesser status, Manny, who takes the lead and gives the advice. This is another convention: less educated means more worldly-wise.

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G. Bernard SHAW
  Cashel Byron's Profession. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone and Co., 1901.
We seldom think of the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) as either a novelist or as a boxing fan, but he was both. Cashel Byron's Profession (1882) was the fourth of five novels he wrote as a young man. Given the author’s youth and his strong and unconventional political views, it is not surprising that the book was turned down by publishers. It was serialized and then published in book form without Shaw’s consent.

Cashel, a born fighter and a handsome lad, runs away from boarding school in England, where his actress-mother intends to keep him until he agrees to a professional agreeable to her. He goes to sea and in Australia discovers his talent as a boxer; he then makes his way back to England.

There, in one of the book’s best scenes, he meets the beautiful and wealthy Lydia Carew. He coyly introduces himself as a "professor," a sort of slang term for a boxing professional who coaches other boxers, but she naturally misunderstands this job description and imagines him to be a man quite other than who he actually is. Lydia is an accomplished young woman whose stuttering romance with Cashel comprises the main business of the shallow but sometimes amusing plot.

There is, unfortunately, little boxing or about boxing in the book, which is in the main a satire on class differences. Shaw’s satire falls especially hard (and repeatedly) on Alice, who is the paid companion of Lydia Carew. Part of the book's joke is that Cashel is a formidable if somewhat unpolished intellectual. He is a man whose arguments have sweeping force that cuts through the social and cultural barriers that would otherwise hem him in.

The story about Cashel Byron's Profession is really more engaging than the novel itself. In 1901, to regain control of his intellectual property, Shaw adapted the book as a play called "The Admirable Bashville." By that time Shaw had become famous as playwright, social critic, and author of a highly-regarded book on Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelungen called The Perfect Wagnerite (1898). Shaw paid the first of his several visits to the Wagner festival at Bayreuth, in Bavaria, in 1889. There is an amusing reference to Wagner in a speech the boxer gives, extemporaneously, after somebody else’s lecture. It is typical of the novel’s humor that the boxer occasionally holds forth on artistic matters not ordinarily associated with pugilists.

People talk about the book today because of the long friendship that developed between Shaw and the American boxer Gene Tunney. Tunney was famous not only for defeating Jack Dempsey twice, both winning (1926) and retaining (1927) the heavyweight title, but also for being an exceptionally literate and well-read man. The boxer used books (many of which he could quote at length, and which he took to his training camps) to establish his sense of self-worth. It is sometimes said that Tunney modeled himself on Cashel Byron, right down to Tunney's knowledge of Wagner. Tunney’s story is told by his son, Jay R. Tunney in The Prizefighters and the Playwright: Gene Tunney and Bernard Shaw (2010), another fascinating book that isn’t quite as good as it should be.

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Jeffrey T. SAMMONS
  Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society. Chicago and Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
The first section of this excellent social history of boxing parallels Elloitt J. Gorn's book on The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America, which appeared in 1986, when Sammons' book was being written. After a discussion with Gorn, Sammons decided to narrow his focus to boxing in the US between 1930 and 1980. Sammons might have narrowed his title accordingly. His chief concern is the relationship between race and boxing. That's important, but it's not the whole story of boxing's role in American society.

Sammons' book is less about boxers and boxing as such than about the economic and social institutions in which boxing was and is enmeshed. His book emphasizes social context rather than physical contest as the center of the boxer's life. When you see boxing "beyond the Ring," you don't necessarily see more of the boxer.

Sammons' book has a lot in common with Gorn's. Commenting on social history as it was seen even half a century ago, Gorn writes that "the same biases that rendered women voiceless in the writing of history simultaneously excluded the majority of men, in particular workers, ethic minorities, and the poor" (Gorn, p. 13). Good for him for pointing out that "history" as it was written a century ago was not about men but about some men.

Following Gorn's lead, Sammons concentrates on black boxers, a category that has hardly been ignored. He notes books published in the 1970s and 1980s that focused chiefly on Joe Louis and Jack Johnson. After the 1980s, far more was written about Muhammad Ali, whose career gave new shape to the role of race in the history of boxing.

Sammons observes that earlier books about black boxers are limited to the "very brief" public career of the fighter. As a consequence, he argues, these books tend to look at the boxer in isolation from broad aspects of social change. Many fans of boxing books might take exception to this view, for few are the boxing biographies that do not begin with the boxer's youth. No matter what his race, the boxer existed within certain economic conditions, and they are always described for the obvious reason that they have so much to do with how we grow up and what we choose to do with our lives. Any boxing biography will point, if only implicitly, to the many changes that separate the world of the boxer's boyhood from the modern world. the between the world a century ago, or eighty years ago, and the modern world. Boxing biographies are always, at least to some extent, about the world beyond the boxing ring.

There are some payoffs to the wide net Sammons casts. For example, unlike most boxing writers, Sammons discusses the role of women in the sport. At one time their presence at fights lent an air of fashion to the event and made fights more acceptable to middle- and upper-class groups. Women turned out to have the same enthusiasm for violent spectacle that men did, he notes. However, this demonstration of equality competed with the view that, on an ethical level, women were superior to boxing and could afford to look down on it as a hyper-masculine activity (see pp. 55-56).

Sammons himself seems unable to choose between these positions: are women men's equal, or are they better than men? One reason the question arose was that women seldom boxed. Now that women's boxing is common, and now that it is no longer associated with mud wrestling (an association made here, p. 54), we can see that violence is not gender-based in the way some people still like to think.

Other topics surveyed here include the role of television in shaping boxing's place in American culture and the links between the foggy world of boxing promotion and organized crime, which became the focus of congressional attention during the brief presidency of John Kennedy and his brother Robert's time as Attorney General.

The darkest section of the book is the concluding discussion of "the myth and reality of boxing," a grim description of the power of boxing to destroy those who invest in it. In the late nineteenth century and through to the middle of the twentieth, at least, boxing was the sport of choice for young men who wanted to escape poverty, and, like Floyd Patterson, put groceries on the family table. Men who were "well-educated and financially secure" have not usually "succumbed to the lure of the prize ring," Sammons writes (p. 237). Men without those advantage (and some men with them) were easily outmaneuvered by their experienced managers and trainers and saw little of the money their fights earned.

More sobering is Sammons' account of the injuries boxers have sustained through repeated blows to the head. Sammons cannot find a satisfactory answer to the question "why does boxing exist." Does it work like a safety vale that releases aggression? If so, for whom? Studies suggest that boxing does not work that way (pp. 252-53). Sammons seems to think that boxing is about the fans, not the boxers. The same could be said of football or basketball.

One thing any boxer can tell from this book is that the author stands remote from boxing, not just "beyond the ring" but far outside the exciting world of face-to-face individual competition that boxing creates. This includes the thrill of being in the ring boxing rather than outside or beyond the ring watching boxers. Sammons is in the latter group. I find that authors who have been in the ring write about boxing with more understanding and sympathy.

He says he wrote his doctoral dissertation on boxing because "no sport could provide more insight into human thought, actions, and relations" than this one (p. xiii). His book offers predictable political and social reasons for this view but could offer more insight into the psychological complexity of boxing as a contest between two individuals. For gestures in the direction, we can start with Alan H. Levy, who writes, "Actors, musicians, stars of other sports and other such for example, have often commented on their attraction to boxing as an embodiment of a most stark version of what they do." Levy also quotes Joyce Carol Oates's comment that "boxing is life and hardly a mere game" (Levy, Floyd Patterson, p. 6). If we are going to write about boxing fans, men and women alike, that's a good place to begin.

I would say that Gorn does a better all-around job on boxing, but there is no need to choose. His book and Sammons' book make a good pair.

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  Fighting for a Gender[ed] Identity: An Ethnographic Examination of White Collar Boxers. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2017. $110 (paper), $87 (cloth). On Amazon: $63 (paper) + $6 shipping + tax.

In this entertaining and informative book, sociologist Travis D. Satterlund recounts his stint as a graduate student who did research at the KO, a boxing gym in a "mid-sized southeastern city" (xiii). For eighteen months, the KO served as his laboratory for a study of boxing and identity.

On the upside, the book describes an academic's gym experience. Not many boxing books do that. On the downside, this description is, well, academic, even pedantic. Satterlund frames both boxing and masculinity in terms that reveal more about the gender theory of sociologists than about the boxers who trained there. There is also an excellent survey of books and essays about boxing (pp. 6-8), including Loïc Waquant's. I did not see a reference to Lucia Tribur's 2013 study, which could have been useful as well.

As he points out early on, the author's judgments about boxing and masculinity are grounded in feminist sociology (p. 8). His views of the sport confirm a gender ideology that is unfriendly to boxing and to men's sports generally. I benefited from reading book, and I admire anybody who gets into the ring to spar, as Satterlund did. But I came away with doubts about both his assumptions and his conclusions. The author saw a lot, but because his theories determined what he would look for and find at the KO, he also missed a lot.

Satterlund's mainly feminist sources, cited on nearly every page, supply his theory of gender. Fortunately, it is possible to peer around these judgments. Satterlund quotes the boxers he interviewed at the KO and includes a chart of demographics: (assigned) name, age, gender, race, education, occupation, and marital status (pp. 159-161). These data are useful in seeing where the claims of the sociologist and the experience of the boxers diverge.

It is a pity that Satterlund did not know about Jonathan Gottschall's book on mixed martial arts and masculinity, The Professor in the Cage, which might have helped Satterlund question some of his theoretical assumptions and also alerted him to aspects of martial arts in the twenty-first century that would have given him a fuller grasp of masculinity and the fighting spirit.

Boxers were once assumed to be blue-collar males, but females got into the ring a long time ago, and now men and women of varying backgrounds and educational levels box. Most of them "boxercise," doing cardio exercises, bag work, and contact drills (one student holding mitts for another; see p. 17). Boxercise does not include sparring, and that's the big divide between fitness buffs and boxing students: the willingness to get hit. There is a greater gap between boxers who spar and those who compete in sanctioned fights. All the boxers Satterlund talked to sparred, it seems, but only a few of them, by my count 8 out of 50, competed in sanctioned matches. (For more on white collar boxing, see John Oden's book on this page.)

Satterlund went to the KO with three expectations. First, boxers were working-class. Second, they were probably meatheads. Third, experience in the gym would confirm sociological views of boxing and masculinity. The first two of these expectations were quickly upset.

The KO was full of "white collar" boxers, men and women of Satterlund's own class, not the men he expected to find. The author transcribed comments from 50 boxers, 48 of whom are included in his demographic summary (2 boxers, Howard [p. 30] and Cheryl [p. 95], are quoted in the text but are not listed in the summary). Twenty-two boxers had BA or BS degrees. Others included 1 AA, 2 MAs, and 1 MD. Eleven others had "some college." Three quarters (37 of 50) had some college or a college or graduate degree. So much for the meathead idea.

The author's third preconception, that what he saw at the KO would confirm what he had learned about men and masculinity from the experts, was never questioned. Two of those theoretical claims are treated as theology, not as theory. They are 1) "hegemonic masculinity" and 2) "compensatory masculinity." Satterlund explained much of what he saw at the KO in these terms.

1. Hegemonic masculinity
Satterlund sees boxing as "hegemonic" because he believes that "sport bolsters gender inequality" (p. 143). This view is derived from R. W. Connell's Masculinities (1995, repr. 2005). Connell hated being a man so much that he became a woman and is now Raewyn Connell. Connell called masculinity a system of oppression (hence "hegemonic") and claimed that sports intensify this discrimination by excluding and subordinating women (p. 12). Satterlund ignores Connell's sex change, certainly relevant to Connell's views, and endorses Connell's claim that men's "greater sporting prowess" constitutes "symbolic proof" of men's "right to rule" (p. 143).

Men's "greater sporting prowess" means that men's athletic ability is "greater than" women's. For Connell and Satterlund, this advantage all by itself constitutes oppression of women. These authors believe that powerful male athletes subordinate women by virtue of being good at the sports these men play with other men.

I see this as a disservice to women athletes. The sociologists claim that women in sports cannot be understood unless we first talk about men. They can. Women have engaged in archery, hunting, and tennis for centuries. Today women engage in shooting, gymnastics, boxing, bowling, skiing, skating, softball, basketball, soccer, and more. In most of these sports, a woman's performance is measured against that of other women.

What the sociologists are saying is that we can't talk about men without talking about women. Men's sports are about women. This feminist-centered dogma leads both Connell and Satterlund to imply that we should compare athletes of different sexes. I believe that it is misguided to see athletics as a competition between men and women. To claim that men who compete with men are subordinating women is a handy way to put men on the wrong foot, where feminism insists that they stand. This is a snowflake mentality. That is: "Simply by existing, you (powerful men) make me feel bad. I don't want to feel bad. You should either conform to my demands or vanish. Otherwise you damage me." People who think like that are admitting that they are too weak to live with difference, competition, and diversity. They expect to be rewarded for their virtue, and their immaturity.

In this matter, it's useful to compare this book's theory to its practice. At the KO, and at other boxing gyms I know about, women sometimes spar men. The aim of this strategy, Satterlund explains, is to benefit the woman boxer by giving her a stronger opponent that she'd find in another woman (p. 95). There is a double standard behind the claim that male athletes, by virtue of their greater prowess, oppress women. It was taken for granted at the KO that the male boxers were bigger, stronger, and better boxers than the female boxers. This disparity was used to help women, not to oppress them. Male boxers understood this experience as a way of helping female boxers who asked for help, not as a way of competing with them (pp. 96-100). Is that hegemony? I'm sure Connell's answer is "yes." After all, if a man does it, it's hegemonic.   More . . .

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  Inside Boxing. New York: Friedman / Fairfax Publishers, 2000. $5.00
This is one of those great books that gives a history of boxing (up to 2000) in two forms, prose and picture. The photographs are worth the price of the book (very cheap on Amazon).

There are five chapters: a history of boxing (1); a chapter on great boxers, the longest chapter (2); the "bosses," great trainers and promoters (3); great fights, from Dempsey-Willard (1919) through Louis-Conn (1941), Ali-Frazer (1971), Muhammad-Lopez (1980), Pryor-Arguello (1982), Hagler-Hearns (1985), Taylor-Chavez (1990), and a few more, up to Trinidad-De La Hoya (1999) (chapter 4); and "the future of boxing," with entries on Mayweather and others, and women boxers (5).

The best parts of the book combine large photographs of ring action with brief but lively accounts of big fights--Sugar Ray Charles Leonard and Wilfred Benitez (1979), Leonard and Thomas Hearns (1981), a page that begins with an account of Leonard's defeat, at age 40, by Hector Camacho (1997), long after Leonard had retired (62-63). Other boxers who come off well include Evander Holyfield (92-96), again with marvelous pictures. Seltzer creates a powerful and compact history of boxing in the late 20th century, interspersed with sage comments on the sport and its costs, human and otherwise.

Seltzer wisely admits that his rankings are "dangerous" but "irresistible." He could not resist ranking Ali as the #1 heavyweight, a distinction few would award to Ali strictly on boxing terms. Like some of Ali's later wins, this is a political award. Seltzer ranks boxers in 8 divisions. A short bibliography and index are included. An immensely entertaining, engrossing, sobering book, splendid, if not a must-have.

The cover image is from the famous 1951 fight between Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson (discussed on pp. 39-40). The image on the back cover is Roy Jones (1997). I have not tracked down the wonderful image on the endpapers--it is in Boston, and looks to be inside Raymond's men's clothing store. Anybody know the details?

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  The Fighter's Heart: One Man's Journey through the World of Fighting. New York: Grove Press, 2007.
"I am looking for everything," declares Sam Sheridan. In this powerful and memorable tour of the fighting world, he writes about fighting in Massachusetts, Thailand, Myanmar, Iowa, Brazil, Japan, California, the Philippines, Los Angeles, and Mexico. There are also some pages about his work on a construction crew at the South Pole and, not to be forgotten, his time as a firefighter in California.

The book zips along the highways and byways of both the fighter's heart and the fighter's head. Sheridan has seen a lot of the fighting world and has participated in many kinds of fighting culture. He is no tourist. Instead, he jumps right in. His perceptions of fighting camps and gyms will sound familiar. Few fighting men have walked into a new gym without some of these same thoughts: Will I measure up? Can I stick with this program? He asked those questions every time he landed in a new fighting world. Personal comfort counted for nothing. He made money from a men's magazine and from an advance on this book, and that, and his willingness to settle for little comfort, seems to have supported his adventures.

Sheridan discusses fighting at all levels, but most of the time he is not talking about fighting the way amateur boxers experience it, or Olympic athletes, for that matter. That kind of fighting is scored on points. Rather, he's talking about serious fighting—if not fighting to the point of death (although that comes up), then at least fighting takes one of the contestants out of the match by inflicting grievous harm. Boxing matches have been known to end in death (Griffith vs. Pares, for example) but that is usually the result of failure on the part of the referee or the boxer's corner (see pp. 203-5, for example).

He encounters many people who disapprove of boxing as violent. But he notes that "pretty much every sport in the Winter Olympics was more dangerous than fighting." People object to fighting—we are not talking about boxing here—because it is not about points. "The problem people have [with fighting] is that hurting someone is the goal—not scoring points or getting quickly down a mountain" (his emphasis, p. 343). That will be Sheridan's problem as well.

There is no doubt that in many of the fighting worlds Sheridan inhabited in the course of writing and thinking about this book, that hurting someone was the aim of the battle. He comments on the distinction between amateur and professional boxing in this regard, noting that amateurs score points, whereas professionals want to take the opponent out of the game, knocking him out or making him unable to continue to fight (p. 205). That’s why amateurs wear protective gear and the pros wear hardly any.

Sheridan's extended tour of the fighting world is divided into locations, gyms, coaches, and fighters, and it is studded with famous names. For some reason, the book lacks a table of contents to help the reader, and, like nearly all boxing books, even those by established presses like this one, also lacks an index, even an index limited to names, the kind of index the average word processing software program can produce. Why shouldn't the reader be offered these useful, standard reading tools? Sheridan and his editors ought to know that some people don't just read books. We also reread them. Here are the book's divisions:

1. The Responsibility to Fight, p. 1 (Thailand)
2. Rule Number Seven, Fight Club, p. 43 (Iowa)
3. The River of January, p. 97 (Brazil, jiu-jitsu)
4. The Tao of the Punch, p. 161 (New York, tai chi)
5. A Cold Game, p. 175 (Oakland, boxing)
6. The Slight Return, p. 261 (Thailand)
7. Gameness, p. 273 (dogfighting)
8. Cooler than Real, p. 301 (Los Angeles, making a movie)
9. A Fighter's Heart, p. 327

At the end of the book, Sheridan seems to have decided that there are better things to do than fight. Build something, he says. He urges his reader not to "be content with being a warrior" but to try to "be a builder as well." He urges us to "make something" because "the true calling of man, real manhood, is about creation, not destruction, and everyone secretly knows it" (p. 341). I admit that the sentence has a good ring to it, but I don't think I know many people who believe that "the true calling" of man is about destruction. Many times creation is only possible after destruction: you can't build a new house without tearing down the old one that stands in the spot now.

Sheridan is "looking for everything." I think many of his readers are happy to be looking for less than that—men looking for a new way to experience manhood, for new ways to direct energy, build discipline, and find out who we are. You don't need to go to Brazil or Thailand to find these lesser but serious and admirable experiences. You do need to get to a gym and learn to fight—not to lift weights or run, but to pull on gloves and headgear and spar with your boxing coach, if with nobody else. If you do that, you will capture some of the key features of Sheridan’s heroic fighting experience, and you will be able to build a few other things as well.

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  The Fighter's Mind: Inside the Mental Game. New York: Grove Press, 2010.
Sam Sheridan is a great sports writer and an experienced fighter. His first book, A Fighter's Heart: One Man's Journey through the World of Fighting, appeared in 2008 to enthusiastic reviews. Son of a Navy SEAL, Sheridan took instinctively to the world of combat. That is the journey the first book describes.

The Fighter's Mind is an exciting, engaging, and above all, a useful book. It takes a look at MMA and boxing through the eyes of 20 established fighters, including several famous coaches. MMA, not boxing, is the heart of the book. Sheridan does not keep these two forms of contest entirely separate. For example, one of his MAA chapters includes discussions of Floyd Patterson and other boxers (e.g., Foreman and Moorer, pp. 92-94; Tyson, p. 121). Only one boxing coach, Freddy Roach, is interviewed. Most chapters focus on MMA coaches and fighters.

Sheridan takes an enthusiastic but dark view of fighting sports. He sees prizefighting as "a life-and-death struggle on demand." At the top level, prizefighters "ask for damage," he says. Since he is speaking as a former prizefighter, his words carry special weight. For him, boxers' battles take place "on the dark fringes of the sporting world" (p. xii).

Most of what he says applies to boxers and coaches at any level, however, and the book concerns matters that are far more ordinary than damage and death. That's a good thing. Amateur boxers are not asking for damage, but they still need coaches to look out for them, match them up wisely, and show them their limits.

The last two chapters explore MMA's spiritual roots. A chapter called "Art, Zen, and Peak Performance" recounts Sheridan's conversation with one of his college art teachers, many years after Sheridan was in his class. Another, "'The Long Koan,' the Why of Fighting," is about the pointlessness of asking why we fight (a koan is an anecdote that is used to show that logic cannot explain everything--that's the point here). However, Sheridan has plenty to say about the "why" in his first book.

Sheridan's book is about fighting, which he argues is more common than some might think. "The more you look around, the more you see that everyone is fighting something," he writes (p. ix). A few pages later, he says, again, that "we are all fighting something" (p. xiii). Notice that Sheridan did not write "fighting for something" but rather “fighting something.”

Compare his phrase to the title used by the great Jesuit scholar Walter Ong in Fighting for Life. Like Ong, I believe that we fight for something. Like Sheridan, I believe that we fight an opponent, sometimes in person, sometimes in the abstract, as in battling our fear. Either way, we fight to gain the upper hand.

One thing I appreciated about this book was that the chapters are complete units. It's an easy book to move around in, with chapters that are thematically connected but not sequential. I read the two chapters on the spiritual side of sports early on, curious about what they would say. I recommend that you do that, since what I learned in them informed everything else I got out of this book. The Fighter's Mind is rich in unexpected insights. Those connecting martial art to art are striking. Sheridan concludes a discussion of the fight between Pacquiao and de la Hoya by calling Pacquiao's performance "a work of art." He then goes on to talk about what fighting can teach us about art, rather than what art can tell us about sports. Both are "places to find ecstasy," Sheridan writes (pp. 265-66).

Coach or contestant, there is something in this wonderful book for everybody who fights.

November 2021
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  Come Out Swinging: The Changing World of Boxing in Gleason's Gym. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013.
The focus of Come Out Swinging is the recent history of Gleason's, the famous Brooklyn boxing gym that is said to be the oldest in the country. Trimbur contextualizes the gym within "post-industrial New York," a world in which blue-collar manufacturing has been replaced by finance, insurance, and real estate (the so-called FIRE industries; p. 2). The gym became gentrified, we might say; for a sociologist, this could only be bad. However, as the book shows, it was an inevitable transformation, and there are benefits to it for those who choose to see them.

The first of six chapters sketches the impact of the new prosperity (the 1980s), which, the author believes, made people more conscious of their bodies and got them interested in working out (p. xx). During the same period, economic disparities increased. Some of the poor, including those who frequented Gleason's, got poorer; some of the rich took over Gleason's and capitalized on the gym's history, exploiting the gym's association with blacks and using it to boost their own manhood.

In chapter 2, Trimbur argues that unemployed boxers, men working out on their own time, perform labor that ought to be compensated. In post-COVID American, many people believe that the world owes them a living for doing what they want to do, even browsing on their phones or playing video games. Writing nearly 10 years ago, Trimber thought so too. She says that the world gave the men a choice between boxing and committing crime; since they choose the former, they should be paid for doing so. After all, they would certainly find that a life of crime would pay. As she notes, many of these unemployed men are unemployed because they have prison records, so the matter is a little more complex than she suggests. She thinks men turn to crime because they cannot get jobs. But perhaps they turn to crime because it pays better than many jobs do.

Here and elsewhere we can see a persistent weakness in the presentation, one that Trimbur shares with many of those who, like her, can be regarded as woke progressives. The author never considers alternative point of view or, for a minute, doubts the virtue of the argument being made. Asking for evidence, balance, and other constraints that create productive discourse is racist, I suppose, anti-trans, and so on. Authors like this one reduce readers to acolytes whose duty is to shut up and bow to the wisdom of the author. It is at least amusing to find this demand for deference and pious assent in what is, after all, a book about fighting.

This is not a persuasive book, but what woke discourse is persausive? Many claims are asserted, no more, the assumption being (I gather) that only an anti-black racist could question them. Trimbur is happy preaching to the choir, and the choir (sampled in the endorsements on the back cover), has chimed in on cue.

Chapter 3 focuses on men's relationships and on "tough love and intimacy" at the gym, a theme continued in chapter 4, which describes the "expressive culture" of Gleason's. The comments and confidences boxers exchange contribute to their experience of boxing culture and create some benefits for them. Trimbur treads lightly on the kind of maleness these exchanges express. The word "homosocial" never appears, I don't think, and "homosexuality" only once, in a note.

Chapter 5 concerns the emergence of women at Gleason's, a change that was once unthinkable. This chapter fails to get to the heart of the connection between boxing, boxers, and sex, which, as I note below, boxers by tradition are taught to fear. The author focuses on the injustices and abuse women find at Gleason's and is content to air their grievances, not commenting on the storied associations of boxing with sex and women. Trimbur is blind to men's experience. She note that "heteronormative suppositions about gender confront women in the gym at every turn" (p. 115). She fails to note that those suppositions about gender confront men as well, and not just gay men but any men who do not think of themselves first as boxers but who want to box.

The final chapter describes how white-collar boxers exploit the "cultural capital" of racial difference and blackness by patronizing Gleason's and paying its trainers to work with them. Trimbur disdains this development, but the trainers welcome the boost to their status and their income. She allows that white-collar boxing is responsible for the gym's survival and for a significant improvement in the trainers' income. But she can't square these benefits with the way in which white-collar boxing pollutes (as she sees it) the gym's racial and blue-collar integrity.

Trimbur assumes that the boxers are merely trying to buy proximity to the suffering of black men and thereby "consuming a notion of blackness defined by the body, narratives of suffering, histories of criminality, and experiences of racial inequality" (p. 119). What we have in those words is Trimbur's own victim-defined concept of blackness. Less a sociologist than a victimologist, she maps her views onto white men who want to box at Gleason's. This is a classic example of projection, taking something one dislikes about oneself and projecting it onto another, where it can safely be scorned. Trimbur insists that white-collar clients exploit the trainers. But she also reports that the trainers, in their turn, look down on and express contempt for, even make fools of, the men who pay them.

Trimbur patronizes minorities and the poor by taking it for granted that their welfare depends on other people. Like children, it seems, they depend on the good will of others to look after their interests. This patronizing and condescending view is built into progressivism. Progressives take it upon themselves to be the voice of the poor and excluded and to silence everybody but themselves.

The victim-based view of society allows Trimbur, in the memorable words of René Girard, to use victims to shame her neighbors--her white male neighbors, at any rate. The goal is not to help the needy but to use them to acquire and exercise power, the standard progressive mindset. Our neighbors, Girard writes in I See Satan, "always think first about victims for whom they hold us responsible" (pp. 161, 164). Victims enable us to assault our neighbors, as Trimbur does here.

She holds white men responsible for the poor boxers at Gleason's. She sees the boxers there as having no agengy, which is hardly true. Some boxers have been "fortunate enough to actualize crime cessation," she writes in her distinctive prof-speak (here she refers to Chicago boxers described by L. Wacquant in Body and Soul, reviewed at this link). But for boxers at Gleason's, it seems, legal and illegal are hard to separate and are sometimes "indistinguishable" (p. 33). One might point out that "to actualize crime cessation" you need to be more than fortunate. You need agency--that is, guts and determination and the courage to take your fate into your own hands. Some of the boxers she talks about do those very things.

The book concludes with a postscript that recounts Trimbur's admirable, years-long experience of boxing and her professional strategy in recording and reporting it. This revealing material should have been integrated into the book, since the preceding chapters show that she has only a superficial acquaintance with the boxing world. There are no descriptions of fights, for example, and no discussion of her own ring experience. There turns out to be a good reason. She has none.

The view of the author that emerges in the postcript is, to put it mildly, unflattering. She was more involved in running the gym than with boxing itself. If readers knew earlier that she had slipped into the role of a support staffer, it would certainly change our view of her judgments and perceptions. She remains a distant, professional, smart outsider: just an observer, not a fighter. For all her hard-earned familiarity and camaraderie with some of the boxers and trainers, Trimbur was not, in the end, one of them.

In the epilogue we learn that the book's title comes from the answering machine message of her own boxing coach, "When the bell rings, come out swinging," the message says. She leaves messages for him often, and he is used to her excuses. Trimbur lists her five favorite reasons for missing a session. Her coach knows them by heart. When he sees her later on a day when she has skipped her workout, she is protected in her role as a professional observer and staffer. She knows that "he will have forgotten that we had agreed on a training session earlier in the morning" (p. 142). She feels all right about this because she has paid for the session anyway.

In fact, she "hated the workouts" and she "was a source of great frustration for my trainers," she admits (p. 152). She never wanted to be a boxer anyway. Gleason's gave her a chance to beat her anti-gentrification drum, and that is all she needed to get her PhD. She was in search of professional credentials (a dissertation topic). She preferred her role as a self-validating, self-regarding boxing observer, yet another professor of race, class, and gender. In the end, she is one more face outside the ring, there to tell those in the ring what they could have done better. She did not "strive to do the deeds," as Theodore Roosevelt said of critics in 1910. She loved power, not boxing. She was no more willing to take a punch than the white-collar boxers she sneers at.

If she were writing about a white male instead of about herself, she might have seen that she has commodified her relationship with her trainer. She set the terms and did what she wanted; he got paid. She aspired to a boxer's caché without having to box. This is exactly the pattern she deprecates when she talks about white male boxers and demeans their seriousness. She justifies her own expediency and holds that of white-collar boxers in contempt.

Other sociologists whose books about boxing I have reviewed--L. Wacquant and T. Satterlund--did a better job of using their professional skills to illuminate their boxing experience. That was easy because they had genuine enthusiasm for the sport, as their ring-time reveals. Trimbur seems to relish her role as a proselytizer for the downtrodden, not her role in boxing. She never drops her professional guard (to give her a boxing metaphor she does not earn). When the bell rang, she didn't come out swinging. She couldn't do that because she wasn't in the ring. Her lack of enthusiasm for boxing is obvious. Her book is about a few sides of herself that she sees in boxers, not about boxers and boxing. As a writer and a boxer, I do not understand her shallowness in either of those areas. No matter how poor my skills are compared to those of my boxing coach, who is a former pro and a very talented boxer, everybody at our gym knows where I am standing--and what I going to do--when the bell rings. As to what I write about boxing, they know only that I make notes on every session so at the next one my coach and I can focus on what needs work. I hear him reminding them of what they need to work on; he doesn't have to do that with me.

Additional comments on Trimbur's book at this link.

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January 2022

  The Prizefighter and the Playwright. Buffalo, NY.: Firefly, 2010.
Jay R. Tunney is the son of Gene Tunney (1897-1978) and Polly Lauder Tunney. This book is his account of his father's career and his long friendship with George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), one of the most important playwrights of the twentieth century. The book is less a biography than a literary history that surveys an amazing group of authors, actors, and artists whom the boxer got to know, chiefly through his friendship with Shaw.

Some people think that Tunney has been all but forgotten. After Tunney's death, Jim Murray, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, said that Tunney was "unloved, underrated, shunned by his own people, rejected by history" (quoted from the epigraph to Jack Cavanaugh's Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ and His Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey (reviewed separately).

Boxing fans never forgave Tunney for defeating Dempsey, not once but twice. The fans continued to regard Dempsey as the "champ," a designation never bestowed on Tunney even when he was the champ (as Murray notes). Boxing fans were clearly not Tunney's people, but Tunney had plenty of other people. Running one's eyes down the first page of the index to Tunney's book, one sees: Auden, W. H.; Aurelius, Marcus; Barrie, James; Beerhom, Max; Beethoven, Ludwig van; Belloc, Hillaire; Brooke, Rupert; Bulwer-Lytton, Edward; Butler, Samuel. And so on—names that rarely if ever appear in boxers' biographies. The famous figures were mostly acquaintances of Shaw, but Tunney knew some of them personally and was acquainted with the writing of dozens of important authors of his time and before. The boxer described Shaw as his teacher at a time when Shaw was regarded as the most gifted critic writing in English.

Never was there, before or since, a man who, like Tunney, triumphed in two worlds that were themselves a world apart. There was the rough and ready world of boxing, which in Tunney's lifetime was gaining some respectability. And opposite it there was the glamorous world of European and British royalty and the blazing stars of high culture. Dempsey met famous people too, but he was painfully aware that his conversation was littered with "I ain't" and "I seen" and, more important, that apart from boxing he had nothing to talk about. Tunney was especially eager to talk about English literature but also had a lot to say about travel and wine and theater.

Tunney's son emphasizes the boxer's intelligence and his flair for strategic work in the ring. As Dempsey was rising in the ranks, Tunney decided that Dempsey was all offense, no defense. Tunney sized up the Champ's vulnerability long before their first fight in 1926. Tunney had a sophisticated understanding of boxing. He knew that great boxing linked brain and body. Asked to explain his startling victory over Dempsey in their first match, in which Tunney took the title from the Champ, Tunney said he had "a sort of reserve force" that he called "autonomic."

Nobody knew what he meant. Having heard Tunney use the word, a newspaper reporter explained it as "the ability to think fast and clearly and to follow the thought with a straight dynamic punch [that has] the speed of thought itself" (Tunney, p. 75). An autonomic response happens so fast that it seems to be unconscious. The body reacts with "the speed of thought itself," as the reporter said. This is a wonderful description of the best boxing.

Was this something else Tunney learned from Shaw? The playwright had said something similar. In a 1901 preface to his boxing novel, Cashel Byron's Profession (which first appeared in 1886), Shaw described the "instantaneous and unconscious" measures that a skillful boxer would take to anticipate and counter his opponent's moves. Such a boxer was a man to whom "the right answer" in counterpunching was "instantly obvious without any consciousness of calculation." It was the "gift" of "a born prizefighter" (quoted by Tunney, p. 76). Both knew that a boxer has "to cultivate the art of thinking as expressed in action," Tunney writes (p. 51). Effective training should make thought and action seem simultaneous. Sports psychologists explain that we can't think about ourselves without our bodies.

Some themes of this book are clear. Like many famous boxers, Tunney grew up poor and struggled to get the breaks he needed in boxing. Once he started proving himself, he found that he had to hire writers to say good things about him. This suggests that he maintained a fairly naïve view of the profession.

Other things are less clear. Moreso that most boxers I have read about, Tunney seems to have seen through boxing. He loved it, clearly, but he loved it only up to a point. He is one of the few boxers who got out of boxing when the getting was good. He retired early, eschewed comebacks, and made a very successful career for himself outside the ring. He also kept his wits and his physical health, the reward for leaving the ring behind. He competed for 13 years (1915-28).

Tunney's book does not explain the divide within the boxer or analyze the boxer's feelings about the sport. On one hand, the boxer loved boxing. His number of fights compares favorably with Dempsey's and with that of other great boxers of that period. On the other hand, Tunney was enthusiastic about literature, music, and drama. He was hungry for culture, and his fame as a boxer and his friendship with Shaw gave him access to international culture at its highest levels. The boxer was greatly impressed by Richard Strauss's sensational one-act opera Salome (1918), for example, and met the composer. Strauss was horrified at the idea of being photographed with a boxer in 1929--even Gene Tunney, obviously a gentleman and a title-holder (pp. 171-73). Shaw and Tunney were comfortable in both worlds that Strauss saw as starkly opposed. But not everybody had Strauss's priorities. The three men were seen sharing a table at a hotel by a photographer who asked the hotel manager to get rid of the two "old guys" so that he could take a picture of the boxer sitting between them (pp. 172-174).

The Prizefighter and the Playwright is a wonderful book and is written for those whose boxing interests include the contributions of intellectuals like Joyce Carol Oates, Kasia Boddy, Norman Mailer, and George Plimpton. However, it must be said that what I might call more basic boxing fans like me, Tunney's book doesn't work well. Christoper Newton's introduction calls this book "odd and intriguing." Newton observes that the great boxer "hid his humanity behind a screen of words," which is not exactly a compliment. The book's epilogue gives some clues to the hiding that goes on in the book. Tunney says that the idea for the book came from an interview his mother gave in 2000. But when Tunney started writing, his mother wanted to drop the project. The son seems to follow the father in playing a bit of a game with smoke and mirrors but he also must have felt obligated to defer to his mother's wishes, even as he pressed on with the book. I don't really want a book to be intriguing. I like books that are incisive as well as richly documented. This book makes a few incisions, but it stays well away from the bone.
June 2021

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  Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
This valuable and unusual boxing book is composed of three separate essays that recount the author's three years of training at the Woodlawn Boys Club. Now demolished, the club was once a well-known Chicago boxing institution sponsored by United Way and identified as a club "that beat the street," a nod to the effort to provide young people, young men especially, with an alternative to spending time in the dangerous neighborhood (p. 30). Wacquant was a member from 1988 to 1991, when he was enrolled in the PhD program in sociology at the University of Chicago. He was new to boxing but not to other competitive sports, and he certainly was not new to sociology. A native of France, he had studied with Pierre Bourdieu, the celebrated postmodern theorist of sociology (1930-2002). During Wacquant's time at the boxing club, Bourdieu visited him there, perhaps doing field work of his own (p. 3n1).

This is more than a study of the boxers at the Woodlawn Club. As an academic project, the book is also a study of the relationship of theory to practice. Wacquant's brand of sociology is, following Bourdieu's, distinctive in its investment in theoretical concepts not tied to the data we expect in sociology. But there are pages of data here—statistics about where boxers came from, about neighborhood around the boxing club, racial mix, and so on (e.g., pp. 44-45).

Most of the book elaborates the theory-practice relationship by exploring Bourdieu's central term, the "habitus." In sociology, the habitus refers to both our way of perceiving the world and our reaction to the world. The body and how we use it is one key factor, and the other is our perceptual apparatus, how we make sense of the world in our head, how we understand our actions in terms of their environment.

Boxing is a rich source for sociologists. According to Bourdieu, "sport is, with dance, one of the sites in which is posed with maximum acuity the problem of the relations between theory and practice, and also between language and the body." These body-mind connections are developed "beneath the level of consciousness" (see Wacquant, Body and Soul, p. 16n4). Boxing lends itself well to this analysis, as Wacquant notes in the 1992 article. There he says that boxing is a "practice" in which "the body is the seat, the instrument, and the target" ("Social Logic," p. 224). There you have boxing in a nutshell.

The Woodlawn club's regular members were men with minimal education and vocabulary. They welcomed Wacquant because he was enthusiastic about boxing, disciplined, and treated them with respect--indeed, seems to have hung on their every word. He boxed there for three years and amassed 2300 pages of notes and tapes as well (p. ix). He owes his access to his French identity and the reputation of the French for racial tolerance not seen in the US in earlier years.

Body & Soul expresses admiration for the fact that the boxing club did not set high barriers for membership, the annual fee being only $12 (pp. 43-44). However, Wacquant's theoretical language sets a very high barrier for readers of his book. The book's sociology is predictably progressive, something we are used to in 2021; but Wacquant often turns up useful insights into conventional boxing lore.

For example, writing about a boxing club in an impoverished part of Chicago, Wacquant zeroes in on the idea that fighting is a way up for young men. He points out that fighters are not recruited from the "most disenfranchised" of the "ghetto subproletariat," but rather from working-class members of this group who are "at the threshold of stable socioeconomic integration" (p. 43). These men, it appears, would be willing to make the sacrifices that hard training requires, and, to my mind, that indicates grit as well as ambition.

Wacquant has forceful ideas and memorable, if sometimes messy, language, saying, for example, that "boxing is a little like playing chess with your guts." The simile captures the mind-body teamwork of boxing but, at a basic level, fails (p. 238). How do you play chess with a long string?

Parts of "The street and the ring" were published in 1992 in a scholarly journal. This section is over half the book and is the closest to Bourdieu's theoretical models. The second section is "Fight night at Studio 104." This section describes a fight night involving boxers from several gyms. The third and shortest section is about Wacquant's first fight, a Golden Gloves match. After that event, DeeDee, his coach, said to him, "You got enough to write your damn book now" and added that Wacquant didn't need to get into the ring any longer. Apparently DeeDee was right. Wacquant did not continue at the gym. Given how much he contributed to it and got out of it, I was sorry that the book ended where it did.

More on Bourdieu, Wacquant, & boxing at this link. December 2021

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  The Greatest Boxing Stories Ever Told. Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2002.
Wonderful range, Homer to Joyce Carol Oates. Not many books offer so many ways to see boxing. Fifteen of the 36 authors here are also in Kimball and Schulian, At the Fights, but not always represented by the same essays. The introduction is good (if corny). Silverman points out that boxing is not just about the score and who wins or loses. These stories show that men who win in the ring are not necessarily winners. Everybody knows that boxers who lose are, very often, anything but losers (see his comments, pp. ix-x).
The writing talent on display here--William Hazlitt, O. Henry, Jack London, Ring Lardner, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Red Smith, W. C. Heinz, A. J. Liebling, and more--is marvelous. The collection offers a series of sharply observed boxing events with a lot of contemporary culture on view. Gathered around the ring in every story are the some of the fundamental social and economic operations of the boxers' cultures--ominous, evil, comic, absurd. Immensely enjoyable and engrossing.
I found this book to be a good way to learn more about boxing writers. One of the values of a book like this is that it works as a way to sample boxing history. There were a lot of boxing books and some boxing writers I learned about by reading through this collection.

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John FLORIO & Ouisie SHAPIRO: Leon SPINKS & Michael Spinks
    John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro, One Punch from the Promise Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2013. $25

A depressing tale, twice told. The sadder case is Leon, also the better boxer with the more impressive career. But what a loser, short on discipline and decency. Once the heavyweight champion of the world, a title he held briefly and rapidly lost to Ali, from whom he took it, Leon has ended up sweeping floors in Columbus, Nebraska.
Michael did better up to the end of his career, when it developed that Butch Lewis, his trusted manager, a man described as "friend, partner, and surrogate father" (p. 240), had shrunk Michael's career earnings of $25 million to less than $8.5 million, all of that in Lewis's own estate, and that Michael's retirement was $2.5 million. Well, many of us would be happy if that were the size of our retirment account, of course, but then we didn't earn 10 times that in the ring. As the authors point out, Michael did better than most boxers on the money front.
This book is a cut above many on this page. It's got a good structure, it's clearly written, and it fills readers in on two careers. But like most of the people who write these books, the authors don't push into the hard questions. They seem to encourage the view that people like Leon are victims of their environment--compare Tyson, who also came from a bad background. Bad habits can't be broken; unhappy men can't change. Or so it seems to go. What's the answer? Blame the slums? My view: tell it to Oprah. She changed her life. Why couldn't Leon?

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  "The Chrysanthemums," The Long Valley.
Published in The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings, 1936-1941. 1938. New York: Library of America, 1996.

This short story develops an idea about boxing in relation to, a woman's self-expression and her sense of herself as a competitive, expert gardener. A visit from a peddler stirs her sense of her power and draws her into a competitive spirit that she recognizes first when her husband suggests that they attend a boxing match.

Elisa and Henry Allen are ranchers in the Salinas Valley. About 35 years old, Elisa is a gardener whose strength overflows the quiet chores that make her day. She cuts off dead stems from her chrysanthemums with a pair of "short and powerful scissors" and she "destroys" pests with her "terrier" fingers (pp. 5-6). Steinbeck uses her work of dividing and transplanting chrysanthemum roots to juxtapose life and death.

Henry has just sold some steers and proposes that they go to town to celebrate. Elisa agrees and is in celebratory mood herself. She has had a good year for flowers, and not the first one. "I've a gift with things," she says, adding that her mother also had the gift of "planters' hands" (p. 6). Putting on his "joking tone" but perhaps responding to her confidence, Henry tells her that "there's fights tonight. How'd you like to go to the fights?" (p. 7). "No, I wouldn't like fights," Elisa replies. He was "just fooling," however, and he promises to take them to a movie following dinner at the Cominos Hotel.

After Henry goes to look after his cattle, a peddler drives his wagon into the yard and greets Elisa. He is big man, not old, and he is down on his luck. He asks if he could he fix a leak in a kettle or sharpen scissors or knives for her. Elisa she says no, perhaps too firmly. It is as if his offer of assistance insults her own skills and her proud independence. A better salesman than he might seem to be, the peddler changes the topic to her flowers and she warms to him. Her "giant" chrysanthemums are "bigger than anybody [else's] around here," she boasts (p. 9). When he tells her that a woman down the road would like some chrysanthemum seeds, "Elisa's eyes grew alert and eager." These flowers grow best from roots, not seeds, she says, and she puts some roots in a flower pot so he can take them when he goes. As she speaks to the peddler, Elisa makes other changes.

She tears off her battered hat and shakes out "her dark pretty hair" (p. 10). Talking about flowers seems to bring her into bloom. She tells the peddler about "planting hands," her words for gardener's hands that are both sensitive to plants and skillful. Steinbeck indulges in some sexual innuendo. Her breasts swell when she asks the peddler if he's ever felt that his hands "can't do anything wrong," and he says yes, he does, "sometimes in the night wagon." Elisa is drawn to him and almost touches his pants leg. He seems unmoved. Proud feelings are nice to have, he admits, but not "when you don't have no dinner" (p. 12).

Elisa quickly finds a pot for him to mend and pays him fifty cents for his labor. He claims that such repairs are not women's work. Not about to be put in her place, she claims that she can mend pots and sharpen scissors herself. Indeed, she could show him "what a woman might do" (p. 12). She might even like to live his life and wander between Seattle and San Diego every year. He disagrees, saying that his is no life for a woman. Then he takes the pot from her, although she has to remind him of her instructions for transplanting the roots.

Later on, when Elisa and Henry drive to town for dinner, she sees her precious chrysanthemum roots lying on the road. Saddened by the sight, she thinks that the peddler might at least have thrown the roots in the ditch where they would have been out of sight. It was the pot he valued after all. As their car passes him, she averts her eyes. Bravely she says she is looking forward to dinner and asks Henry, who knows nothing about what has taken place, but who has several times expressed surprise at her changes in of mood, if they can have wine with dinner.

And just as suddenly she remembers boxing. "Henry, at those prize fights," she asks, "do the men hurt each other very much?" "Sometimes a little," he answers, "not often." "Well," she replies, "I've read how the fighting gloves get heavy and soggy with blood." Startled, he says he didn't know she "read things like that" (p. 15). She asks if women go to the fights, and Henry says that some women do. Does her question mean that she wants to go? No, it turns out, she does not. "It will be enough if we can have wine," she says. "It will be plenty." She turns up the collar of her coat so Henry cannot see her tears (p. 16). It will be enough for what, or plenty of what, she does not say, but compensation and consolation are among the words that come to mind.

In unusual form in thie story, Steinbeck, who so often is dogmatic, lets the reader to the work. The peddler's pride in his craft parallels Elisa's pride in her "planters' hands." When he shows interest in her flowers, she becomes more beautiful, less a farmer's wife and more a woman proud of what she can do, and also woman with a competitive spirit. But she is defeated when she discovers that the peddler has used flattery to con her into an unnecessary repair. He exploited her strength, not her weakness; he took advantage of her ambition to transplant her chrysanthemums, and her power, into another woman's garden. The discovery that he was reduced her gift to its container awakens her interest in boxing. The peddler's cynicism points to the toughness of men who "hurt each other very much," much as she has been hurt by a man, that is. It seems to be a long way from boxing gloves soaked in blood to the peddler's cynical exploitation of Elisa's desire to spread her flowers. When she sees her beloved chrysanthemum roots lying in the roadway, she begins to wonder how violent men can be, and how directly women experience this side of manhood.

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  12 Rounds in Lo's Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2018.

This is an engaging memoir about Snyder's early years and his work with his father, "Lo" Snyder, who ran a small boxing club in Cowan, West Virginia. The book is alternately about boyhood, fatherhood, life in a mining town, and the men and women who went through Lo's gym and, sometimes, on to boxing elsewhere.

Snyder calls the book a "collection of tall tales" and a "an old Appalachian yarn," but the book is full of "aw shucks, ain't nothin" irony, and I see it as a book of essays about boxing and boxers and boxing history. There are a lot of names and a lot of histories, and as the author acknowledges, the book feels like a loose collection of ideas and lives. The chapters stop without ending. There are a few bad guys, but they are predictable--fundamentalist Christians, and the mining company. Even Zola could find hope in the coal mines; one does not feel germination here.

One particular subject that Snyder could have done more with is the power of boxing to attract the kinds of young men and women he writes about. He mentions manhood and masculinity but writes about them as they were seen in Cowan when he was younger. He offers little of own thinking on these topics, central though they are to his presentation.

An aside on homosexuality and heteronormativity stands out (pp. 84-85). Is it something that a reader wanted Snyder to put into the book? It is a strangely school-masterish touch and it has a bit of atonement about it. Heterosexual life is seen as "part of the ideological framework established by the coal company," but the framework was established by far bigger institutions and imposed on the coal company and everybody else.

There is another irony here. Of the young men in Cowan, Snyder writes, "You weren't a man until some beautiful woman proved you were" (84). He notes this in the course of explaining how the woman who became his wife "saved" him (an ironic note, of course) by confirming that he didn't belong in Cowan and that he was destined for bigger, better things. One would almost think that he was not man enough until a woman said he was, at which point he accepted her word for it: a beautiful woman proved he was a man.

This happened on a college campus, not in Cowan, so apparently it was not part of the coal company's "ideological framework," but it sure looks a lot like it was to me! It fits a lot of contemporary ideological frameworks as well. The author sometimes resembles the men he wrote about who looked to somebody else to confirm that they were standing in the right line. What did boxing actually do for him and his sense of being his own man?

Boxing surfaces in some chapters more than in others, but then Snyder himself didn't box much so much as he observed other boxers. He doesn't stand in the arena that was so important to Theodore Roosevelt, the place for that "man . . . whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood." Consequently, little time is spent on the significance that boxing might have had for the young men of Cowan, men with futures leading them to the mine and marriage, with little else to choose from. Conventions about the power of boxing to lift the poor above their circumstances surface from time to time. But they don't really apply here; riches are not on the horizon when a decent pair of shoes can be hard to find. Nobody gets lifted out of much by boxing, including Snyder. He memorably describes unique sides of Appalachian culture but for me does not do enough to bring life in the ring close enough to the culture outside it. I'd like to have read more about what these taciturn people thought about the sport, not just what they tried to do with it.

Snyder writes about the strength and power of boxing, about caving into defeat, about getting up off the canvas, and other thoughts and events found in many books reviewed here but powerful all the same. He does not write about the art of boxing or even seem to see boxing as an art, amazingly. Not surprisingly, then, he does not see boxing as self-expression. Boxing has been seen this way by W. C. Heinz and A. J. Liebling. Boxing is not just about strength and grit. It's also about intelligence and wit.

This is a heartwarming and entertaining book, as books deeply immersed in isolated cultures can be. But I often felt that the book needed some steel and edge, which is to say that it needed some hard thinking about boxing as an art and as a form of expression (on which see Heinz's The Professional and quotes from it on this page). The boxers Snyder discusses experienced boxing as a form of expression, whether they knew it or not.

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  Reminiscences of a 19th Century Gladiator. Frisco, Texas: Prometheus Press, 2008. $27

Sullivan (1858-1918) was heavyweight champion of the US from 1882 to 1892. He is the last boxer to have fought under both the London Prize Ring Rules for bare-knuckle matches and the Marquis of Queensbury Rules (both of these, and the earlier Broughton's Rules, are included, pp. 156-61).
There were a lot of sides of Sullivan, but there is no mistaking his intelligence. Because boxing was illegal in many places, Sullivan and other boxers and promoters were constantly harassed by officials and spent a lot of time and money on their defense. Sullivan analyzes the public perception of boxing with memorable clarity. His words give a strong sense of the man himself:

They did not consider a pugilist anything more than a brute, and thought a man of muscle and science could not be gifted with brains as well, and on this account I wish to show to my readers and to the public in general, that there is one, who, while in the line of a professional pugilist and boxer, is quite capable of informing them through the medium of this book, that he is gifted with ordinary ability, and is conscious of being something more than a pugilist. I want them also to understand that, while not of an egotistical nature, I have a fair amount of common sense, and, with a Boston public school education, can give an intelligent opinion on almost any subject, and conduct myself as a gentleman in any company. (p. 135)
Sullivan claimed never to have had a boxing lesson but to have learned through experience and good sense. His career was over before his disastrous fight with Jim Corbett in 1892, which marked Sullivan's return to the ring after three years without a match. Very much a boxer of the old, brawler style, he was defeated by a boxer who emphasized technique (the science of boxing) over power. Corbett defeated Sullivan, however, chiefly because Sullivan was overweight, out of shape, and already a heavy drinker (and a smoker as well). Corbett had 35 fights, 24 wins, and 3 losses; Johnson, obviously a greater boxer, had 51 fights, 47 wins, and 1 loss. Both men had big careers on the stage, and did Jack Dempsey, a side to boxing that has disappeared.

The text of the autobiography reviewed here is helpfully augmented by a fine selection of photographs (not all of them helpfully identified, however) and an excellent collection of newspaper articles and other commentary on Sullivan that tell about his colorful and very active life after his boxing career ended (pp. 181-235).

The autobiography itself (pp. 11-181) mixes the boxer's observations and accounts with material from newspapers that show how important boxing and this particular boxer were to popular culture. Sullivan travelled constantly and, in addition to his official matches, was involved in a punishing schedule of exhibitions and related entertainment-oriented activities. His work earned him a lot of money, somewhere between $750,000 and $1,000,000 (see pp. 198-200), but he declared bankruptcy ten years after retirement and died in a poor but happy man on his farm in Massachusetts. Sadly, accounts of his funeral focus on his relative obscurity and the few boxers who turned out for it; Theodore Roosevelt, one of Sullivan's fans, was elsewhere in the state giving a speech and did not attend (pp. 219-23).

In addition to a historic career in the ring, Sullivan fought off alcoholism and became a champion of temperance. He considered his victory over addiction to be his best fight (pp. 214-16). He preferred to talk about that and sometimes had to be encouraged to talk about his experiences in the ring instead.

There are some notable moments. For example, Sullivan declares that he owed his size and strength to his mother. He quotes a sports writer as saying that "Sullivan derived all his great physical strength from his mother, who in her youth was considered a woman of remarkable physical and mental powers." The boxer adds that his uncles on his father's side were so big that they were known as "the large Sullivans" (p. 11). These comments no doubt inspired Jack Dempsey's mother, who claims to have owned Sullivan's book and reread it often (according to Dempsey's 1960 autobiography, ch. 2).

This is an informative book, worth reading for its vivid descriptions of the hectic and exhausting world of boxing in Sullivan's time and its view of the media's obsession with celebrities like Sullivan. But it also disappoints. The long excerpts from newspapers grow tiresome and are sometimes facetious. I came away with the impression that Sullivan keeps his distance. He learned the merit of a good defense in the ring and stuck to it when he put pen to paper.

July 2020
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William Makepeace THACKERAY
  Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero. New York : Modern Library, 1999.

Thackeray (1811-62) took more pleasure than most writers of his time in describing the weaknesses of human nature. Boxing turns out to be useful for this purpose, and it here emerges as a sport for meatheads, gamblers, and the working class. Some people still see it that way, it seems, but they've got a view nearly as dated as Thackeray's. Published in 1848, Vanity Fair is full of references to boxing, usually as emblematic of the lower social orders and of wealthy men whose tastes fall below their social standing (among Thackeray's works, I note, it is not alone in these features).

Early in Vanity Fair boxing figures into an altercation between schoolboys (pp. 46-47). The young lad Dobbin (who becomes the book's second main subject, after Becky Sharp) is mockingly known as "Figs" because his father is a grocer. A bully named Cuff (Thackeray is seldom subtle) beat up Dobbin's friend, the aristocratic George Osborne. Eager to right this wrong, Dobbin takes on Cuff. Osborne attends the fight as Dobbin's "bottleholder," who worked the corner with the boxer's second (none named here). This provision shows that "Figs" know the 1853 rules of London prize fighting. This informaiton apepars to be another sign of his class origin.

For three rounds the fight goes badly for Dobbin. Then, in round 4, Dobbin discovers his powerful left-hand. He knocks Cuff down again and again. Cuff repeatedly gets up. By round 12, however, Cuff weakens, while Dobbin remains "calm as a quaker." In the next round Dobbin again lands his left and Cuff falls. With his victory, Dobbin's stock rises. "Figs" is no longer a mocking term, the boys now decide, but a nickname as good as any other. Dobbin's studies improve as well.

This is the only sustained fight in the book. It's a big win for "Figs," but Thackeray uses it to show Dobbin's low self-esteem. Even as the victor and avenger of his high-born friend, Dobbin subordinates himself to his social superior. At least his grades went up! "From some perverseness," Thackeray says, Dobbin attributes his rise in the school's pecking order to Osborne. He becomes Osborne's "dog, his man Friday" (p. 49), a position he keeps as an adult. Acting on Dobbin's own advice, Osborne marries Amelia, the woman Dobbin loves. For Dobbin, it seems, early prowess as a boxer gains him nothing for himself except a slavish devotion to his social superior, a lasting weakness. Thackeray emphasizes the pointlessness of boxing, which, like other boxing references, is larded with sarcastic allusions to warfare, which Thackeray also seems to have perceived as a waste of time.

Another boxer in the book is Rawdon Crawley, who marries Becky Sharp. He is an expert at boxing and in other form of "noble science" (p. 95). Both Rawdon and his uncle Bute, now a parson, are boxing fans, for boxing was among the activities "then the fashion of our British aristocracy" (p. 95). Bute is a boxer himself. He saw any match within 20 miles and at college he had "thrashed all the best bruisers of the 'town'" (the "town" referring to local men, not to the swells at the university). Boxing crosses class lines here, as it does for Dobbin at school.

One more boxing lad is young Rawdy, the son of Becky and Rawdon. The boy hates Becky's patron, Lord Steyne. When Becky's servants see the boy double his fists and shake them at Steyne's hat (which the lord is not wearing at the time), they know that Becky's interest in Steyne has gone beyond approved limits (p. 470). Rawdon likes to hear Rawdy's stories about fights and school (p. 549). So far as I know, Rawdy does not fight.

As an adult, George Osborne is again associated with boxing. He can "spar better than Knuckles, the private (who would have been a corporal but for his drunkenness, and who had been in the prize-ring"; pp. 119-20). The comparison here is meant to satirize Osborne (who dies in the Battle of Waterloo) by connecting him to a drunkard private.

George and Amelia have a son, Georgy. He is raised by his George's father, who pays Amelia for the privilege and who turns the boy into a terrible snob. When Georgy comes home with a black eye, he brags to his mother "about his valor." But in reality, Thackery adds, the lad was no hero (p. 485). Later, the boy is promised a reward by his grandfather for every time he beats somebody "above his own size and age." When a baker's boy makes fun of Georgy's dandified clothes, Georgy tries to beat him but cannot. The baker's boy gives Georgy's a black eye and bloodies his fine new shirt. Georgy later exaggerates his prowess once again. Not promising!

Georgy is a boy trying to act like a man. Captain Macmurdo is a man acting like a boy. He's a veteran of Waterloo who is "at home with people of ages and ranks, and consorted with generals, dog-fanciers, opera-dancers, bruisers, and ever kind of person" (pp. 570-71; none of this is good). Macmurdo's room is "hung round with boxing, sporting, and dancing pictures," a childish touch, and he is seen in bed reading an account of a fight between the Tutbury Pet and the Barking Butcher. Officers at breakfast later discuss this same fight and "probabilities that it was a cross" (i.e., fixed; p. 580).

Minor players also box or gamble on the sport. One is Clement William, 4th Earl of Southdown, who encumbered the family estate by gambling and who "patronised the ring," endangering the family fortune (p. 346). Another is the young James Crawley, a student at Oxford, who met a boxer on the way to see Crawley's formidable and rich aunt, Miss Crawley. Before he goes to see her, James passed an evening with "that scientific man and his friends" at a shady inn. To James's dismay, the boxers appear the next day when the family is out riding. They salute James, by no means boosting his standing among his relatives, who make short work of his déclassé taste and are glad to see the last of him (pp. 359-60).

Thackeray only once uses boxing to establish character and resolve, and that is in the early match between Cuff and the boy "Figs," that is, Dobbin. The other examples point to the lowness and decadence of the book's landed gentry. Given the prominence of boxing boys, one might conclude that Thackeray was interested in boxing as a tool for revealing the courage of the young, which forms a sharp contrast to the indolence, cowardice, and frivolity of most of the adult males. But only the only honest young boxers are Figs and the baker's boy, working-class lads both.

This novel is famous for having no hero. Apart from a few dedicated servants, all of them slightly ridiculous for their piety or subservience, it's really a novel without an admirable character, a curiously cynical and hollow (if entertaining) achievement. I should note that there are many good observations about Thackeray's boxing references in Kasia Boddy's excellent Boxing: A Cultural History (see her index for citations).

From me, Vanity Fair gets one glove as a book that informs the reader about the history of boxing. Pretty much it sounds one note. I'd give it two gloves as a novel. It's pretty good but it is not a must, even for professors.

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  Rope Burns. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

F. X. Toole is the pen name of Jerry Boyd, a boxing trainer who worked in California. Ring Rust was his first book. It was the basis for "Million Dollar Baby," 2004, a very successful film. Four years after he died his novel, Pound for Pound, was published. That's a lot of success for someone who was not a writer until late in life.

The book is dedicated to Dub Huntley, who was Boyd's trainer in his 40s (according to Wiki), "my daddy in boxing," the dedication says. Unless I am mistaken, that is the author's one touch of sentiment in this uncompromising and tough book.

You don't have to read much of Rope Burns to feel the power of real boxing experience, close up, in the countless details that speak to all levels of boxing experience. Toole takes a close look at a lot beyond the ring, including hospital death-beds, the Catholic confessional, and more. All of it is gripping and all if it, I will say, depressing. It is one sad side of boxing and boxing life after another, a sobering diet.

There is much here--the Irish boxing experience, the black boxing experiece, the female boxing experience, all of it seen with an observing and cold eye. Things never seem to work out for anybody. Even the cut man is crooked.

The book is written to a very high standard, with many fine touches. It is a brilliant collection of stories, with surprise after surprise. It is one of the most memorable boxing books on my shelf, but not a book I will remember with affection. I was relieved when I finished it.

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  Anatomy of a Murder. New York: H. Wolf, 1958.

This is an impressively literary "trial novel," as the genre is known. The author (Traver being the pen name of John D. Voekler, 1903-1991) was a prosecuting attorney whose novels focused on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He became a justice of the Supreme Court of Michigan.

The book contains references to some important heroic works, including Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac (113-15). Also quoted are poems by William Blake (437), essays by William Hazlitt (247), and other writers. Among the titles is Blake's "King Edward the Third," a heroic verse drama in which the prince declares that it is better to fall with glory than not to fight at all. This hard-won glory might be snatched away by the tricks of the world. Nonetheless, "the pure soul shall mount on native wings, disdaining little sport, and cut a path into the heaven of glory." Such hunger for battle and glory strikes the narrator, who often seems to be thinking of boxing, as "Saxonly muscular and bleeding" (437).

In the book, a lawyer is learning about the character of a man whose murderer the lawyer will be defending. The deceased, named Barney, was a bar owner who realized he could make more money from tourists than from lumberjacks and truck drivers. As his area became gentrified (so to speak), Barney got tough with the "seedy and besotted local gentry," including the workers, and the latter, not about to go gently, fought for the right to drink in Barney's bar. But to no avail. "If the interlopers wanted to box, Barney boxed 'em; if they wanted to wrassle, he wrassled 'em," and so on. Barney won all of these fight. But then a lumber jack, twice Barney's size, showed up. The lumberjack had been "an amateur pugilist of no mean attainment." He had, among other distinctions, reached the semi-finals in the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament. Barney and the lumberjack fight for an hour and seven minutes (without round breaks, of course). Both men were exhausted, but Barney had enough wit to feint with is left and knock out the lumberjack with his right. The lumberjack left camp the next day, and no more truck drivers or lumberjacks tried to drink where Barney did not want them (144-45).

This epic contest might have been fought a century earlier, when bouts could last for hours. Traver returns to boxing superficially several times. The young boxer's defeat is recalled by someone on the witness stand (163). Boxing becomes a metaphor for arguments between the defense and prosecution in the trial (e.g., "a smart boxer stung in the first round" has to reassess the opponent; the judge dismisses the arguments as "sparring," 206-7). Trial sessions are described as "bouts" with rounds (220, 235), and surprises in court are referred to as "jabs" (243).

Traver uses other sports in this way, such as baseball (259, "fast knuckle balls"). His sport of choice, however, was fly fishing, as an admiring article in Wikipedia indicates.

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  The Bruiser. 1936. New York: Bantam, 1946. $5.00
This terse, memorable, and short novel appeared in 1936. Every page of The Bruiser reminds the reader that this is a novel from a different era. Jim Tully, who was born in 1888, needs few words to create a world of desperation, scarcity, and corruption. The Depression infiltrates every chapter. Hobos ride freight trains that they hope will take them to a better future. Boxing promoters scheme with criminal intent. Boxers fight in order to stay alive. The book is dedicated "to my fellow road-kid, Jack Dempsey." The 1946 edition I found (cover art by Charles Andres) includes an admiring paragraph by Damon Runyon suggesting that Tully lived much of the story that the novel relates. That's easy to believe.

You don't have to read very far into any of the fight sequences to realize that Tully knew a lot about boxing from the inside. These sequences are among the best fight descriptions I have read. Blow by blow, they are, like boxing itself, full of surprises. Every fight is distinctive. Every account of a fight reveals boxers who think and plan and who are almost implausibly quick in executing strategy. This is especially true of the big fight that wraps up the boxing side of the book. Taut and tense, it demands to be read slowly, phrase by phrase.

Nothing in the book seems routine, partly because the novel is over 80 years old. Its view of boxing as both science and art is closer to the nineteenth than to the twenty-first century. Wrongs go unpunished, even undetected. Somet things are set right, but we don't quite know how. No matter; Tully's mind is never far from Rory Shane, even when the boxer disappears from the narrative for pages at a time.

Impressive and unexpected touches make for much more than a boxing novel. One is a chapter in which the central figure, Rory Shane, reads about Helen Keller and realizes that, although deaf and blind, she has seen more of the world than he has (ch. 9). This insight strikes him as if it were a blow to the head. Shane's insight into Keller is brushed aside by his manager, Silent Tim, who insists that no fighter "every got anywhere readin'" (p. 65).

Equally impressive and unexpected is Shane's visit to the asylum where a judge has sent Jerry Wayne, a boxer who suffers from what we now call pugilistic dementia and who is described as an "insane bruiser" (ch. 10, p. 67). His trainer warns that thoughts about Jerry Wayne cannot be on Shane's mind when he meets his next opponent, but the visit is one that Shane, like the reader, finds hard to forget.

I rate The Bruiser a "must." It is not a great novel but it is a great representation of boxing. It is a tough, unsentimental, uncompromising, unforgettable view of boxing as it was in a vanished world that boxing lovers ought to know about. In some ways, inevitably, Rory Shane's world turns out to be a world that is uncomfortably like our own. All the more reason to read this book.

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Mike TYSON and Larry SLOMAN
  Undisputed Truth. New York: Penguin, 2013. $25.

Part of the interest of this overly long book is its candid disclosure of the state of mind of the hero and his anxious rise to power. The book gives the lie to the tale that boxing reforms tough boys who grow up in hard circumstances (no disputing this in Tyson's case).
Tyson was taken under the protection of Cus D'Amato. But the youngster hardly reformed his criminal intentions as a result of this mentoring. For example, Tyson notes that he skipped out on weekends to go back to the ghetto and connect with his theft ring.
Tyson's pride in his sexual exploits and lavish homes makes for tedious and depressing reading. That so many books by so many boxers make exactly the same points says a lot about what the reading public expects of men who rise to the top rank of boxing. It's not good.
Readers are supposed to enjoy the boasting, perhaps, because we know that the boaster will come to a bad end. We enjoy his exploits on the way up. Perhaps male readers are expected to envy the tales about women and drugs. But in the end we see that the boxer is dense, however powerful he was in the ring, and easily duped. He gets his due. How can this be the best boxing has to offer?

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  Boxing. The Naval Aviation Physical Training Manuals. Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1943. $15.

Unlike the Army at West Point, the Navy at Annapolis talked about the jab, not the "left lead to the face." There are 10 chapters and a glossary (see Baumer on boxing at West Point). Chapter 10 of the Navy's manual of 1943 has especially good discussions of "Ring Science" that offer sage advice: "Fight with your head, not your hands. Out-think the other man and you can out-hit him" (p. 164). For orthodox boxers: "Right hand leads and short hooks are counter blows. Unless you want to get hit, do not lead them" (p. 165); there are many more.

Boxing coaches who teach boxing classes might pick up some hints from the first appendix, "The Drills for the Teaching of Mass Boxing" (pp. 177-259), a vast array of drills for classes and the commands to make them work. The second appendix breaks these drills down into lesson plans.

Not to be overlooked are comments on the history of boxing, especially in the US Army and Navy. I include those paragraphs here since many readers are not likely to purchase this fascinating but unusual volume. Quoted material follows:

There is no doubt that the use of boxing by the army during the first world war gave boxing the chance to develop in our colleges and schools, and in our communities.
Today the army "gives boxing an important place in their athletic program, not only because it teaches aggressiveness and a fighting spirit, but because boxing is still the best training for bayonet fighting. Nearly every block and punch in boxing has its counterpoint in bayoneting . . . the long point in bayonet work corresponds to the left lead in boxing, while the blow with a butt of a gun is similar to the right hand counter. The position of the legs in executing a chop with the bayonet is similar to the leg work in the 'Fitzsimmons shift.'" The army still believes that the soldier trained in boxing generally becomes the expert with a bayonet.
In all army camps boxing is one of the preferred sports, not only because of its spectator and morale building qualities, but because of its definite contributions in the making of a better fighting soldier.
Boxing has always been the "number one" sport of the Navy. On board ship where space is at a premium, sports must of a necessity be selected because they require little in the way of space. Boxing not only answers this purpose, but is a method of instilling high morale, not oily in the fighter and his backers, but for a whole division, a whole ship, and sometimes even a whole fleet. Before the war [World War II], each ship would have its own team. They would compete in regular scheduled tournaments against champions of other ships. Each fleet would eventually determine its own Champions. Naturally, during war this cannot be followed but wherever you find the Navy you will always find boxing gloves.
End of quoted material, pp. 10-11.
In short, a good book about how to box never goes out of date. This is a great one.

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  Don't Skip Out on Me. New York: Harper, 2018. $14

This is a tremendous boxing novel. Jerry Vlautin's compelling tale of Horace Hooper, a Paiute Indian with an unlikely name, offers many stories within the story of Horace. The novel is, first, a tale about a young outsider, a ranch hand who sees success in the ring as a way to win acceptance, respectability, and love. Preparing to leave the ranch, Hopper puts it best as he talks to Mr. Reese, his employer and surrogate father: "I have to become a champion, don't you see? I have to prove that I'm someone before I come back. I'm not anything right now, Mr. Reese. I'm nothing but a failure. You must see it. You must see it every time you look at me" (123).

Mr. Reese, the focus of the book' second story, does not see Horace that way at all. Reese is a Nevada sheep rancher who, with Mrs. Reese, raised Horace and prizes him as a great ranch-hand and would-be son. Reese is both gentle and firm. When a local businessman makes fun of Horace, Reese walks out of the store and starts doing business elsewhere. There are other characters, including the boxing coach Ruiz, their chaotic lives sketched by Vlautin with just enough detail to make each the center of his or her own narrative world.

Ashamed of his Native American identity and his lack of accomplishment, Horace aspires to be taken for a Mexican, even though he cannot speak Spanish. He tries to eat Mexican food (but dislikes it because it is spicy) and tries to look and dress Mexican, right down to modeling his haircut on that of Eric Morales, the famous Mexican boxer. A young man of great aspirations, Horace is misguided in many things. He is at a loss for teachers, mentors, and guides to adult life. A fan of self-improvement programs, he draws inspiration from a "BOAT" book ("Believe, Overcome, Aspire, Triumph") that advises readers to "test your boat" by letting "the bricks . . . protect you" (p. 162). Bricks and boats? This is not a happy combination, even for a boxer.

He is naive to the point of comedy, but Horace is always taken seriously and treated with respect by the author.

Horace has no foundation for his identity, which rests on fragments of popular culture, such as heavy metal rock and an almost shamanistic belief in the power of food to shape personality. Vlautin never mocks the simplicity of Horace's beliefs and instead skillfully plays the hero's very basic equipment for life against the sad, sober, and tenuous circumstances of his surroundings. Horace believes that rock music, self-help books, and the right food can shape him into the man and boxer he wants to become. He has dogged determination and amazing patience.

As he wins some fights and loses others, Horace comes to represent hundreds of young boxers who plow resources they do not have into their fights. Their brief careers are manipulated by promoters who are almost invariably on the take, men who earn their livings by lining up fights for boxers like Horace without making an investment in the boxers themselves. When a promoter turns out not to be a crook, the reader has to wonder why.

This is a great boxing novel with well-described and sometimes surprising fight scenes. There's a lot about boxing here, some of it coming from trainers whose advice to Horace shows them to be wise and even kind as well as deeply experienced. The book's view of boxing culture is not at all encouraging, but it is a view free of cliché and packed with tension and drama. Highly recommended. Sad, yes, but marvelous.

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Émile ZOLA
  Germinal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. $15.

Germinal (referring to the French Revolution's name for spring and summer months) is one of 20 novels Zola wrote about industrialization and its effect on French life. This novel concerns the coal mining industry of northern France and recounts, in harrowing detail, the conditions under which men, women, and children worked their whole lives. Their squalid homes were within walking distance of the mansions inhabited by owners and investors, who, despite their proximity to poverty and degradation, are portrayed as maintaining a positive view of the industry's effects on those who operated it.
In this book, as in others, including Gervaise, a novel about the working poor of Paris, alcohol plays a large role, not only providing escape from ghastly working and living conditions but also undercutting the social and economic advancement hard work might have been expected to bring.
The novel includes many scenes that take place in bars and drinking establishments, and in one of them a fight develops between two men who have been keeping company with the same woman. One of them is Chaval, a tall, uneducated miner. The other is Étienne Lantier, one of the novel's chief characters, an idealistic socialist (he is literate, of course) who serves as Zola's test case (none too successful) for social reform. Étienne and Chaval come to blows in a bar, a fight that "had to happen," thinks Catherine, the woman at the center of the animosity between the two men. Étienne knows how to box, Chaval does not.

"Without waiting to be attacked Chaval lashed out into the air with his fists. He was the taller man, and loose-limbed, he aimed a series of savage, slashing blows at Etienne's face with both fists, one after the other, as if he had been wielding a pair of sabers. And he kept on talking, and striking theatrical poses, working himself up with volleys of insults."
Étienne proceeds much more cautiously:
"Etienne said nothing, but clenched his teeth, and settled down to defend his small frame, in the regulation pose, one fist guarding his chest and the other his face; and every he got a chance, he unleashed a punch like an iron spring, jabbing fiercely at his opponent." (405)
Both boxers are fit into mechanical analogies, machine-like in their power, just right for this book. A man who respects regulations--and the silence of boxing-- Étienne accuses Chaval of fighting outside the rules when Chaval tries to kick him: "Étienne sidestepped the kick, so indignant at this infringement of the rules of decent fighting that he broke his silence.
'Shut up, you brute! And no feet, for Christ's sake, or I'll get a chair and knock your head off.'"
Étienne finally lands two decisive blows and Chaval falls to the floor "like a sack of plaster being dumped on the ground."
Chaval is the fitter man but he is not the better fighter. He soon "grew weary and drenched in sweat, and started lashing out at random." No less enraged, Étienne "continued to maintain his guard, parrying almost all of the punches, although one or two struck him glancingly" (405-6). Étienne's discipline is the key factor. Chaval runs into one his punches, enabling Étienne to flatten him with a second blow and win. Chaval rises and takes out a knife, hoping to kill Étienne, but he fails and leaves the bar in disgrace. He has had to abandon his hands and find a stronger weapon, not boxing at all.
Observing this fight from a distance is the Russian revolutionary (in exile) named Souvarine. He keeps others from intervening in the fight, and leads one man away from the fight, back to his table, saying, "It's nothing to do with you. . . . One of them's got to give, the weak must give way to the strong" (405).
This is a reference to Darwin and the survival of the fittest. This idea was new in Zola's time and was greeted with skepticism by socialists, who doubted that natural selection would lead to socialist rather than capitalist communities.
Here, as in other novels that feature brief boxing scenes, including those by Sebastian Barry, James Kennaway, and Leonard Gardner, a boxing match starkly frames a tension that operates at the heart of the work.
The rules of boxing are part of Étienne's idealism, which is contrasted not only with the equally extreme brutality of his opponent but with the cynicism of Souvarine, whose deterministic perspective plainly favors the larger, stronger man who loses the match.
Not just any novelist, Zola was a master of the "documentary novel," also called the "pedagogical novel" and given similar names. This kind of fiction requried the novelist to know a great deal about his subject. Zola spent time in the coal mines and visited miners in their homes. The reader finds sweat, spit, coal dust, and other earthly elements on every page. No doubt Zola knew something about boxing as well. In American fiction, think of John Steinbeck ("The Chrysanthemums," a story reviewed nearby) as another author who believed that knowledge of the material world and its details was essential for good fiction.
In the boxing scene, Étienne's idealism seems to win, but Chaval is the more resourceful fighter, however little regard he has for the rules. Chaval departs in disgrace, but one has the feeling that the fight is not over, and indeed the opponents meet again underground in an unforgettable sequence that overwhelms the personal conflict between them, and that also overwhelms the much larger conflict between owners and workers. In the end, the danger of pitting human effort (mining) against nature (gravity) engulfs all other conflicts in the book, which it also neatly sums up. Leave it to Zola to create, out of this horror, a closing page of great beauty and, amazingly, of optimism as well.

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Continued from above     Poole, PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao.
Much in Poole's book shows a boxer's ascent to "conqueror" status does not "wipe away" injustice. In many cases (including this one), success seems to highlight inequality, as does Pacquiao's (and his family's) conspicuous spending on luxury items in a nation of widespread poverty. Can we think of a boxer who became more just or honest because of his boxing success? Despite the commonplace view that boxing lifts up the boxer, such figures as Tyson, Ali, and Duran were not transformed into wise gentlemen by their boxing success. Men with a social conscience and respectful demeanor--Floyd Patterson being the archetype, Ray Mancini, a few others--claimed those attributes before they claimed success in the ring.
I also doubt Poole's claim that the boxer's struggle to dominate and to achieve conqueror status is "more fulfilling than money." Pacquiao never had enough money and in his most successful days gave large sums to strangers. His generosity was motivated by a history of knowing what it was like not to have money, and also, one suspects, by a sense of inferiority related to poverty. Like Ali in this regard, Pacquiao's good judgment took second place to a need to be liked.
Like a long list of champion boxers, Pacquiao lacked financial good sense and business acumen, and like them he seems to have been susceptible to the whims and greed of his managers and hangers-on. The boxer's rags-to-riches career explains the financial clouds that form part of his history (and that of so many other boxers). Pacquiao outdid all other boxers in amassing an entourage. In Poole's account, more than 130 people sometimes traveled with the boxer, at his expense, many of them friends of friends without clearly defined duties.
In another similarity to Ali, Pacquiao has had a political career. Ali's was chiefly a career of protest and resistance, while Pacquiao, even less well-educated than Ali, chose to run for office and was elected a congressman in 2009. He has been seen as a national hero for a more than a decade. Having lost four of his last nine fights (as of February 2018), Pacquiao faces an uncertain future. At the time Poole was writing, however, his future seemed a lot brighter than it has turned out. And whether future authors will compare him as often to Muhammad Ali as Poole does remains to be seen. That comparison is itself complicated and in many respects is no compliment to Pacquiao.

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  Ross, Ron, Nine . . . Ten . . . and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith.
Long form of review follows.

Some boxers fit the warrior image of the bare-chested man soaked in sweat and ready to roll. Others don't, and Emile Griffith was one of them.

Griffith was a good boxer. In the 20 years that he fought (1958-77), Griffith held championship titles in welterweight, junior middleweight, and middleweight divisions (85-24-2, 23 knockouts). But Griffith is mentioned in boxing books because of Benny "Kid" Paret, a twenty-five-year-old Cuban boxer who died of injuries sustained in a match with Griffith in 1962.

To complicate matters, Griffith was known as bisexual playboy, and his sexuality is connected to the fight that cost Paret his life.

Unusual in some ways, Griffith was typical in others. He grew up in poverty in the Virgin Islands. His boyhood in New York was filled with instability. He started boxing after he was discovered by Howard Albert, who saw Griffith as a shirtless employee in a hat factory and thought he had a boxer's build. Ross notes that Griffith was a natural athlete who could have excelled in any sport and who learned quickly everything his trainers taught him. It happened that he was discovered by somebody who had contacts in the boxing world, and so Griffith became a boxer.

For Griffith and numerous other young men, boxing offered a way up. A boxing career promised a big paycheck and prosperity for the fighter and his family. That's a familiar story. But once he became successful, Griffith's background worked against him, and that's familiar as well. He could not refuse constant requests for handouts from family and friends. He defeated his handlers' modest attempts to build a retirement account for him. He was another boxer who had to keep fighting because he needed the money, who died penurious, and whose last years were spent in a fog of dementia.

Ross wrote Nine . . . Ten . . . and Out! while Griffith was still alive (he died in 2013). Griffith could not relate his history accurately (see p. 230), so Ross relied on statements supplied by those who knew the boxer. Ross notes that "the thoughts and memories may be [Griffith's] but very often after being nurtured and influenced" by others. They include those on whom the elderly Griffith depended "for his daily needs, those who cared for him as a person . . . and those who cared for him as a tool" (p. x). This means that readers cannot separate the boxer's words and ideas from the words and ideas of those who knew him.

Ross contributes to the muddying effect of these "nurtured and influenced" memories. The prologue refers to the boxer in the third person and then includes two paragraphs in Griffith's voice without quotation marks. Griffith says, "I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgiveable sin" (p. xiv). No date or place is given. Did Griffith actually make the statement?

The first chapter begins in Griffith's voice, but again without quotation marks, and then switches to the third person. Are these quotations really the boxer's words? Or are they words that the author and others "nurtured" and "influenced" and then presented in Griffith's voice?

When Griffith himself is Ross's source, lets us know. "You know that Emile Griffith means every word that he says because as he speaks his eyelids flutter in an unconscious effort to hold back the misting tears" (p. 110). These observations, from a conversation about young gay men, suggest that Ross was looking at Griffith as he spoke.

Ross's central claim is that Griffith inhabited two unconnected worlds. "An impregnable barrier" separated Griffith's gay world from his boxing world," Ross maintains. "The two worlds of Emile Griffith have no common base. They are both 'home' to him" (p. 35).

Griffith's worlds did indeed have a "common base," and it was Griffith himself. He frequently connected his personal world to his boxing world. Before his fight with Gaspar Ortega in 1961, for example, Griffith gave an interview on fashions in women's hats (p. 45). Was this interview part of his team's pre-fight strategy of lowering expectations? The kind of speculation that this interview fueled would not have been to Griffith's advantage. Was it reverse psychology? Arriving in England for a match with Brian Curvis in 1965, Griffith presented Curvis's wife with a hat he had created for her (p. 112). Reverse psychology again?

In their 1961 fight, Griffith stopped Ortega early in the twelfth round. In 83 fights, Ortega had been defeated but had never been stopped. After Griffith's demonstration of speed and power, the smirking about Griffith's gayness stopped, but only for a while (pp. 46-47).

Griffith was closeted, Ross claims (p. 18), but the boxer relished opportunities to exhibit his private side in public, as the hat gift and hat interview show. Griffith insisted that what he did on his own time was his own business. Although many people would agree with that view in 2018, it is likely that fewer people shared Griffith's conviction fifty years ago. With his flashy clothes, disco mania, and mix of boyfriends and girlfriends, Griffith maintained an image that would still be considered very risky for boxers. Even today, how many openly gay men compete in contact sports, including sports that showcase masculinity much less ostentatiously than boxing does?

Griffith insisted on standing out. Few are the boxers who claimed to design women's hats. Griffith did. Few are the boxers whose mothers picked them up and carried them around the locker room. Griffith's mother did, and Ross includes a picture of her doing so (p. 157). These and similar eccentricities effectively undercut his reputation as a formidable boxer. He failed to appear at some press events and cultivated a reputation that emphasized his "kind disposition, gentleness and love of everyone," in Howard Albert's view (p. 48). As he fueled gossip about his sex life, even a triumphant Griffith must have seemed like an easy target for opponents and their managers.

Griffith's three fights with Paret followed his two fights with Ortega, both of which Griffith won. Before their fight in 1962, Paret stood behind Griffith at the weigh-in, according to Griffith, and made "suggestive motions with his body." Paret said, "Hey, maricon [faggot], I'm going to get you and your husband!" (p. 58). Boxing historian Bert Blewett calls this encounter a "rumor" (A to Z, p. 127), but I have not seen the anecdote challenged elsewhere and other sources confirm it (see Gary Smith's essay).

In 1962, Paret was repeating a remark that he had made before his first fight with Griffith in November 1961, the fight in which he took the middleweight title from Griffith. The 1961 weigh-in was "the first time anyone made fun of me like that," Griffith said. He added that Paret's remark "started me thinking of other things" (p. 50). Ross does not elaborate on the "other things." However, readers might well suppose that they included physical abuse by the aunt who raised him (she beat him; see p. 12), and homosexual encounters at an orphanage (p. 18).

If we expand Griffith's comment about "other things" to include these shaming experiences, his behavior in the 1962 fight can be seen as a response to more than Paret's pre-fight strategy. In a few seconds, Griffith pounded Paret with "twenty-one full force blows," even though Paret's "upper body was outside the ropes, his arm tangled in the middle strand" (p. 64). The event was witnessed by some 14 million television viewers.

What was in Griffith's mind in those few seconds? When Griffith returned to the dressing room, according to Ross, the boxer wept. Griffith said he was "asking myself if I could have been so angry that I wanted to kill him. . . . I had to admit that I hated him so much for what he said but I really didn't hate him--the person--Benny Paret" (p. 65).

Griffith's comment ties his fury to Paret's homophobic ridicule. His shocking assault repaid Paret "for what he said." Perhaps it also settled old scores concerning "other things" said and done by people whom Paret had imprudently brought to Griffith's mind.

Many people see boxing as an outlet for anger and rage. For them, boxing serves a hydraulic model of emotions (a model psychologists dismiss as naive). In that model, feelings are liquid. They heat up, boil, and then burst out under pressure, overwhelming (in this case) both the boxer and his opponent. The thinner the skin, the more likely the boxer is to blow up. Griffith was likely to blow up; he certainly was thin-skinned.

Coaches know that uncontrolled boxers, boxers whose emotions are boiling, are dangerous chiefly to themselves. Smart boxers are disciplined. Griffith was not disciplined. Ross describes the boxer's lack of emotional balance and control. "Emile Griffith's life was a sea of emotions," Ross writes. "He cried as easily as he laughed and taking care of someone, usually many someones, was very important to him" (p. 153).

Griffith was a volatile combination of deadly force and emotional instability. He seemed weak to those around him, and, as his reputation as a hat designer and fashion authority indicates, he and his trainers exploited images and events that showcased the boxer in areas very far from physical prowess. As Ross observes, "It is difficult to correlate [Griffith's] petulant, slightly breaking voice" (something else Paret mocked) with "fists that flash out with venomous, destructive force" (p. 110). And that was just his voice. Pictures in the book say much more.

Paret's death did not impede Griffith's career, however much it must have compromised his peace of mind. He had 31 fights before his match with Paret in March 1962 and 80 fights after it. Griffith fought five more times in 1962 alone, winning each time. In 1963 he was named Fighter of the Year by The Ring and in 1964 was named Boxer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Griffith believed (so Ross suggests) that the world forgave him for Paret's death, but not for his homosexuality: "I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgiveable sin" (p. xiv). It is not clear that the world was forgiving. After the fight, Ross writes, "Emile couldn't walk down the street without being threatened or cursed at." Paret was a hero to what Ross calls "Cuban/Latin" fans (p. 66), who threatened Griffith, and they were not the only ones who were disgusted at Griffith's performance in the fatal fight (see p. 66, for example).

It is not really clear that the boxing establishment forgave Griffith, either. Griffith's awards in 1963 and 1964 might be read as compensation from an industry that was in decline. Boxing historian Bert Blewett notes that Paret's death was a blow to televised boxing, although he also points out that boxing's television audience had begun to shrink before 1962 (entry on "Televison," A to Z, p. 393).

In Nine . . . Ten . . . and Out!, Griffith's boxing career seems to be a by-product of his personality, not the passion of his life. As if to underscore this point, Ross writes that Griffith was "not a prize fighter. At least, not by definition, not by stereotypic classification and not even by choice" (p. 240). To this one must reply that a prizefighter is, by definition, a man who fights for titles and prizes, which Griffith did. He falls well within the "stereotypic classification" of a boxer, since he had 112 professional fights.

Yet Ross gets to a sad fact about Griffith, which is that he was a playboy first and a boxer second. It is as if he climbed into the ring to give a performance akin to his performances in dance clubs. Being a boxer seems to have been a role that paid well and that answered or at least obscured the questions that his bisexuality raised about his manliness.

Griffith's conduct before and after Paret's death kept those questions front and center. It is safe to say that both he and his promoters got something out of his notoriety. After Paret's death, Griffith and his managers used the boxer's reputation as a homosexual and a playboy to offset his violent side and to take the focus off his inability to control his rage.

In 1965 Griffith fought Don Fullmer. Fullmer's brother Gene was the announcer for the fight. Leaving the ring, Gene Fullmer asked Griffith to "take it easy on my kid brother." Fullmer's wife and child were at ringside. Griffith "couldn't bring himself to hit Don," Ross writes, and he lost the fight (p. 134). Was Griffith compensating for the deadly beating he gave Paret? Ross does not point out that Griffith also fought Fullmer in 1962. Fullmer was Griffith's third fight after Paret's death. Griffith won that fight, which presumably was not refereed by Fullmer's protective brother. Griffith's compassionate streak recalls Floyd Patterson, another fighter who suffered from niceness (see Alan H. Levy's book on Patterson, this page).

In 1962, Griffith could not stop hitting Paret even when Paret was unable to defend himself. Three years later, Griffith could not bring himself to hit Fulmer. Going too easy is as unmanly like going too hard. I say this because the boxer who doesn't fight, like the boxer who continues to beat an unresponsive opponent, is using boxing to serve a hidden, personal end, be it revenge or atonement. That is not the aim of this or any sport, or any sportsman. The violence of boxing is controlled violence, as Blewett emphasizes (p. 122).

Ross seems to be having it both ways, as Griffith tried to do, using one extreme (violence) to offset another (bisexual playboy). Griffith seemed to insist that his sexual identity, and not his prowess as a boxer, was the most important thing about him. If he really believed that what he did on his own time was his own business, he might have found ways to emphasize those character traits he shared with others, including other boxers. Instead, he showcased traits that set him apart not only from other boxers but also from the majority of gay men, who, in 1960 or in 2010, were not in discos until 5 a.m. or photographed being carried around locker rooms in their mothers' arms or having their hair done in a beauty salon.

Griffith had a serious side, but Ross does not emphasize it. Griffith comforted Ray Mancini, who fatally injured the Korean boxer Kim Duk Koo in 1982 (see The Good Son by Mark Kriegel, reviewed in on this page, pp. 133-47). Two months after that fight, Mancini resumed his workouts at the Times Square Gym. According to Mancini, "Emile came up to me and he says: 'Welcome back.' That's all he said. I said to myself, 'That's it. That does it for me'" (Kriegel, p. 160). Mancini went back to boxing, just as Griffith had.

Perhaps this irresolution explains another unusual aspect of Emile Griffith place in boxing history, which is his posthumous place in the performing arts, where the story of his life, with its loose ends, is simplified and turned into a homophilic parable.

Thirty years after Paret's death, Oliver Mayer wrote a play called "Blade to the Heat" about a gay boxer that seems to echo the Griffith-Paret fight. The play concentrates on discrimination against gay men and was staged in New York (1994, 2006) and in Los Angeles (1996). Griffith's life is also the subject of a 2005 film by Ron Berger and Dan Klores called "Ring of Fire," which includes parts of the fatal fight and which Griffith saw.

Recently, drawing on the film and on Ross's book, jazz trumpeter and composer Terrence Blanchard, with librettist Michael Cristofer, turned Griffith's story into an opera. "The Champion" premiered in St. Louis in 2013, the year of Griffith's death, and has since been performed in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Reviews suggest that the opera, which I have not seen, focuses on institutional racism and homophobia, not on boxing.

Earlier I quoted Griffith's comment on the paradox of a world that accepted death in boxing but not homosexuality. Blanchard refers to Griffith's "autobiography," and he gives the quote in a more polished form: "I kill a man and the world forgives me. I love a man and the world wants to kill me." Griffith did not write an autobiography, and, given Ross's dubious reliance on "nurtured" sources, it is not clear that the boxer, rather than Ross, is the origin of these sentences.

Griffith made much of his sexual preferences outside the ring, and then he objected when others used his behavior against him. He never saw himself as a man who could both love some men and fight others. It is easy, fifty years later, for others to explain this puzzle, so long as they don't know much about boxing. Even today, fans fail to understand how a gay or bisexual man can box. Orlando Cruz, a gay Puerto Rican boxer, is booed for being gay because some fans cannot reconcile gay sexual preference with the masculine image of the boxer.

Boxing has nothing to do with homosexuality, any more than football or wrestling does. These sports, and many others, testify to strength and manliness when men play them well, and to unmanliness when men play them badly. Think of Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield's ear. Mike Tyson screamed homophobic insults at the press and bragged about it. "That was the audacity Cus [D'Amato] had instilled in me," Tyson said. He called it "talking like my momma" (Undisputed Truth, p. 406). Like Griffith, Tyson had a thin skin, was emotionally unstable, and cried easily. Teddy Atlas reported that he had bully Tyson into continuing a fight the boxer was preparing to quit (Atlas, pp. 81-82).

Those who insist that great sportsmen must be heterosexual are confusing athletic dominance, which every sport privileges. with sexual dominance, which would perhaps be an implied factor in those sports in which men compete against women (those sports being which ones?). Homosexuals and bisexuals can dominate heterosexuals in the boxing ring, something Griffith proved over and over. But it was a physical competition of strength, skill, and stamina, not a sexual competition.

Those who cannot recognize excellence in gay athletes in contact sports assume that contact sports are a theater for heterosexuality. But they would be hard-pressed to explain why gay men and women excel in sports (swimming, tennis, golf). Heterosexuality is not hard-wired to athletic excellence. These same people also, in reference to male athletes, misunderstand masculinity. Griffith demonstrated that being a homosexual does not have to compromse a man's power in the ring. Personality defects such as Griffith and Tyson had can compromise a man's performance, since performance is the end to which that power is put. But performance itself is not related to sexual preference. Heterosexual boxers can fight for revenge too, just as Griffith did. The ideas that get in the way of accepting gay boxers are not simply stereotypes about homosexuality. They are equally blinkered stereotypes about boxing itself, and about other contact sports.

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Posted 6-28-2018

   Jonathan Eig, Ali: A Life
Review, continued.

Luckily for the reader who is skeptical of hero worship, Eig the historian balances Eig the tragedian (and Ali fan). Ali's courageous political positions have to be set against other facts about him and his place in the boxing world. There is no concealing Ali's shortcomings as the husband of four women and the father of nine children or as a boxer. Ali's personal life is not my concern. I focus here one Ali as a boxer, and begin with Eig's jaundiced view of the sport, which Eig positions as Ali's foe rather than his friend.

Eig's view of boxing
A book about a boxer is also a book about the author's view of boxing. Many writers of boxers' biographies are boxing fans first and fans of the boxer second. These authors get interested in their subjects because they are interested in boxing. This is not true of Eig. Like Ron Ross, author of a book about Emile Griffith, but unlike most of the authors whose books are reviewed here, Eig is disapproving of boxing. "The objective of boxing is to hurt, torture, and render a man unconscious," Eig writes. Eig is attempting to justify Ali's unsportsmanlike behavior during his fight with Floyd Patterson. "Come on, white American!" Ali shouted at Patterson; Ali also called him an Uncle Tom (p. 206). Eig puts this shoddy verbal abuse on par with the physical "torture" of boxing. Others might argue that the langauge degraded boxing and Ali, not Patterson. Nothing can excuse Ali's lack of respect for Patterson's place in the social history of boxing, which W. K. Stratton and others have acknowledged. Eig apparently could not bring himself to comment positively on Patterson's civil rights record anywhere in 539 pages, which looks like repayment for Patterson's political criticism of Ali (also omitted by Eig). I will give Eig credit for saying that Ali's race-baiting of other black fighters was Ali "at his worst" (p. 357). That is saying something.

Eig's animosity towards boxing surfaces in a later comment. The reader might think that boxing was a way up for the opporessed. No so, Eig writes. It might seem that "astonishing riches were going to black men competing in the animalistic ritual of boxing," but "the black men were, in fact, being wildly underpaid while the white men promoting the fight would capture the really big money" (p. 306).

The use of "animalistic" is objectionable, poorly-chosen language that insults men and women who box and who love boxing. It also exhibits a remarkable animus for a sport with a long and honorable tradition. Animals do not have rituals, however prominent animals might be in some human rituals. So far as I am aware, animals do not gear up when they fight or confine themselves to timed rounds. Animals fight for survival, not for prestige or prize money.

Eig's criticism of boxing may be deeply felt. But it also seems to be a ploy, a device used it to solve one of this book's problems. Eig admires the man who boxed but Eig detests boxing. Eig has to find a way to absolve Ali of responsibility for the calamity awaiting the boxer, and Eig's solution is to disparage the sport.

Ali invested heavily in boxing as a route to riches a fame, rewards which began coming his way after he won the Olympic gold medal in Athens in 1960. His investment paid off richly. But is also also cost him dearly. By condemning boxing as "animalisic" and as a form of "torture," Eig seeks to shift the blame for Ali's condition (his "downfall") from the man to the sport. Boxing is at fault, not the boxer.

Such a design is consistent with Eig's tragic view of Ali, who is seen as a victim of boxing and the sinister forces that control it. The white men whom he enriched robbed him. Then, in his penury, they forced him to box many years past his prime, exposing him to great bodily harm, but not the kind he inflicted on his opponents. When he lit the torch at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, he was a shocking sight, and that was twenty years before his death. Boxing is to blame.

America had all but forgotten Ali by the time he lit the torch. In his prime, Ali became a political hero because he had been a political victim. After Atlanta, he became a boxing victim because he had been a boxing hero. Eig's account of Ali's last fight, which was in 1981, ends on p. 498, when Ali was 39. He had another 35 years to live. Eig devotes about 40 pages to those years.

Ali was famous for believing that he was the greatest at whatever he attempted. Eig writes, "His lip helped, as did his accurate predictions and good looks. He evoked a sense of merriment and mystery, an irresistible combination for the media." He believed that he could have it all, money, women, fame, "without getting bloodied, without getting hurt" (pp. 98-99). This proved to be an illusion, and it seems that nobody managed to prepare the boxer for a world in which his fantasy was not going to come true.

When he talks about Ali's verbal abuse of other black boxers, Eig mentions that some observers attributed the fighter's celebrated "lip" to his insecurity, which was rooted not in poverty but, ironically, in Ali's middle class status (p. 357). The boxers Ali ridicled grew up poor, as did Patterson. Ali did not. But that was not all. Ali had other reasons for his insecurity.

Ali's dyslexia
Ali had two serious problems. First, he had dyslexia, and not a mild form of it. Second, Ali never mastered some defensive techniques that are called "boxing fundamentals" for a very good reason.

Ali had difficulty learning and handling words and numbers. Eig gives examples of the boxer'sproblems with numbers, which also translated into financial misunderstandings of consequence. As a high school student, Eig notes, Ali engaged in "attention-getting ploys" (dangerous stunts on a motorized scooter, for example), and used them perhaps as "compensation for his deficiencies with the written word." Written numbers were no easier for him. It is reasonable to suggest that later in life other, much grander "attention-getting ploys" were the boxer's stock in trade, and also to suggest that they compensated for other deficiencies as well.

These "deficiencies" having been noted, Eig the fan tries to turn them to the boxer's advantage. Eig observes that some experts consider dyslexia "an advantage for some people," including boxers, since literacy causes "certain kinds of visual processing skills" to "get lost" (p. 34). This is a very big claim, especially in specific relation to boxers, but there is no support offered and no references given. Eig proposes that Ali was quick in the ring because he was dyslexic and he did not learn to "block out the world," which is something that reading (Eig says) causes us to do.

If you look into arguments about the advantages of dyslexia, you will find that most of them relate to the success of Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and a celebrated business tycoon. He emphasized ways in which he worked to minimize the impact of his dyslexia. He kept communication simple and direct and to carried a notebook with him at all times. It safe to surmise that Ali's learning disability was more significant as a disadvantage than as an advantage. Unlike Branson, Ali does not seem to have taken steps to manage his dyslexia.

However much his dyslexia might have helped Ali in the ring, he conceptual limitations outside the ring were considerable. He bought gasoline for his car 50 cents at a time because he thought he saved money by doing so. He could not divide 35 by two. He asked those around him what month it was. He does not seem to have known the sequence of the months of the year. He needed half an hour to read a newspaper column others could read in five minutes (p. 100). The faculty of Louisville High School sent him into the world with a "certificate of attendance," thereby washing its hands of a mission in which we might reasonably conclude they had failed. These are not small matters in the life of any adult.

Ali's conceptual limitations were most damaging to him financially. Ali thought that cash was king and that it was worth more than money in other forms, an idea drilled into him by his promoter, Don King. He signed away more than a million dollars in fight earnings to King. They were rightfully the boxer's, but King, through his lawyer, persuaded Ali to exchange the relevant contract for a briefcase containing $50,000 in cash (p. 491; see also pp. 206-7 and pp. 468-70).

Eig maintains that white men took the big money, not black boxers (p. 306, cited above). Who captured the big money in this transaction, which cynically exploited the boxer who enriched many others? Who captured the big money in virtually every dealing that Ali had with King? It was not one of "the white men" Eig criticizes here, among them Bob Arum. Aram was the "white Jew" (p. 208) who persuaded Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, to support Ali's own promotional company, Main Bout, at great financial advantage to Elijah Muhammad (pp. 208-10). Eig points out that the group of white men who backed Ali in his early years earned modestly from the risk they took. They made sure that the boxer was paid what he earned. It was the boxer's "unrealistic" financial propositions that caused his split with the group (pp. 198-201).

Failure to master fundamental boxing techniques
Many championship boxers have problems with managers and agents similar to those Ali had. Few have had his second problem, which concerns his skills as a boxer. Eig writes that Ali had a "relatively weak grasp of boxing fundamentals." In his matches after 1970, Eig writes, it became apparent that Ali would "pay a price" for having failed to master basic techniques. "He had never learned to properly block or duck punches because he hadn't needed to" (p. 300), Eig writes, excusing Ali's deficiency.

This is debatable. Every boxing coach I have worked with would say that every boxer needs to learn how to block or slip a punch as well as circle away from one.

Ali could not slip and stay in the pocket to fight at close range. Before long, his physical condition suffered. His lack of training and discipline were apparent well before he was 30 years old. As he slowed down, "he absorbed more punishment, curling up against the ropes and trying to absorb or deflect [his opponent's] blows instead of dodging them." This strategy was called "rope a dope" and was presented as a clever way of trapping his opponents. They punched until they tired, "and then he would fight back" (p. 300).

This strategy had its limits. Powerful boxers can throw dozens of punches in a few seconds without stopping or getting tired. As for the "and then" moment, Ali's opponents could step back as adroitly as Ali once could. Throwing a lot of punches can sap energy fast, but boxers can recover fast too. Taking a lot of punches to the head as opposed to the ribs also saps energy, however.

The idea of "rope-a-dope" was that the opponent was a dope who had been "roped" into a trap. The man against the ropes is the man who is trapped, however. Since he could not run any longer, Ali had no choice but to take shots until he could find an opening to throw some. It was his lack of fundamental skills as a boxer that placed him in this very dangerous position. The strategy worked against George Foreman--as Foreman himself said--in 1974 (Seltzer, p. 9). But as Ali got older and slower, it worked against Ali himself.

Eig and other writers (Robert Seltzer among them) exaggerate Ali's originality in the ring. Eig writes that when young Ali had boxing "style of his own" (pp. 36-37). This may be true, but what Eig goes on to describe is perfectly ordinary and not a "style" at all. Some fighters like to move forward and step in for big punches, Eig writes, but the young Cassius Clay

preferred to circle his opponent clockwise, to punch and move away, to pull his head back from blows rather than duck them. Bobbing and weaving won't work when an opponent gets in close. But Cassius learned that if he could keep his distance and keep circling, sticking, and moving, he would absorb less punishment. His greatest talent may have been measurement; he had a brilliant knack for staying just beyond the reach of his opponents and, then, getting just close enough to throw punches that hurt.
Eig calls this the boxer's "built-in radar." Hype aside, circling the ring to the boxer's lead side (as an orthodox boxer, Ali led with his left and circled left) is a basic technique taught in boxing classes. The quote is revealing, in any case. Ali "learned" that he could avoid getting hit if he stayed outside his opponent's range. Anybody who has sparred one round knows as much, and also knows that if you stay outside all the time, you can't land punches.

Boxers understand that it is important to get in and out of range fast. As for pulling the head back rather than ducking punches, that is something many boxers do, but it is no substitute for bobbing, weaving, and slipping punches. The objective is to avoid a punch without giving up proximity to the target.

As we have seen, Eig states that Ali did not learn "to properly block or duck punches." Those moves were among the "boxing fundamentals" that Ali did not master (p. 300). There was nothing "brilliant" about Ali's knack for staying out of his opponent's reach. Had he learned more about how to do that, he would have been hit less often later in his career. His legs were his "first line of defense," and like his hands, they gave out (p. 301).

Why didn't Ali learn how to bob and weave, skills that many young boxers seem to have almost by instinct? The short answer is that Ali seems to have thought that the result was not worth the effort required to achieve it. He thought he could "float like a butterfly," which describes the circling motion that distanced Ali from his opponent. So long as the boxer has room to run, floating is fine. When a boxer is trapped, though, as Ali was repeatedly in his later fights, floating is not possible. The slips and weaves would have been the only ways to avoid the blows that Ali took.

It wasn't only his defense that failed him. In his later fights, Eig shows, Ali threw fewer and fewer punches. He was "out-hit with power shots" in his last nine fights by 1,565 to 833, nearly two-to-one. Much worse, "in his two final fights, opponents would land 371 power punches to Ali's 51." Eig observes that these problems were not unique to Ali's last five years in the ring: "the man who called himself 'The Greatest' was below average [as a hitter] for much of his career" (pp. 300-1).

Yet up to the end, Ali won (that is to say, was given) victories over far better fighters. Ali's list nine fights took place over five years. He won the first five (1976-1977) and lost three of the last four (1978-1981). In those nine fights, if we use Eig's numbers, Ali threw 53% of the power shots his opponents threw; in his last two fights, both losses, he threw 18% of the power shots they threw. "Shots to the head were the price he would pay to continue his career," Eig writes (p. 436; see p. 300). They proved to be a higher price than anybody anticipated.

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Posted 7-12-2018

   Travis Satterlund, Fighting for a Gender[ed] Identity
Review, continued.

2. Compensatory masculinity
The second label Satterlund uses to put men at a disadvantage is "compensatory masculinity." He does a better job here because he has a lot of good evidence from the men who boxed. He claims that the white men at the KO sought to compensate for a deficiency, real or imagined, in their manhood. "Boxing gave the men a chance to demonstrate that they deserved membership in the category 'men' and therefore could earn 'patriarchal dividends'" (p. 11, p. 136). Until they boxed, Satterlund plainly implies, these men thought that they did not "deserve" to be called men and could not cash in their "patriarchal dividend." This latter bit seems like an accusation that is unwarranted.

Satterlund further assumes that most working-class men did not "have as much need for compensatory signifiers of masculinity" as the white-collar boxers because "their job already attested to physical toughness." For them, boxing merely "supplemented" their "masculine identities" (p. 136). This turns out to be a generalization about social class and labor that requires another look at the data.

The two most common occupations were student, mentioned by 15, and technology (software, etc.), mentioned by 12. Eleven boxers had a high school diploma only, including 5 of the 8 boxers who competed. These 11 worked as adult caretaker, bartender (female), clerk, prep cook (female), food server, guard, heating and air-conditioning installer, laborer, truck loader for party supply company, and security guard.

Which of these jobs require "physical toughness"? There were no police, firefighters, truck drivers, construction workers, heavy-equipment operators, or telephone linemen. The HVAC installers, the truck loader, and the laborer arguably had tough jobs. But who thinks of physical "toughness" when thinking of adult care, clerking, loading party supplies, or being a security guard? And what about Andy, who was in the military (ROTC, probably, which is demanding) but is only listed as a student? He was safely in the middle-class (white, male, some college), but really had two jobs, student and military, and the latter was certainly tough (p. 39). Many middle-class jobs are.

What matters is status, not toughness, and activity that stimulates rather than routine that deadens. The high-school educated workers might have taken up boxing as a way to compensate for a lack of social standing. Men in this group might have been as interested in "compensatory signifiers," but not signifiers of toughness. Instead, a laborer or a loader might be as eager as a software engineer to earn peer recognition through a demonstration of physical and mental strength and discipline. That's what boxing is.

Satterlund often notes that boxing demands mental as well as physical effort. One boxer compares it to chess (pp. 18-19). But Satterlund is silent on the role mental effort plays in defining masculinity. It seems that neither Connell nor Satterlund sees being smart as relevant to being manly. Why limit toughness to physical power and discount such stressful factors as endurance, which also requires toughness? Technical precision is also tough--difficult, requiring patience and endurance that, by themselves, can be physically challenging. I can think of many dangerous (that is, tough) jobs that require mental agility, endurance, and patience: flying a plane; sailing a boat; bulldozing a building; working on a skyscraper 80 stories off the ground; and others. Not all of them require education. Make a mistake doing one of them, however, and there will be consequences. Mistakes made by a bartender or truck loader are easy to fix.

Satterlund often seems to subscribe to the old idea (still the conventional wisdom, it seems) that masculinity is toughness. That makes a good stick to use to beat men on the head. So it's fortunate that Satterlund quotes his boxers. They come across as proud, excited, and as focused on growth, development, and expression as on toughness or prowess. Several connect boxing to masculinity in ways that point to the whole man, not just the tough guy. The interview excerpts are the joy of this book, vibrant, often funny, always engaging. It's easy to read the heart and soul of the KO in these comments.

Wyatt, a college student, said he felt more "manly" because he boxed. He enjoyed knowing he could now "take care of" himself (i.e., be independent). Stronger and more adept because he trained hard, he can "kick somebody's ass." But in the next sentence he stressed that the manly feeling was "more about control [and] conditioning" (p. 38; my emphasis). Wyatt points out that more than physical strength is involved in manliness. He knows that boxing requires self-control and discipline of mind and body.

Kevin, also a college student, said he knew he "did something, something risky" when he sparred. It was "a great feeling," he said, and added, "this is noble too, stepping into the ring against somebody else, just you and him" (p. 31). "Noble" shows that Kevin saw himself as one step up from men who did not get into the ring, and he is right--not because he was tougher than them, but because he was willing to risk his honor in a public contest. That sets him apart from and above those who box but do not spar.

Andy, who seems to have been in ROTC, was less concerned about the mental than the physical side of boxing, although in time I hope it would have occured to him that it takes brains as well as prowess for an officer to earn the respect of his troops. He's going to college and knows he gets mental preparation there. He sees boxing as "the other side, the physical" (p. 39). Heading into a job that we have to consider tough, he has more reason than other students for emphasizing physical preparation. I give him credit for understanding that a leader has to think ahead--that's what got him to the KO in the first place.

A fourth college student, Stan, was proud of the blood on his shirt (one of many to say so, including Satterlund himself). Stan had a sense of achievement when he boxed, "like you've done something." He had "worked [his] ass off," got into the ring, threw some punches, and took some. Stan compared himself to a gladiator (p. 38). Satterlund dismisses this comparison as a "romantic notion." But then he cites Joyce Carol Oates, who called warrior masculinity the "highest expression" of physical being. She herself downplays this ideal as a relic of a time when physical being was "primary" (p. 38).

Oates was wrong to imply that gladiators were only physically supreme and that physical being was "primary" in ancient Rome, and Satterlund wrong to see the comparison as "romantic." That well-known romantic Mike Tyson was fond of gladiator analogies. In Undisputed Truth, Tyson refers to gladiators and connects the warrior spirit to discipline, just as Wyatt did. Tyson describes fighting as "being in a perpetual state of war in your mind, yet on the outside seeming calm and relaxed" (pp. 47-48). That's control. That's poise. I don't see the romance there.

I was sorry to see that Satterlund criticized white-collar boxers for not competing. He says that they wanted the glamour of boxing without risking the injuries that competition might bring, "without the real costs" (p. 57). He implies that by failing to try to become professionals, these boxers were somehow cheating (pp. 45-57).

It is as if men who wanted to box were compromised if they chose not to compete. The author sees this as a dilemma (p. 50), but dilemma means a choice between unattractive options. It's incorrect to assume that everybody who boxes can choose to compete. For many of us, competition is not an option for reasons having to do with age, size, weight, level of experience, and more. Competitive boxing requires more time, energy, and money than sparring. It also requires special talent. Many of the men who sparred were gainfully employed. Were they free to train more hours than they already did, or travel to matches elsewhere? For most men who box, sparring is the peak experience (see pp. 29-31), and competition is not an option. Not every mountain needs to be Mt. Everest in order to be difficult to climb.

Satterlund's focus on toughness leads him to miss some cues. It's amusing to see what he has to say about vocal responses to pain in the ring. He thinks that boxers would like to cry out when they are hit but feel that they have to "man up" and be silent (p. 33). But boxers aren't stoic because they adhere to the rigid code of masculine behavior sociologists imagine they honor. They are stoic because, as Tyson says above, "seeming calm and relaxed" is itself an important part of your offense. If you look (or sound) rattled, you give your opponent heart. It's bad strategy.

In sum, then, Satterlund assumes that toughness is the heart of manhood, that non-white-collar work is by definition tough, and that these workers therefore did not need to compensate for deficient masculinity. There are grounds for saying that he is wrong on all three counts. Having reduced masculinity to domination and defined domination in physical terms (even though his boxers said otherwise), Satterlund fails to see that masculinity, like boxing, requires excellence in many areas. Many writers (albeit none cited in the bibliography) have stressed this point.

I question the theoretical balance of this book. If male blue-collar and male white-collar boxers were boxing for the same reason, what might that be? I'd say it was the joy of wholeness, which is the heart of manhood. Physical and mental commitment to a challenging and rewarding activity produces joy. The thrill of direct competition is more than "macho loutishness" (p. 135). As a face-to-face fight, boxing is as stark as competition gets. Other martial arts bring similar rewards. People find wholeness in racquetball, squash, and other intensely personal and competitive sports. It's not only about power. It's also about intelligence.

What to do? Move a muscle, change a thought, people like to say. Physical activity raises the heart rate, pumps the muscles, and focuses the mind. To feel sweat, blood, aches, pains; to struggle to do a few more push-ups, or even one more; to spar one more round or make it to the end of this one; to stick with your plan after somebody has punched you in the face: that's why we box.

What can serving food, being a CEO, going to class, programming software, writing a book, or loading a truck offer to compare to that? Having spent most of my life sitting at a desk, and having sparred over 1,800 rounds with my coach in the last five years, I'll tell you: nothing.


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Continued from above   Anderson
  Anderson, In the Game: Gay Athletes.

What do these changes in public attitude mean?

Part of the reason for more flexible views of gay athletes is good: the public has become more tolerant. But part of it is not good: what Anderson calls "the cult of masculinity" has eroded to the point at which books such as Roy F. Baumeister's Is there Anything Good about Men? (2010) are necessary. Baumeister's is a question that needs to be asked. Anderson himself has nothing good to say about traditional masculinity or about traditional men. He associates masculinity with the worst in men, not the best in men. For him, what was good for traditional masculinity was bad for gay men, a point made repeatedly. It follows that what is bad for traditional masculinity (and let's face it, just about everything in modern culture is bad for traditional men) is good for gay men. There we have the sum and substance of In the Game. All others, especially victims, are seen at their best, but traditional men are seen at their worst. That is the foundation of the extreme prejudice of progressives about masculinity. Gay men are doing well because other men are not.

Anderson views sports as a means of "masculine production," which describes how heterosexual masculinity is produced through a combination of factors, including disdain for homosexuals, domination of women, and demonstrated excellence in competitive activities, including sports. Anderson describes these attributes as "masculine capital," which measures a man's worth as it seen by other men (p. 23). Sports "reproduce a desire for the toughest form of masculinity," he writes, and hence are the highest standard of "masculine capital." Anderson sees sports as "a bastion of hegemonic masculinity, homophobia, and misogyny" (p. 7).

It is disappointing but not surprising that Anderson sees only one side to "masculine capital" and that he takes no account of the positive sides of competition and competitive behavior, which often have creative effects. What would sports be without competition? How else are levels of excellence to be determined, in the ring or on the field? Competition encourages excellence, everbody knows. But is any aspect of masculinity denounced more consistently than competitiveness?

Competitiveness among women is considered healthy and laudable. Among men, however, that instinct is "toxic" and widely deplored. Feminists who tout this line invariably emphasize the fragility and vulnerability of women and their need to be protected from "toxic" masculine behavior. Yet these same activists want women in combat roles and boast about evidence of physical toughness in women (e.g., playing football). Heads, women win; tails, men lose.

Anderson does not seem to understand that what he says about sports is true of many competitive arenas in which "masculine capital" is also measured, such as financial success, medicine, artistic achievement, and other areas in which women have a considerable presence, such as law. All these activities and professions are socially useful and are also means of acquiring masculine capital for men. Nor does he refer to the long and honorable tradition of measuring men against each other as it was known to knights, or see how that tradition is related to the modern tradition of awarding competitive athletes medals that themselves are measures of worth: gold, silver, bronze.

For many good reasons, men are closely associated with what we do and how we use our talents and energy to make things happen. If you insist on seeing gay men as victims, however, you minimize what men do. Your ignore men's social contribution and focus on what men are. That misstep is commonly made by activists and progressives. The victims recruited by progressives are identified by what happens to them, not with what they do. Thanks to the verbal magic of "intersectionality," even aggressive, wealthy male athletes are, so long as they are people of color, reduced to "marginalized masculinity" (p. 25; see also pp. 128-31). A black heavyweight champion of the world who is also a notorious womanizer is still a victim; so is a prosperous Japanese baseball star. Those men are not "marginalized" by what they do. Rather, like all victims, they are marginalized by what they are. They are identified by their minority status: to the progressive mind, that all that matters.

I find this maneuver extraordinarily patronizing and smugly superior: progressives make these decisions, and the rest of us are to bow before them. If there is a better example of what is known as "white privilege," I would like to know what it is.

Boxers reading this book will not be able to overlook Anderson's inept handling of individual sports. He uses sports teams as microcosms of society, following Pat Griffin, who, in Strong Women, Deep Closets (1998), said that team sports are surrounded by a "hypermasculine atmosphere" and that it is easier for "gays to come out in individual sports where the attitudes are not so macho." One often finds, in reading books about gender, that what passes for "truth" and "fact" is what conforms to the author's way of thinking. If Griffin says team sports are "hypermasculine," well, then they are.

Anderson concurs. "Undoubtedly our valuing of team sports (which require brute strength and excessive risk) over individual sports (which normally require more endurance and finesse) can also be said to reflect the cultural value of masculinity over femininity," he writes, happy to damn fans as well as players (p. 131). He renews a stereotype that he ought to have challenged, especially since his own data do not support his claim. He and others insist that team sports encourage homophobia. Yet he did not find that the experiences of gay men in team sports differed from that of gay men who played individual sports (p. 132).

The heart of this stereotype concerns what is masculine and what is feminine. He invariably associates gay men with femininity, assuming not only behavioral similarities but shared feminist convictions. Why do people associate gay men with women? It is really significant that some women and gay men like men? What is the basis for using sexual desire as the determining factor for sexual identity? Is sexual desire the only important difference between a straight man and a gay one?

There is a lot more to gayness than that. All the negative stereotypes that writers like Anderson associate with anti-gay bias stem from the narrow assumption that if you aren't a conventional man you are a somehow like a woman and that you will favor "feminine" sports, those with "finesse," over "masculine" team sports, those with "brute strength." This is yet another example of a gender-obsessed writer reinforcing the stereotypes he claims to want to overturn.

Anderson's understanding of sports is not much better than his understanding of homosexuality. It is hard to believe that a professional athlete would write that team sports "require brute strength and excessive risk," while individual sports require "more endurance and finesse." Has he ever heard of boxing? Anderson says almost nothing about individual sports. Boxing is an individual sport that requires "brute strength and excessive risk" as well as "endurance and finesse," and it is not the only one.

Finally, I take exception to his view that tough sports help gay men "hide their sexuality from the public" (p. 161). Is he sure that gay athletes want to hide their sexual preference? That is hardly strong or manly. He admirably notes that openly gay men felt better, and even thought their athletic performance improved, once they came out (p. 148).

Anderson does not see the connection between how a man feels about his gayness as a man and how he feels about himself as an athlete. The worse you feel about being gay, the less willing you are to be seen as a gay athlete. The more confidence you have in yourself as a man, gay or straight, the less it matters what people think of your sexual preference. Boxing for me was not part of a gay-activist campaign. I knew that I had to become more physical as I aged. I wanted to overcome life-long doubts about my athletic ability, limited though it is. I jumped into boxing. Gayness had nothing to do with my desire to be more physically accomplished and more physically competitive.

I had spent a career sitting at a desk in front of a computer. True, gayness was easier for me than it would have been for a man of 25. I was older, successful, and confident. Anybody who wanted to challenge me on a basis other than boxing skills, at which I was a complete novice, would have his work cut out for him. Other boxers, whatever their thoughts about masculinity and homosexuality, saw that I did not solicit their views, much less defer to them. They could see that I did not expect my money to be any less welcome to my coaches than their money. I could stretch their idea of gayness; they could stretch my idea of boxers.

I am proud to be a boxer, and happy to be gay. As a boxer, I have never expected to be challenged because of my sexual identity. If anybody were to say anything about it, I would invite him to step into the ring. My boxing brothers see how hard I work and, at least to my face, respect what I can do. As for men who do not box, those men are not part of my honor group, and their opinions do not matter. I don't think many of those men would take up my invitation to spar. I am in the ring; that's my job. They are watching me; that's theirs.

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Additional comments on Come Out Swinging: The Changing World of Boxing in Gleason's Gym.

This would have been a better book with more thought given to three aspects of the argument. Trimbur consistently find evidence that confirms her assuptions and theories and never allows the evidence to test her claims.

The first weakness concerns the economics of boxing in the twentieth century. Gleason’s and other boxing gyms were headed trouble before the 1980s because boxing had been transformed by television decades earlier. Trimbur glosses over these changes (e.g., pp. 7-10, 126), since they have causes other than the Reagan-era prosperity she wants to indict. The role of television in shrinking the importance of neighborhood boxing clubs has been explored in many studies.

She notes that there were some 2,000 amateur boxers registered in New York in the early 1980s, she notes, but only about 400 twenty year later. However, the floor under what Trimbur calls "grassroots boxing" disappeared long before the prosperity of the 1980s. Television is what helped to kill boxing at that level.

With the advent of televised matches in the 1950s and 1960s, people no longer had to go to the fights; the fights came to them. Kasia Boddy notes that television "knocked out of business the hundreds of small-city and neighbourhood boxing clubs" that had drawn new boxers and fed upper levels of the sport. The boxing writer A. J. Liebling reported that ticket sales at Madison Square Garden fell by as much as 80% as a result (Boddy, p. 319). Television changed the way people related to boxing, Liebling observed, and removed them from the excitement of the ring and quashed their need for that excitement. It also amplified the power of star boxers, which further diminished attention to boxers on their way up.

The second problem concerns Trimbur's idea of labor. The now-standard view that the world owes each of us a living is one of Trimbur’s bedrock beliefs. In chapter 2, "Work without Wages," Trimbur argues that the boxers at Gleason’s have no jobs only because employers are anti-black racists. She allows that the prison records of some men played a significant role in keeping them from good jobs. Many of them are also poorly educated, and that fact would further contribute to their difficulty in finding work. Trimbur notes that some black men do have jobs and help other find jobs (pp. 47-49), and good for her for pointing this out. That means that there must be more to the employment story than anti-black racism.

Third, Trimbur fails to see beyond the gender barrier she raises. Many of the benefits boxing brings to women, who were long excluded from Gleason's and many other boxing gyms, are also realized by those men who, in previous decades, would never have set foot in a boxing gym. The author usefully recounts the benefits that boxing creates for white (and white-collar) women (p. 95). She admiringly describes the changes she saw in a female boxer when this women began to compete. These same benefits are available to men who find, as I did, that they can, after all, work out in a gym, get fit, acquire basic boxing skills, and learn to spar.

For white and white-collar men, the author observes only one benefit to boxing, which is the opportunity to commodify blackness and exploit its caché. It never occurs to the author, a trained sociologist, that the boxing gym can be a frontier for men's masculinity as well as for women's femininity (p. 95, p. 115). Male homosexuals who box are never discussed. Male homosexuality itself is mentioned only briefly a note saying that the author was never privy to discussions about it in the gym (she did hear discussions of female homosexuality; p. 275n35). She assumes that white-collar boxers who don't really want to box and are happy just to look like boxers somehow get away with this ruse. Nobody is fooled. No serious student of boxing can set the terms of his own training. If you do that, you lose honor in the eyes of other boxers. Trimbur gave up her own honor, skating out of her workouts, which she hated. That's no credit to her.

The psychologist Abraham H. Maslow said that "it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail" (The Psychology of Sciences, p. 15; my thanks to Wiki for the reference). Trimbur's only tool isn't sociology but instead a prejudice against men who have white-collar jobs and who dare to box. When she comes out swinging, they are her target. Somebody should have told her that it is never wise to fight above your weight class.

January 2022
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WACQUANT: Additional comments

The "habitus" is is a well-established theoretical mechanism. In a 1939 work, The Civilizing Process, the German historian Norbert Elias studied changes in manners and morals, or what he called "sociogenetic and psychogenetic" factors that explained "historical structures and their changes over time" (pp. xiv-xv in the 1994 Blackwell edition). Bourdieu enlarged and greatly popularized this kind of investigation with his work on "habitus."

There is a lot of Bourdieu's thought in Wacquant's book, starting with the title, Body and Soul. which addresses the two key components of the habitus. Using Wacquant's work as a lens, I have added below a few notes about Bourdieu. You can find a good introduction to the relationship of these ideas to boxing, in Wacquant's 1992 article, "The Social Logic of Boxing in Black Chicago." Here I quote the Wiki entry on Bourdieu includes a paragraph that could have been written by Wacquant.

Bourdieu theorizes the inculcation of objective social structures into the subjective, mental experience of agents. For the objective social field places requirements on its participants for membership, so to speak, within the field. Having thereby absorbed objective social structure into a personal set of cognitive and somatic dispositions, and the subjective structures of action of the agent then being commensurate with the objective structures and extant exigencies of the social field, a doxic relationship emerges. (Wiki page retrieved 12/2/21) To unpack, we begin with the words "somatic," referring to the body, an "cognitive," referring to the brain. They supply the paradigm behind Waquant's title. The "social field" is the boxing gym and the traditions that come with any boxing gym. No matter how humble it is, every boxing him has some link to Madison Square Garden or to Boxeo Telemundo, and to the spectacle of boxing. Consciously and unconsciously, the newcomer has to find his place in this habitus, a vast matrix.

Put simply, the Wiki passage above means something like this:

Bourdieu theorizes the inculcation of objective social structures into the subjective, mental experience of agents.
Translation: when we are exposed to organization and institutions (schools, churches) we are encouraged to acquire (to have instilled in us, "inculcated") ideas and actions appropriate to them.
For the objective social field places requirements on its participants for membership, so to speak, within the field.
Translation: These organizations and institutions—like a boxing club, say—expect us (require us) to conform to their rules.
Having thereby absorbed objective social structure into a personal set of cognitive and somatic dispositions, and the subjective structures of action of the agent then being commensurate with the objective structures and extant exigencies of the social field, a doxic relationship emerges.
Translation: We internalize those requirements, which become part of our mental and physical equipment. But they are "doxic," meaning that this process is somehow subconscious or "pre-verbal," so that it is, to an extent, assumed rather than stated, and yet part of the constructed world of the institution. Doxic relations seem to be common sense and easy to absorb (commensurate in the quotation refers to this imagined, unconscious alignment of the institution's requirements and the person's disposition).
In other words, when we go to a boxing club, we meet a set of expectations and rules that we internalize. We don't want to be told what a boxing glove is, but perhaps we also don't want to show how little we actually know about how they should be used. We assume that what the club wants and what we want are compatible, commensurate—as if to say, the club is on the same page we are.

Reading Wacquant's book, I am sometimes reminded of a moment in Alan Bennett's play, The History Boys, in which a teacher sets out to explain two lines of Wilfred Owen's poetry. A student named Timms interrupts the teacher, saying:

"Oh no, sir. With respect, can I stop you? No, with a poem or with any work of art, we can never say ‘in other words'. If it is a work of art there are no other words." Then Lockwood, another student, comments, "Yes, sir. That's why it is a work of art in the first place. You can't look at a Rembrandt and say ‘in other words,'' can you, sir?" A student named Scripps reminds the teacher that "you can't explain away poetry," and Lockwood agrees that "art wins in the end." (text online at We would say, in Wacquant's case, that critical theory wins in the end. You can't paraphrase Bourdieu or Wacquant's rehearsal of Bourdieu's work, or even paraphrase Wacquant's paraphrase. You won't miss a lot by skipping these parts of the book unless you are a philosophy or a sociology professor who subscribes to Bourdieu's eccentric and idiosyncratic system of thought.

In 2005 I came upon his grave in Paris, at the famous cemetery known as Père Lachaise.

November 2022
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Reviews alphabetical by author & by boxer
(for biographies and autobiographies, boxer's name in bold)
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Ali, Muhammad: Jonathan Eig, Ali: A Life
Ali, Muhammad: Walter Dean Myers, The Greatest
Anderson, Eric. In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity.
Anon. Unnamed Boxer: Ackerley, J. R. My Father and Myself

Argüello, Alexis: Christian Giudice, Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Atlas, Teddy, & Peter Alson, From the Streets to the Ring: A Son's Struggle to Become a Man

Barry, Sebastian. A Long Long Way
Burke, James Lee. Crusader's Cross.
Baumer, William H., Jr. Not All Warriors
Blewett, Bert. The A-Z of World Boxing
Boddy, Kasia. Boxing: A Cultural History
Burke, James Lee. Feast Day of Fools.

Cannon, Jimmy. Nobody Asked Me, But . . . The World of Jimmy Cannon
Child, Lee. Die Trying
Child, Lee. Never Go Back
Child, Lee. Nothing to Lose
Child, Lee. Worth Dying For
Claridge, Gordon, Ruth Pryor, and Gwen Watkins. Sounds from the Bell Jar: Ten Psychotic Authors

Dana, Richard Henry, Jr. Two Years before the Mast and Other Voyages
Dixon, Tris. Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing.
Doezema, Marianne. George Bellows and Urban America

Early, Gerald. The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture

Dempsey, Jack, with Bob Considine and Bill Slocum, Dempsey, by Jack Dempsey
Dempsey, Jack, with Barbara Piatelli Dempsey, Dempsey, by Jack Dempsey
Dempsey, Jack, with Myron M. Stearns, Round by Round: An Autobiography
Douglas, Buster: Joe Layden, The Last Great Fight: The Extraordinary Tale of Two Men and How One Fight Changed Their Lives Forever
Duran, Roberto: Christian Guidice, Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran

Early, Gerald. The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture.

Foreman, George, God in My Corner
Fried, Ronald K. Corner Men: Great Boxing Trainers
Frantzen, Allen. Boxing and Masculinity: Fighting to Find the Whole Man.

Gardner, Leonard. Fat City.
Gems, Gerald R. Boxing: A Concise History of the Sweet Science.
Gorn, Elliott J. The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America
Greitens, Eric, The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL
Griffith, Emile, "It's All Behind Me Now"
Griffith, Emile: Ross, Ron. Nine . . . Ten . . . and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith

Hammett, Dashiell. "His Brother's Keeper, in Nightmare Town: Stories & Red Harvest
Heinz, W. C. The Professional
Heinz, W. C. The Top of His Game: The Best Sportswriting of W. C. Heinz
Heller, Pete. "In this Corner ... !": 42 World Champions Tell their Stories

Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man.

Kahn, Roger, A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring Twenties
Kennaway, James. Tunes of Glory
Kent, Alexander. Band of Brothers
Kent, Alexander. Stand to Danger
Kent, Graeme. The Little Book of Boxing
Kimball, George, and John Schulian. At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing

Lehman, Ernst. "The Comedian," The Short Fiction of Ernest Lehman
Leonard, Sugar Ray, with Michael Arkush, Sugar Ray Leonard: The Big Fight; My Life in and out of the Ring
Liebling, A. J. The Sweet Science  

Mancini, Ray: Mark Kriegel, The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini
Marquez, Anthony, Kung Fu Rockstar  
Miletich, Leo N. Dan Stuart's Fistic Carnivale
Millhauser, Bertram, and Beulah Marie Dix. Hot Leather (The Life of Jimmy Dolan)
McGivern, William P. The Big Heat

Norton, Ken, Going the Distance

O'Brian, Patrick. Blue at the Mizzen
O'Brian, Patrick. The Far Side of the World
O'Brian, Patrick. The Truelove
O'Brian, Patrick. The Yellow Admiral
O'Hara, John. Appointment in Samarra
Oates, Joyce Carol. On Boxing

Oden, John E. White Collar Boxing

Ong, Walter J. Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness

Pacquiao, Manny: Gary Andrew Poole, PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao
Patterson, Floyd: Alan H. Levy, Floyd Patterson: A Boxer and a Gentleman
Patterson, Floyd: W. K. Stratton, Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing's Invisible Champion
Plimpton, George. Shadow Box: An Amateur in the Ring
Prosper, Proz. Closer to the Sun

Rolon, Carlos (Dzine). Boxed: A Visual History and the Art of Boxing.
Roth, Philip Roth. American Pastoral

Sammons, Jeffrey T. Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society
Satterlund, Travis D. Fighting for a Gender[ed] Identity: An Ethnographic Examination of White Collar Boxers
Seltzer, Robert. Inside Boxing
Shaw, G. Bernard. Cashel Byron's Profession
Sheridan, Sam. The Fighter's Heart
Sheridan, Sam. The Fighter's Mind
Silverman, Jay, ed. The Greatest Boxing Stories Ever Told
Snyder, Todd D. 12 Rounds in Lo's Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia.
Spinks, Michael and Leon Spinks: John Florio & Ouisie Shapiro, One Punch from the Promise Land:
Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title

Steinbeck, John. "The Chrysanthemums"
Sullivan, John L. Reminiscences of a 19th Century Gladiator

Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair
Toole, F.X. Rope Burns.
Traver, Robert. Anatomy of a Murder.
Trimbur, Lucia. Come Out Swinging: The Changing World of Boxing in Gleason's Gym
Tully, Jim. The Bruiser.
Tunney, Gene. Jack Cavanaugh, Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ
Tunney, Jay R. The Prizefighter and the Playwright.
Tyson, Mike: Peter Heller, Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story
Tyson, Mike: Joe Layden, The Last Great Fight: The Extraordinary Tale of Two Men and How One Fight Changed Their Lives Forever
Tyson, Mike, & Larry Sloman, Undisputed Truth

Vlautin, Willy. Don't Skip Out on Me.

Wacquant, Loïc. Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer

Zola, Émile. Germinal Back to top