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A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s Hardcover – October 5, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (October 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151002967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151002962
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #543,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jack Dempsey (1895-1983) launched the age of big-money, high-visibility boxing with his 1919 defeat of heavyweight champion Jess Willard. Then when Gene Tunney beat Dempsey in 1927, assisted by a referee's controversial "long count," it foreshadowed the end of an era. With his good looks, free-and-easy ways, and roughneck background--including an ex-wife who was a prostitute before and after their marriage--Dempsey was the perfect hero for the brawling, cynical 1920s. Even his sensational trial in 1920 on charges of draft evasion and "white slavery" (he was acquitted) suited the decade's appetite for lurid tabloid stories. Roger Kahn, who met the fighter in the mid-1950s, takes an idiosyncratic approach to biography. He begins with a 1960 encounter in Dempsey's restaurant, moves back to the fighter's hard-knocks apprenticeship, covers Dempsey's childhood after an account of the 1920 trial, and intersperses snapshots of the American scene with recollections and reflections from the champ throughout. This technique pays off. Readers get a vivid sense of the period and of Dempsey as its hard-living but honorable exemplar, and they come to share Kahn's affection and respect for the thoughtful, generous man he became in later years. Squeamish readers, be warned: along with the cultural history, there's lots of boxing action, graphically described. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

"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 ageAlegendary sportswriters like Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner and Damon RunyonAfeature prominently. Kahn delivers a performance of which any of those whiskey-swilling, rakish scribes would have been proud. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

If you like sports, boxing, or history, you must read this book.
Kevin Mahon (kemahon@cahners.com)
Its a very well written story about a true sportsman, Dempsey was the real deal, and Roger Kahn did a spectacular job of telling Dempseys story.
Peter Miller
This book is a great tribute to a great man; my Godfather, Jack Dempsey.
John Chalinder

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on November 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that I am a special fan of Roger Kahn's writings, especially his books on baseball. I don't claim to be a boxing fan, but, as the author said, more than enough has been written on Babe Ruth and not enough on Jack Dempsey. Kahn gives descriptive accounts on Dempsey's bouts with Jess Willard, Georges Carpentier, Gene Tunney, Luis Firpo, and others. The 1920's has often been called The Golden Age of Sports and the author enlightens the reader with happenings from the political and social world of the '20's as well. The great sports writers of the period such as Haywood Hale Broun, Paul Gallico, Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner, and William O. McGeehan are all here as well. In reviewing the Demspey/Tunney fight in Chicago it is interesting to note that Kahn says, "I am looking at a crooked referee." You do not have to be a boxing fan to enjoy the book. I am not. If, however, you enjoy American history the decade of the Roaring Twenties provided us with a cast of characters that Roger Kahn will bring back to life for you. What are you waiting for? Give yourself a treat.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Mahon (kemahon@cahners.com) on November 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
If you like sports, boxing, or history, you must read this book. If you're fascinated by the world of celebrities, read this book. Roger Kahn has put together an engaging, fast-moving biography that often reads more like a novel. His portrayal of the many colorful characters populating the boxing scene at the time is incisive and humorous. The boxing scenes are engrossing and, not knowing much about Dempsey's career, I was as enthralled and eager for the outcome as if the matches were happening today. More than the boxing, I learned that Jack Dempsey was even more of a champ outside the ring than inside it. He handled himself with class and dignity, and conducted his affairs with honesty and integrity. He also remained humble and generous throughout his life. Not what you'd expect from the most ferocious boxer in history. At his peak in the ring Dempsey was unmatched; as a celebrity he was second to none, even years after he retired. As a magnet for attention and the ability to fill an arena, Dempsey was easily the equal of modern-day stars such as Michael Jordan--if not superior. Roger Kahn brings it all to life, vividly, and for me this is an unforgettable book about an unforgettable man. Here's to the Champ!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By T. E. Vaughn on October 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
For almost anyone the name Jack Dempsey is synonymous with "Champ." Born in 1895, William Harrison Dempsey came to fame in the turbulent, jingoistic, bigoted aptly named "roaring '20's." His is an authentic rags to riches saga of a young man who at 11 years of age decided he would be the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. He devoted himself full time to his chosen profession, assuming the name "Jack" from a past boxing champion that died young. Immensely strong, he worked hard at anything he did. He knew poverty, saying, "I was often a hobo, but never a bum." He literally battled his way to the top, knowing personal grief along the way, being cheated by unscrupulous managers, loving many women, marrying disasterously twice, becoming the most famous man in the world, and losing the championship in what was probably a rigged fight by the time he was 32. He maintained his dignity throughout and was as his epitaph stated, "a gentleman and a gentle man." Roger Kahn does a wonderful job of capturing Dempsey and his times. The book is not so much a biography as a history of an era, full of fascinating information. The actual fights Dempsey had play only a small part of the book, but are well presented. Kahn actually knew the champ and his respect for the man and his life show through in this very readable and worthwhile book. It deserves a wide audience. Jack Dempsey lost his championship to Gene Tunney in 1927, but he lost it with guts. His personal credo was always to fight hard, never alibi, and never whine. Not bad rules for today.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Ed Galloway on December 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Roger Kahn has done it again! In this mesmerizing biography of Jack Dempsey, Kahn has brought back to vivid life a time in America's history that my parents and grandparents used to talk of with such fondness. I was hooked from beginning to end. This book is a must-read for not only people interested in the life of Jack Dempsey, but for anyone who longs to experience another time and place as can only be conjured up by a magical author. Surely as spellbinding as anything Kahn has written and easily the most enjoyable read I've had in a long time.  
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Robert Slocum on January 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I come from a long line of Dodger fans. I met Jackie Robinson at my first game in 1956. (My mother wrote him a letter.) I was seven, so I barely remember the moment, but it may have been the highlight of my father's life. So Roger (Boys of Summer) Kahn gets every benefit of the doubt with me, but his book on Jack Dempsey disappoints hugely. It's an odd mix of fabulous boxing material and pedestrian social commentary. And far too much of the latter.

The digressions are never more ponderous than in the recounting of the new champion's trial for draft evasion in 1920. It's a compelling story of backstabbing by the first of his three wives. (Dempsey was acquitted, but taunts of "slacker" would follow him for years.) Nevertheless, for every two pages of high legal drama we get a page about the Republican convention or something. Is Kahn afraid that, having just read about the mauling of Jess Willard, his readers will find it hard to withstand a little courtroom tension? Nor does he limit his generic social history to the 1920's. He informs us long-windedly that the early settlers in Dempsey's native Colorado had to be tough. "As Hollywood reminded America so often in later times, hostile Plains Indians were a persistent menace." Duh! Does Kahn expect a large readership from Mars?

When he sticks to boxing, Kahn is a champ. Against Willard in 1919 for the heavyweight championship, "Dempsey landed a left jolt to the jaw and then, in seconds, he landed the most devastating combination of punches in boxing history." Shortly thereafter: "Has there ever, before or since, been such a punch as the single left hook that destroyed half of Willard's face?" And then: "At this point, Willard's life was in peril." These are lines I won't easily forget.
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