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A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s Paperback – September 14, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (September 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156014149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156014144
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,260,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
Why the biographer of a boxer with zero interest in public affairs has to climb upon his political soapbox throughout his narrative is beyond me. When not talking boxing, Kahn's analysis of the Roaring '20s has all the depth of pancake and is as predictable as that of any ideologue (in Kahn's case, a left of center ideologue.) On top of that, Kahn has an obsession with sexual matters unrelated to his subject that's just weird -- '20s hangers-on are introduced randomly throughout the book for no seeming purpose other than to comment on their bedrooms habits. Strange as this is, though, it pales in comparison to the bizarreness of Kahn's multi-page exposition halfway through the book of a fight Kahn had as a 10 year old boy in summer camp.
However, Kahn's description of Dempsey's big fights and his preparation for them is outstanding. As well, his portrayal of the rivalry between Kearns and Rickard over the right to be Dempsey's most trusted promoter gives great insight into business and entertainment environment of the '20s. Indeed, it's when Kahn sticks to boxing that he gives real insight into Dempsey's times as well as the man himself -- mention of 500 gate crashers organizing themselves to attack an arena entrance at once to flood past the helpless ticket takers provides more insight into the era than any of Kahn's embarrassingly simplistic diversions into political or social history.
A final point about objectivity. Very few human beings are as honest and decent as Dempsey is portrayed here. If this was indeed the true Dempsey, more explanation is needed about why he was a largely hated champion throughout his career (Kahn's endless attacks on "hard right conservatives" who hounded Dempsey for alleged draft dodging in World War I is too pat explanation for anybody who doesn't have their own political ax to grind.)
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