Jack Dempsey was perfectly suited to the time in which he fought, the time when the United States first felt the throb of its own overwhelming power. For eight years and two months after World War I, Dempsey, with his fierce good looks and matchless dedication to the kill, was heavyweight champion of the world. A Flame of Pure Fire is the extraordinary story of a man and a country growing to maturity in a blaze of strength and exuberance that nearly burned them to ash. Hobo, roughneck, fighter, lover, millionaire, movie star, and, finally, a gentleman of rare generosity and sincerity, Dempsey embodied an America grappling with the confusing demands of preeminence. Dempsey lived a life that touched every part of the American experience in the first half of the twentieth century. Roger Kahn, one of our preeminent writers about the human side of sport, has found in Dempsey a subject that matches his own manifold talents. A friend of Dempsey's and an insightful observer of the ways in which sport can measure a society's evolution, Kahn reaches a new and exciting stage in his acclaimed career with this book. In the story of a man John Lardner called "a flame of pure fire, at last a hero," Roger Kahn finds the heart of America.
"He was the wild and raucous champion of the wild and raucous 1920s," writes Kahn (The Boys of Summer, etc.) of the legendary heavyweight William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey. This "hobo, roughneck, brawler, fighter, slacker, lover, millionaire, gentleman" provides Kahn a vehicle for chronicling the jazz age itself. Dempsey emerged out of the still-wild West, having fought in mining towns throughout Utah and Colorado, lean and hungry for success as his country stood on the precipice of unprecedented wealth and power. His transformation from rural tough, the "Manassa Mauler," into the preeminent athlete in the world marked the arrival of sport as big business in a prosperous new America. When he won the heavyweight championship in 1919, Dempsey did it in front of 20,000 people. Less than eight years later, he drew a crowd of 120,000 for his first bout with Gene Tunney (which he lost), still the largest ever in boxing, and made a fortune. In graceful and fluid prose, Kahn presents the con men, gangsters, prostitutes and starlets who inhabited the turbulent, Prohibition-era story of Jack Dempsey. The larger-than-life storytellers of the age--legendary sportswriters like Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon--feature prominently. Kahn delivers a performance of which any of those whiskey-swilling, rakish scribes would have been proud.