In this captivating and complex portrait of an American sports legend, Russell Sullivan confirms Rocky Marciano’s place as a symbol and cultural icon of his era. As much as he embodied the wholesome, rags-to-riches patriotism of a true American hero, he also reflected the racial and ethnic tensions festering behind the country’s benevolent facade.
Spirited, fast-paced, and rich in detail, Rocky Marciano is the first book to place the boxer in the context of his times. Capturing his athletic accomplishments against the colorful backdrop of the 1950s fight scene, Sullivan examines how Marciano’s career reflected the glamour and scandal of boxing as well as tenor of his times.
Sullivan, a business writer and owner of a corporate education company, offers a solid if unspectacular biography of the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history. He recounts Marciano's career from his first professional fight in 1947 through his death in a plane crash in 1969, looking at the sports hero as a symbol of both the optimism and the darker cultural currents of the 1950s. Sullivan provides a detailed and complete history of Marciano's fights, as well as some rich contextual background on the characters and atmosphere of boxing during the 1950s. Marciano, the child of Italian immigrants, who grew up in working class Brockton, Mass., was presented by the press as the ideal '50s man: a wholesome, patriotic family man with an all-American rags-to-riches story and worshipped by his fans as such. He was another Great White Hope in a sport dominated by black men, and though many 1950s sportswriters strove for a colorblind approach, it was nonetheless clear that they rooted for Rocky. The cultural analysis is the strongest part of the book; Russell's portrait of the private man (sometimes ambivalent about his family and notoriously obsessed with collecting and never spending money) is well researched and complex, but hampered by his often clunky and repetitive writing style. Though Marciano never achieved the popularity of Ali or Louis, his story offers a fascinating glimpse of boxing at midcentury and boxing buffs will be glad to have this overdue biography.