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3.7 out of 5 stars
Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 6, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Just old enough to have seen Jim Brown in his prime I therefore read this out of respect for the football player, activist, and occasional jail occupant. The author clearly has great respect for Brown and details the steps he took to be granted interviews from this controlling, contentious man. This book is a great summation but really without any revelations. Brown was a great football player from a broken home in Georgia whose mother brings him to New York and works as a domestic to raise him. High school coaches guide him to a great Syracuse career while he experiences racism and events that will shape his life.

Brown left the NFL at the top of his game for a career in movies. The book seems to glorify the Jim Brown acting career which seems to me to be quite a stretch. Whether it compensated Brown better than staying in football is never made clear. After acting and football we are left with Jim Brown the activist and possible abuser. I applaud Brown for his long history of effective activism but am conflicted on how to balance this with the domestic violence incidents which he continually tries to explain away. This is for the reader to decide but it is apparent that the author also has this same conflict.

Overall, this is a fine book. But does it really add new ground? Not really. Does it give great insight into a unique period America? Probably, in my opinion this is the book's greatest failure. While he touches on what is happening in America during this period, particularly the support for Mohammed Ali as he objects Vietnam duty, there is no great reflection to open this historical period to the reader. Therefore I was left with a biography of maybe the greatest football player who is now an activist and who doesn't want anything written about him. There is just not enough insight or reflection to call this an exceptional book. But if you have a specific interest in knowing of Jim Brown, this book will serve that purpose.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Five REVEALING Stars!! Mike Freeman has written the penultimate biography of Jim Brown, even beyond his own autobiography, primarily because it updates later events of the complex Mr Brown's life. Covering his life and various 'careers' from his Syracuse University days to pro football with the Browns (and what many of us consider his early departure from a game he dominated like no other) to his movie career (and yes, the famous Raquel Welch love scene from the movie "100 Rifles") to his community activities to his stormy personal relationships and encounters with law enforcement, it's all here. And during it all, Mr Brown exuded confidence, bordering on or exceeding arrogance.

The lurid aspects of his private life in terms of marriage, the many women, and the problems with the law are fully exposed with no attempt to sugar coat it. But anyone who misses the fact that Jim Brown is a very intelligent man will also miss the real man behind the legends. As recounted here, I remember the photo of Brown "in handcuffs and chains" over a traffic violation where no one was injured, but until now I never knew the outcome: a jury found him not guilty in a half an hour. Brown is revealed as a man who, justifiably or not, felt he was the target of everyone from the local police up to the FBI and CIA because of his activist activities. Decades later, when his FBI file surfaced and was released to the National Archives, there was both shock and vindication of his suspicions. What an ex-FBI agent recounts about the agency and Jim Brown is even more shocking and saddening.

If you saw his appearance on CNN's "Larry King Show", you'll know it was different from Joe Namath's appearance on CBS' "60 Minutes", because Brown and King hardly mentioned football, except in passing (pardon the pun). Instead it concentrated on his 'anti-gang', civil rights, minority economic outreach, and other community activities. And Brown was appearing with former gang members and police working for gang elimination. There is lots of that in the book also.

As this biography shows, Jim Brown never missed a pro football game and when he retired from professional football, he never looked back. Instead, he "redefined" himself, over and over, dominating his 'post'-football roles as movie star and community activist like he dominated linemen, linebackers, and safety's. Never forgetting he was a black man with a following in that community that made him a role model. All done with the maximum amount of intimidation and the glowering, deadpan stares that struck fear in the hearts of opposing football players as he drug two or three along with him into the end zone for yet another touchdown.

This book details the amazing and sometimes shocking life of a MAN who still remains a fascinating celebrity-figure and enigma to the public and who always does it his way. Jim Brown is no angel but he certainly seems to be on the side of the angels, most of the time, except where it came to women and sex. A RIVETING Biography. Five HUGE Stars!

(*This review is based on an eBook digital download in Secure Adobe Reader 7 format. Save a tree, download your books.
* For Jim Brown, a decade ago in his own words, read the outstanding autobiography "Out of Bounds", Random House Value Publishing.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading this book and although it slowed at times it was worth the read. Jim Brown probably the greatest running back to play football in any era is laid out warts and all in this bio.I believe the book reveals alot in regards to how Brown evolved into the person he is now. The social and racial prejudice he encountered early in life chiseled not only his body but personality into a hard edged, tough to get close to icon.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I read "Jim Brown" a few weeks after finishing Mike Callahan's "Johnny U". Like "Johnny U", I gave this 3 stars, partly out of nostalgia. Both books have gaping flaws and those probably are even more apparent to someone who hadn't lived through these players' glory years. Unitas, in many ways, was the last of a certain kind of player--one who said little, played hard, and seemd to go along with management. These were the guys who lived next door to their fans and had off season jobs (usually in some sort of sales), because they and their families needed the money. Brown was the beginning of very different era. He left the game at his prime and spent his career being very outspoken about football, and was willingly to confront Coach Paul Brown. The elder Brown was instrumental in developing the modern game of football--he approached the game in a studied, almost academic manner and developed the foundations of the modern playbook. He also was rigid and authoritarian and by Jim Brown's time, his competitors were catching up with him. Although the racial integration of football had begun before Jim Brown's time, he was the first player to speak out about racial issues and he did it in a way that didn't necessarily resonate with white fans. Brown was arguably the best running back of his time and, perhaps, of all time. He was a gifted athlete who lettered in lacrosse (and considered his lacrosse coach to be his real mentor) and easily mastered new sports like golf. Brown left football for Hollywood and after a short but lucrative career in movies, it appears that he's continued to prosper. Going back to his football days, Brown has gotten in trouble with the law, mostly because of violent acts against other people. He's also had a long-term interest in troubled youth and has been involved in numerous civil rights and community based works since his football days.

Brown's life has had many contradictions--he was a civil rights advocate, but supported Nixon (who famously exploited racial divisions) for president. He has worked to be a constructive figure in public life, but has had repeated scandals involving women in his private life. He was the prototype for many modern professional football players, yet he has been bitterly critical of the way in which later players have played the game and participated in society. Freeman attempts to address Brown's character flaws and contradictions, as well as his accomplishments, both in football and away from the game. The result is mixed, at best. The book suffers from rather superficial research and a tendency toward pedantic and shallow attempts at sociological and psychological explanations for Brown's behavior. Freeman brings in "experts" on violence and sport psychology whose expertise mostly consists of boilerplate soundbites. There are any number of people who have more expertise with regard to these topics and many of them are well known to the media. Freeman's explorations of Cleveland media seem limited and he appears not to have contacted any of Cleveland's sports writing/media figures and apparently ignored the morgue of Cleveland's afternoon paper, which was the dominant newspaper in Brown's time. The book also relies on very few of Brown's contemporaries. Despite access to federal records of Brown's economic development program from the 1960s, Freeman has little to say about how well it worked or what it did. The writing isn't as cliche-ridden as Callahan's Johnny U, but even for this genre, it's not very inspiring. Freeman tends to talks at us about Brown's motives and his life,rather than just letting the story tell itself. It's clear in the afterward that Brown was unresponsive to Freeman's requests to be interviewed and may have kept others away from Freeman. On the other hand, it's clear that he could have dug deeper with the material that was available. Some of his observations are simply laughable--Frank Ryan, the famously indecisive (and poorly protected) quarterback gets the kind of laudatory treatment that few Cleveland fans of the era would have given Ryan. The book also has sloppy errors, such as giving an incorrect history of the name of Miami University, the "mother of coaches" and a school that should be well known to sportswriters. Freeman opens by characterizing Brown as the greatest football player of all time, something even a native Clevelander would hesitate to say. Later, he describes Bill Belichick as the greatest coach of all time--a point that Cleveland fans, in particular, would dispute. Comments like these are made with little justification. There are other comparisons which attempt to compare Brown with other Black actors of his generation that fall flat in terms of knowing those actors' work and their appeal to different audiences. The book could have used a decent editor, particularly someone who knows football and Brown's era.

Jim Brown was a towering figure in his time. Football was gaining ground in popularity and the decline of Cleveland's once great baseball team created an opening that Brown easily filled. Fans were disappointed with his sudden departure from the game and his abandonment of an otherwise lackluster team. There's much drama in his story and the book will bring back memories for people who will tolerate its shortcomings. The story of Brown's life after football tends to meander and it's never really clear how managed to get along after the film roles ended. Freeman also takes a lot of Brown's community work at face value and makes claims about Brown's role in dealing with urban problems in L.A. that seem overly generous and which lack any real documentation. I don't doubt Brown's intentions or his willingness to do things that other people might not consider. I just don't think Freeman really gives us a full picture. Given the dearth of written material on Brown's life and his importance to the "modern" game of football, this is better than nothing, but hopefully, someone will do another book that truly does justice to this great football player and interesting, controversial man.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Jim Brown has long fascinated me. I went to high school near Manhasset, where Brown was a great high school star, just a year or two after Brown. Somehow I managed to miss seeing him then but really began following his career when he went to Syracuse and then to the Cleveland Browns. Needless to say, our local paper on Long Island, Newsday, plus the City papers gave him lots of coverage. I was never a fan of his action movies - not so much Brown, I just don't like that type of film - but I always have admired his activisn for civil rights and in the toughest inner city neighborhoods. So I came to this biography with high hopes - and came away disappointed.

I had hoped to learn a lot about his high school years and his later athletic career and then about his courageous efforts on behalf of civil rights and gang kids. Yet, at the end, I knew very little more than what I'd already learned from general newspaper and magazine articles and from seeing Brown in T.V. interviews. On the other hand, if you want a lengthy discussion of Brown's troubles with, and bad behavior towards, women, you will like this book. I don't fault Freeman for dealing with that part of Brown's life; I do think he gives it disproportionate attention. The overwhelming majority of Brown's life has been - there is no other word for it: heroic. And that is especially true of his post-athletic life since his football prowess was in an "extracurricular" endeavor.

From my perspective, this is a 1 or 2 star book that gets a somewhat higher rating only because of the intrinsic interest of the man himself, Jim Brown.
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on December 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
THIS BOOK BY MIKE FREEMAN IS A VERY GOOD BIO ON A VERY INTERESTING PERSON IN JIM BROWN. HE CAPTURES BROWN AS A VERY COMPLICATED PERSON WITH MANY SIDES. I AM FROM CLEVELAND AND SAW MANY OF HIS GAMES AS A CHILD AND ARE STILL ETCHED IN MY MIND FOR THE GREAT PLAYS HE MADE. OFF THE FIELD IT WAS A DIFFERENT STORY. JIM WAS ARROGANT, ALOOF AND A MAJOR WOMANIZER. HE HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF PHYSICAL ABUSE MORE THAN A FEW TIMES OVER THE YEARS. HE ALSO WAS A MAJOR MOTIVATOR IN TRYING TO HELP BLACK BUSINESS PEOPLE ESTABLISH THEMSELVES BACK IN THE 1960'S AND 1970'S. ALONG WITH ALL THIS, HE MADE SEVERAL MOVIES AND HAD A SOLID CAREER FOR AWHILE. THE ONE COMPLAINT I HAVE WITH THIS BOOK IS A LACK OF TIME SPENT ON HIS FOOTBALL CAREER. OTHER THAN THAT I REALLY ENJOYED AND ALSO FOUND THE PART ABOUT THE FBI KEEPING AN EYE ON BROWN FOR SEVERAL YEARS TO BE VERY INTERESTING. ALL IN ALL I LIKE IT AND SUGGEST FOR ALL JIM BROWN FANS.
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on January 28, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Jim Brown was a legend on the field, the star running back for the Cleveland Browns blazed a trail that few could even dream of being mentioned in the same breath as him.

Black men were not easily accepted in the NFL when Brown commenced playing for the Browns, his role became not only star player but also a lead advocate of player rights and civil rights in the 1960's.

The author Mike Freeman tells an interesting story about Brown and isn't afraid to delve into the darker side of the man. Brown's alleged woman beating and his regular dating of women while married are documented and discussed in detail.

Brown is a very interesting personality - champion player, movie star, abuser of women, civil rights activist - it is all there.

A good book, perhaps not riveting reading as the style is a little dull, but still a good addition to the bookshelves.
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on December 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
HERE GOES. I found it funny that in 2 movies Jim Brown were in "Im gonna git you succa" an "Any given Sunday" portrayed his life. Projecting a noble image, an activist the chapters that I really loved was LOST 1980 AND 1990 & NOW HERO. After reading this book I'm looking forward to reading PB: The Paul Brown Story, Off My Chest, Out of Bounds.I was unaware till now that Spike Lee did a documentary about Jim Browns life JIM BROWN: ALL AMERICAN.Also I was lucky to purchase this book at the Miami Book Fair International 2013 I paid two dollars :-)
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on November 10, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Son needed this for school with the requirements of an autobiography or biography on someone born prior to 1940. This fit the bill and he found it interesting even though he's not a big reader.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Writer had a very tough task, an unauthorized biography of a very guarded man. I admire the effort, results are lacking a bit.

Writer asks if a man who is so abusive to women can be a hero.

Many sections of the book are lacking. Brown was a great running back, greatest runner. But he was a mediocre (at best) pass catcher and a lousy blocker. Author ignores that completely.

Author does speculation of how Brown would perform today and makes points about him being bigger than many of the defensive linemen he played against. But he forgets that if he played on artificial turf, he might have gotten injured more.

Would have loved to hear more of his lacrosse career. Is he still in touch with Roy Simmons, Jr.?

Movie career is quite overrated. However, the author did not even mention "I Am Gonna Git You Sucka", a parody of Blaxploitation movies.

Author should have used a story about Brown and the late Dick Schaap, the sportswriter and broadcaster. Brown was his usual hostile self when being interviewed by Schaap until Dick reminded Brown that he was a lacrosse goalie at Cornell. Schaap had little success against Brown that day and after a lot of laughter, Brown warmed up completely.
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