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
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From Publishers Weekly
A decade after its publication, Kahn's sweeping biography of the majestic career of boxing great Jack Dempsey—set against a rollicking backdrop of 1920s America—makes its way to audio. At over 17 hours in length, the unabridged title certainly allows listeners an ample opportunity to immerse themselves in the colorful atmosphere surrounding one of the earliest athletes to become a pop culture icon. Admittedly, the full cast of gangsters, flappers, showbiz royalty, politicians and Wild West hoboes may not always come to life in evenly vivid detail. But at his best, Kevin Yon captures Kahn's unabashed hero worship, especially as the author reflects on his relationship with Dempsey during the Champ's later years. Yon also manages to create a compelling characterization of Dempsey, whose high-pitched voice and unassuming manner of speaking provide a stark contrast to his ferocity inside the ring. A Harcourt hardcover. (July)
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