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King of the World
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
Remnick is smart enough not to contribute just another Ali biography to the shelves, and instead focuses his efforts on Ali 1960 - 1965...from his post-Olympic days through to the second fight with Liston. These are the years when Ali became Ali...the champ at the height of his powers.
But there's a special bonus in this book - a good portion of it deals with Sonny Liston. You talk about your seminal 20th Century characters. They don't get any more interesting than this guy: the abused son of a sharecropper, long stretches of imprisonment, a fight career directed by mob interests, a violent death. In short, a writer's dream. Remnick brings Liston together with Floyd Patterson (and you'll never find a greater constrast) and walks you through these two battles before turning his attention to Ali. Thus, you get a full portrait of Liston prior to encountering the force of nature that was then Cassius Clay.
The effect is a curious sympathy that you have for Liston as he enters the maelstrom developing around Ali. In most retellings, Liston is cast as the personification of evil. Remnick made me see him in a different light.
My advice for a great Ali study program:
1. Watch 'When We Were Kings' [Best documentary ever]
2. Read 'The Fight' by Norman Mailer
3. Read 'King of the World'
4. Buy any book featuring Howard Bingham's photography of Ali.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
David Remnick delivers a terrific biography of Muhammad Ali with "King of the World," but this book should never be mistaken for a conventional sports biography. It is also social history and a compassionate yet realistic portrait of America's guiltiest pleasure: the seamy, yet somehow sometimes heroic world of professional boxing.
The first thing that struck me when I read the book is that its first section discusses Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay) very little. Instead, Remnick focuses on the two boxers who helped to gave shape to Ali's legend: Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. The former was a reluctant champion from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, and Remnick brings Patterson's reticence and self-doubt into full view. The latter was a street thug from an impoverished rural background, a vision of America's deepest fears about African-Americans.
Remnick details Liston's two devastating first-round demolitions of Patterson and illuminates the complicated relationship the public had with Liston. On the one hand, he was despised because of his criminal background and ties to the mob; on the other, Remnick makes clear, he was comforing because he confirmed stereotyped perceptions of black men. One of Remnick's great accompishments in the book is to humanize Liston without in the least diminishing his surly and even hateful demeanor.
With Liston the controversial heavyweight champ, the loud, abrasive, seemingly self-confident Cassius Clay, of Louisville, Kentucky, stepped into the national spotlight. Remnick displays the future champion in all his complex glory: his braggadocio, his complex relationship with white people, including his trainer and doctor, his innate intelligence that was paired with his lack of formal schooling, his ability to manipulate the press, and so on.
Interwoven into his story of how Cassius Clay literally created his life and legend and became the man we know as Muhammad Ali is excellent social history on the civil rights movement and Ali's relationship with the Muslims, including Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. It is not surprising for those of us who grew up in the '60s that sport was so mixed up with politics in Muhammad Ali's day and that he was a key figure in shaping politics. Those who do not remember the time, however, may find it enlightening to realize that there was once an athlete who paid dearly for his political beliefs: Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from the ring for four years for his opposition to the war in Vietnam.
Remnick brings all of this vividly to life. He manages, in a bare 300 pages, to meld sports, politics, and history into a story that unfolds like a great heavyweight fight. Must read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a great writer that can be appreciated by the boxing fan and non fan alike. At times the narrative is a bit choppy. But in the end this style adds to the reader's enjoyment as the usual biographical methods become enhanced. The title and cover pic are a little misleading : while Ali is clearly the focus much space is given to (and much is learned about) Liston, Patterson and most interestingly, the whole boxing culture....Bottom line : A great book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
I'm a big boxing fan, and am fascinated with both Muhammed Ali, how he evolved from Cassisus Clay, and Sonny Liston. There's a lot of great boxing writing, however, and I thought every angle of these two had already been covered, both in facts and in their roles as mythic figures. So it was with great pleasure (and surprise) I found David Remnick's book so terrific. Besides learning new facts that only a good investigative reporter could dig up 35 years after the fact, the book read like a great story. The prose really flowed, but not in a pretentious way that took away from the subjects, and I think even non-boxing fans would enjoy the tale of when these two tragic men (though Ali wouldn't become tragic for decades)met to fight for the heavyweight crown. I plan on buying a hardcover for my boxing book collection (a shelf I'm VERY discriminating about.)Thanks David Remnick!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
David Remnick's biography of Muhammad Ali covers not just the career of one extraordinary fighter, but the widely encompassing sweep of his historical time. The book begins by sharply examining heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson and the unique qualities he brought to the America of his day, a quiet, soft spoken man who carried himself with dignity. Remnick then traces the rocky road to the championship for Sonny Liston, which was achieved after a stop at a federal penitentiary. Liston longed for acclaim from the public, and hoped he would get it after dispatching Patterson in their 1962 title fight in Chicago. A restless, brooding man, Liston would move from St. Louis, to Philadephia, then west to Denver and ultimately Las Vegas.
Ali's brash behavior in demanding a shot at Liston's title was part calculated strategy, part show business, boosting his recognition level all the while, building on the name value he began achieving after winning a gold medal in the light heavyweight class at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Eventually his loud bravado would convince Liston that he was actually crazy.
When Ali won the title from Liston in 1964 in Miami Beach many boxing authorities and fans thought his win a fluke. He then defeated Liston in a controversial rematch in Lewiston, Maine, a one round knockout many believed resulted from Liston lying down on the job. Remnick disagrees, quoting Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee and others in accepting that Liston happened to walk into a well-placed blow that traveled a short distance, but was substantial enough to accomplish its objective. Remnick also points out that Liston bore the fate of reaching the title after his prime, and might well have achieved a longer, more far reaching destiny as champion had the fates been kinder.
The high point of Remnick's dramatic account of a highly colorful American figure arrives when he tackles Ali's refusal to be drafted into the Army. Remnick does an excellent job of presenting and analyzing with sharp critical intelligence the forces at work during the sixties who admired Ali's stand along with those who opposed it, some of whom bitterly hated him. He does an excellent job of describing how African-Americans reacted to Ali as a fighter and a man, particularly at the critical moment when he stood up to political forces who sought to pressure him to be drafted into the Army during the highly controversial Vietnam War.
This is a book that provides a sociological panorama of Ali and his time. As such, this broad landscape is an invaluable work which enhances reader understanding of a controversial period of American history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
This was a very well reported book, and an excellent snapshot of a changing time, in sports, and in race relations in the US.
For better or worse, however, the real Ali comes through strongly in the book. While Remnick, and everyone who talks to the author extensively in the book, praises Ali as a great, sweet and brave man, he comes through to me the same as he always did: while undoubtedly a great boxer, he overstayed his welcome in the ring, and more often than not, his boorish behavior seems very off-putting.
I'm happy that Ali was around in his time, to move the countries attitudes, but he certainly seems a bit more of a lout than anyone was willing to admit, in the way he treated his friends, women, and opponents.
Nevertheless, the subject should not get in the way of the book itself
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was fascinating. I remember the grown-ups talking about these fights when I was a kid. I knew they were a big deal, but I didn't know why. Now I do. Mr. Remnick has illuminated the times and the political/racial atmosphere in which these fights took place. I found the short biographies of Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston especially enlightening. It's surprising to read how loathed Ali was at the time. And how lucky he was! If the first Liston fight hadn't been postponed because of Ali's hernia... when Liston had really trained and was ready... well, who knows? This has been the best sports book I've read in years, and I can't recommend it highly enough. What a wild ride!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The Titans Reigned Supreme
Fantastic book - more than just the Ali Story -
This is one of the best-written and thought out books of the happenings amongst a small circle of the greatest heavy weights.
You get a rare insight into the lives and minds of Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay - and the awakening/becoming of Muhammad Ali
I went into this book wanting to feed my hunger for knowledge of Muhammad Ali and came out of with a craving for more Sonny Liston - I now want to know all I can about him.
Only a brief period in time is covered - but it's an in-depth look at that time and the people and the places that made up boxing and some of the world outside boxing.
This is a great book for anyone interested in these titans - for anyone interested in Patterson, Liston and Ali - for anyone interested in the history of legends.
One of the best books I've experienced - I truly felt like I was there at times - in that era - that energy of the people and the times
This is one of those books where you wish there was a part 2
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
I dislike reading biographies & autobiographies that made the central characters larger than life, or elevate them to demi-God status. This book has none of that. And yet, everything about Muhammed Ali is larger than life. The book described the circumstances & Muhammed Ali's self-belief which elevated him to a hero or anti-hero status. If the readers were David Remnick's fan, then, you would appreciate the writer's eloquent style & his in-depth research & interviews, as displayed in his work of Lenin's Tomb, which won him the revered Pulitzer's Prize. Here, Muhammed Ali (previously Cassius Clay) is depicted not simply as a boxer, but also an icon who epitomises the turbulent 60's America, a country which was divided into 2 nations, the whites & the blacks. Muhammed Ali is a symbol of defiance for his people as he refused to be drafted into the army to fight a war that's none of his concern, a symbol of beauty and skill and courage, a symbol of faith, a symnbol of racial pride, of wit, and love. He also represented boxing of the new era by not having any connection with the mobs who had the tendency to fix the fights. Moreover, Muhammed Ali disregarded the bad words that sportswriters (used to be dominated by the whites) wrote about him. As time goes on, it's fascinating to read that his undying belief changed his critics rather than the other around. He was THE man, accomplished goals that he set up to do and there were times when he doubted himself but nevertheless, with a cumulation of sheer luck and sheer persistency that he beat against all odds. Now, as he is eaten up gradually but definitely by the Parkinson's disease, he was at peace with himself thru his total devotion to Islam & its cause. To add layers or dimensions into Muhammed Ali's persona, David wrote about heavyweight champions of yesteryears particularly Floyd Patterson & Sonny Liston, & champions of the present day such as Mike Tyson & Evander Holyfield so that we would appreciate in-depth of what makes Muhammed Ali the king of the world of all times. We would also read about Muhammed Ali's life intertwined with Malcolm X's, his involvement with the Islam Nation & Elijah Muhammed, his background & relationships with his family, people that he engaged with, him being a simple & humble man behind the limelight & so forth. Nobody makes Muhammed Ali but himself, a boxer, a promoter all blended into one. It was such a touching moment to finally read of him holding the Olympic torch at the summer games in Atlanta, which was a milestone for the man himself. It was a captivating & intense book to read. The book also contains several significant black and white pictures of Muhammed Ali. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Remnick's multi-facted biography of Classius Cly (Muhammad Ali) places into the focus the young champion as he was in the beginning, before he became a legend (faults included), and in my case, a hero. Most compelling were the mini-biographies of Liston, Pattterson, Malcom X, the various sport writers. These helped to place perspective into the story and let the reader be a part of those times. How soon we forget the overt racism that was ingrained in American life not so long along. I have never been a boxing fan, but have long admired Ali as a person who had the courage to do the right thing. Today it is easy to look back casually remark that his accomplishments were as a boxer. However, Remnick's Clay/Ali paints the brash (in those days the word uppity would have been used)confident young Negro that challenged existing conventions and won. We might even say that nobody ever "walked the talked" like Ali did. Yes, he was neither the bad negro or the good negro, he was and became Muhammad Ali, a negro who stood as an independent man, ready to change the way others preceived himself and the members of his race. Ali should go down not only as a great boxer, not only as a man that help to end the draft, but a man that helped to change the way Americans look at African-Americans. Ali is one of the true icons of American History.
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