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Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson (Borzoi Books) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 13, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Haygood's book is certainly one of the best biographies of a boxer ever written . . . an important contribution to both sports literature and African American studies."
-Gerald Early, Washington Post
". . . Thoroughly marvelous . . ."
-Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times
"Mr. Haygood captures his grace and power, at many disparate moments, as well as it’s been captured . . . Mr. Haygood . . . is a biographer in his own prime."
-Dwight Garner, New York Times
". . . an ambitious portrait of an American legend."
-Pete Hamill, Sunday Times
". . . insightful, highly readable . . . A wonderful book that deserves a wide audience."
-Kirkus Reviews
"Haygood's excellent account of Robinson's long, eventful life . . .is packed with anecdotes and lush, pertinent context."
-Katherine Dunn, Bookforum
"Wil Haygood's new biography of Robinson . . .is about as fine a book about a boxer as you will find . . . Who is, pound for pound, the best fighter of all time? Robinson is always in that conversation. And should the topic ever pivot to the best writers about the sport, Haygood should be, too."
-Henry C. Jackson, Associated Press
". . . a compelling, often brilliant biography."
-Rege Behe, Pittsburg Tribune
"Haygood was born to the task . . . a portrayal that resonates with the guts, glitter and gravitas that his subject merits."
-Bijan C. Bayne, The Bay State Banner

"This book is a wonderful mix of reporting and grace, inspired by the thunder and speed of a much forgotten champion. Deeply researched, superbly written, thankfully devoid of dripping sentimentality, Wil Haygood takes an old broom to Harlem history and sweeps out the corners. This is the boxer we never knew."
-James McBride, author of The Color of Water

"The best is always fragile, Sugar Ray Robinson once said, and it took a writer of Wil Haygood's magnificence to appreciate what this meant in bringing the great boxer back to life. Sweet Thunder is a jewel from beginning to end."
-David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered and Rome 1960

"Finally, a biography worthy of a great athlete and social force, Sugar Ray Robinson."
-Larry Merchant, HBO World Championship Boxing

About the Author

Wil Haygood is a prizewinning staff writer for The Washington Post and an acclaimed biographer. His In Black and White was internationally praised. Among his honors are the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and the Nonfiction Book of the Year Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Series: Borzoi Books
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044979
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400044979
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #628,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on November 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
on the casque of thy adverse pernicious enemy" King Richard II, Act I Scene iii

Two ancient bits of personal history came flooding back to me when I read Wil Haygood's "Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson".

First, when I was growing up in the late 50s and early 60s a big group of kids in my neighborhood used to gather into one tiny apartment to watch the boxing on Friday nights. In between fights, we'd strap on big gloves and stage our own 1 round fights. That ended the night we watched Emile Griffith kill Benny "Kid" Paret during a bout.

Second, I remember my father (a musician) talking about how so many of the performers he worked for loved fighters and the fight game. When asked why they seem to have such a close relationship with each other he said basically musicians and fighters (and other athletes) tended at that time to live on the margins or outside the margins of `acceptable' society. They are admired by society even while society sometimes thinks of them as somewhat off. He also indicated that when you get into the ring or put a sax to you lips or put a violin on your shoulders you become judged by your peers solely on merit. In the internal world of boxing and music there was something approaching a meritocracy that society generally was far from adopting. He noted that the best fighters in the world could be viewed as the jazz artists of boxing; you could compare a Robinson fight to a Miles Davis performance if you looked closely enough. The great fighters and the great jazz musicians could respond with fluidity and grace to their environment even if that environment was changing during a fight or a performance.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I hate to be somewhat less than adoring among all these excellent reviews, but there was something I found lacking in this otherwise very interesting biography.

I understand and applaud the contextualizing of Sugar Ray and his place in the evolution and emergence of African-American culture and independence in the post-WWII era. I found the relationship between Ray and Miles or Hughes to be fascinating, his many business ventures and efforts outside the ring to be worthy of discussion, and even liked the jazzbo style of the author.

However, there were times when -- if not a "monotonous linear narrative" as one reviewer calls it -- how about at least some sense of the chronological arc of his fighting career? You just don't get many details and are left wondering exactly when did he win the belt, who was he fighting at the time etc. I personally would have like more of that, though I agree Haygood covers The Raging Bull matches well.

In sum, there were parts of this book I really liked, and parts of this book that I wished were in there so I could have liked them too.
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By Jimmy B on November 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At last a biography worthy of the Pound for Pound Greatest Fighter that ever lived.
Sugar Ray Robinson was a true original, as a fighter he had it all,Speed..Power..and courage in the ring.
As a man he was flamboyant,flashy,and class personified..
Wil Haywood has done an amazing job in recounting the life of this Boxing Legend.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Haygood's work is an ambitious effort to place the career of one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- boxers ever in a social context. To that end, he interweaves the stories of three of Robinson's contemporaries, Lena Horne, Langston Hughes, and Miles Davis, into the narrative of the life of Walker Smith, Jr., the Detroit-raised youth who would become Sugar Ray Robinson.

He chooses these three as examples of African-American artists who made powerful individual marks and achieved success in a culture still badly stained by racism. Haygood sees Robinson connected to them through his artistry in the ring. They improvised with pen, voice, and trumpet; he did so with feet and fists. Moreover, Robinson blended his interest in art and show business with his paid profession. He owned his own nightclub that was a fixture for the sporting and entertainment elite of the '40s and '50s.

There is nothing wrong with the approach, although I understand the frustration of those who were expecting more about Robinson's boxing. If you're looking for a book predominantly about his boxing career, I'd skip this one. Personally, however, I have no problem at all with writers who strive to place sports figures in a social context. Charles Einstein's "Willie's Time," for example, brilliantly evokes the era in which Willie Mays came of age and matured while maintaining a deep appreciation of and describing well Mays's brilliance as a baseball player. In my view, however, Haygood falls short of his goal.

First, the writing is a bit clunky throughout. He strives for lyricism in his attempts to capture the ferment of Harlem and Parisian nightlife through which Robinson and the others moved, but frequently produces riffs that are superficially flashy but forgettable.
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Format: Hardcover

Could Use More Pictures Next Edition.


For me, as I suspect it is for most, the name Sugar Ray Robinson is synonymous with boxing glory, and therefore before picking up Haygood's treatment I was dreading a dry, technical account of the fighters exploits in the ring, loosely tethered by anecdotes, I should have known better.

Though boxing, like Sugar's jab, leads the narrative it is not what you come away remembering him for. Instead, Haygood draws a much wider arc, and as a consequence, interesting and profound account of the passions, insecurities, trials, and triumphs of Sugar outside the ring, as an individual and in the context of his time. We are lead to believe that for Sugar, boxing was the place where he both discovered, and when necessary, reinforced his self-worth but that boxing was to significant extent merely a launching pad that could propel a man like him from the rough Harlem streets to the galaxies and stars that really touched his soul. People like Langston Hughes, Miles Davis and the lovely Lena Horne, meant more to his existence than his epic battle with the Raging Bull, though Haygood spares no expense in recounting that piece of boxing lore.

In sum, the only readers who will be disappointed are those who come seeking monotonous linearity of the jab; Haygood, like Sugar, comes from the outside with the lucid, lyrical left-hook and wins with a knockout I never saw coming.
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