The bestselling biography of Muhammad Ali--with an Introduction by Salman Rushdie
On the night in 1964 that Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) stepped into the ring with Sonny Liston, he was widely regarded as an irritating freak who danced and talked way too much. Six rounds later Ali was not only the new world heavyweight boxing champion: He was "a new kind of black man" who would shortly transform America's racial politics, its popular culture, and its notions of heroism.
No one has captured Ali--and the era that he exhilarated and sometimes infuriated--with greater vibrancy, drama, and astuteness than David Remnick, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lenin's Tomb (and editor of The New Yorker). In charting Ali's rise from the gyms of Louisville, Kentucky, to his epochal fights against Liston and Floyd Patterson, Remnick creates a canvas of unparalleled richness. He gives us empathetic portraits of wisecracking sportswriters and bone-breaking mobsters; of the baleful Liston and the haunted Patterson; of an audacious Norman Mailer and an enigmatic Malcolm X. Most of all, King of the World does justice to the speed, grace, courage, humor, and ebullience of one of the greatest athletes and irresistibly dynamic personalities of our time.
"I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong," Ali said in 1967 on refusing to be drafted. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and though the Supreme Court would overturn his conviction four years later, principle lost him--temporarily--his title, big bucks, the support of many admirers and the best years of his fighting life. Vietnam postdates most of New Yorker editor Remnick's (Lenin's Tomb) coverage, as he writes little about Ali in the post-Sonny Liston era. At its best, the book recalls the boxing writings of A.J. Liebling, while Remnick's frequent use of Ali's hilarious "rapper" doggerel adds to the melancholy humor through which he describes the Louisville kid who beat gambling odds on the way to the heavyweight title but couldn't beat the medical odds. "The history of fighters," Remnick writes, "is the history of men who end up damaged." Only in his middle 50s, the once graceful Ali, last seen worldwide clutching the Atlanta Olympic torch in a trembling hand, is disabled by degenerative Parkinson's disease. To many, though, he was disabled even earlier by his conversion to Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, which, whatever its controversial separatist image, "orders life and helps him cope with his illness," according to Remnick. The author smartly records Ali's defiant besting of adversaries in and out of the ring and shows him to be a champion human being. 16 pages of b&w photos.
Just read it. The historical context provided, along with using the thread of boxing to follow the evolution of a national conversation about race, is a fantastic foundation for Muhammad Ali's life and mentality to spring forth vividly. Also great for contemporary readers to gain a deeper understanding of race relations in the United States.