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Ali: A Life Hardcover – October 3, 2017
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“Some people want to grow up to be an astronaut. Or maybe even president. Or heavyweight champion of the world. I always wanted to be a storyteller. The hardest story to tell is one that’s been told and told well before. In Ali, Jonathan Eig, a fearless reporter, as relentless on his turf as Muhammad Ali ever was within the ring, has taken on one of 20th century America’s biggest, baddest, most important stories and told it bigger and badder than it’s ever been told before. Ali: A Life floats like a butterfly and stings likes a bee. Stop the fight. It’s over. Eig in a knockout.”—Jane Leavy, author of Sandy Koufax and The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood
“Ali is a marvelous biography - deeply reported, illuminating, dripping with detail chapter after chapter—in every way worthy of one of the great figures of 20th century America.” —David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi
"Finally, after so many works focusing on this fight or that, the whole man, the whole life, is presented here. And what a revelation it is—to be able to see how this remarkable man was shaped by his world, and how that world was, in turn, profoundly influenced by this exceptional and complicated kid from Louisville. Bravo!" —Ken Burns
"A warm, compelling portrait of a winsomely enduring man. Eig's richly impressive roster of interviews informs an authoritatively critical biography that is both punchy and sure-footed." —David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing the Cross and Rising Star
“Jonathan Eig’s Ali is a tour de force! It is an independent, insightful and masterful assessment of ‘The Greatest!’ Eig’s biography puts flesh and bone on Ali’s fuller humanity. It is a must read for sports fans, boxing fans, students of American history, culture and religion.” —Dr. Randal Maurice Jelks, author of Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement
“A monumental study the scope of which has not been matched. An utterly absorbing and richly detailed account of the most charismatic and controversial athlete of the 20th century.”—Mike Silver, author of The Arc of Boxing
"Jonathan Eig’s 'Ali: A Life' is the first comprehensive biography worthy of this titanic figure. The author of acclaimed books on Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, Eig weaves together Ali’s athletic feats, cultural significance and personal journey. Fortified by hundreds of revealing interviews, 'Ali' vigorously narrates the story of the man who transformed the landscape of race and sports . . . Eig paints Ali’s bouts with vivid detail and captivating sweep . . . 'Ali' stirs together the sweet and the spicy, the gifts and the failings, the charm and the rage, the grace and the greed, the pride and the ego. Together, they made Ali the transcendent athlete of his age." —Washington Post
"Stunning . . . Eig's brilliant, exhaustive book is the biography the champ deserves."—NPR.org
"Eig's revelatory bio traces the late boxer's path from pariah to national treasure." —People, The Best Books of Fall
“Drawing on interviews with Muhammad Ali’s friends, family, and colleagues—as well as recently discovered recordings from the 1960s and extensive FBI files—Eig tells the life story of the legendary boxer, political radical, and hero in all its complexity.”—Entertainment Weekly, Fall's 20 Must-Read Books
"This hefty biography may be the deepest dive yet into the life of Muhammad Ali."—AARP, 12 New Books for Fall
"[A] relentless, image-altering biography."—Wall Street Journal
“Jonathan Eig’s masterful new biography of the champ is both captivating and highly relevant to the current discussions on race in America . . . Eig’s boxing descriptions are taut and lively . . . He presents boxing in all of its majesty and violence . . . Muhammad Ali was one of the most compelling figures in the 20th century, and Eig does ample justice to capturing his extraordinary and enduring legacy.”—Seattle Times
"'Ali' is a big, fat, entertaining and illuminating read . . . What makes Eig's book stand out is its broad scope, its detailed reportage and its lively, cinematic writing." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Exhaustive and engaging."—Boston Globe
"Eig’s book is a fine read on the great boxer’s life, taking him on as he was and always seeking the truth that hits closest to bone. It covers the tumultuous middle, and then the oddly sanitized and bland second half of the American Century, an era in which Muhammad Ali was among the biggest and brightest players on the stage — living a life that, far from signifying nothing, will in its outrageous grandeur and stunning humanity, stand the test of time."—Chicago Review of Books
“An appropriately outsized—and first-rate—biography . . . Eig does a fine job of covering all the bases . . . An exemplary life of an exemplary man who, despite a few missteps, deserves to be remembered long into the future."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Eig skillfully utilizes resources unavailable to previous authors, allowing him to present other aspects of Ali . . . As a boxer, Ali was a combination of power and grace. Eig . . . equals this combination with his blend of research and storytelling. VERDICT: A must-read for Ali fans, followers of the sweet science in general, and those curious about the maelstrom of events that shaped a generation."—Library Journal, starred review
"This evenhanded account will likely be one of the most read . . . Eig has produced a thorough overview of a complex person . . .Sharp quotations and expert pacing make the 600-plus pages light on their feet."—Publishers Weekly
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Those, like me, who normally would shy away from a blow-by-blow (no pun intended) description of an iconic sports figure should not dismiss Ali: A Life. Eig's lively, detailed writing lures the reader into Ali's life, with equal time spent both in the boxing ring and outside of it. The themes of peace, justice, and civil disobedience are as resonant today as they were during the height of Ali's career. Watching Ali's inevitable decline is an exercise in frustration and compassion, as Eig paints a tragic picture of a man often a victim of both those around him and of his own bravado.
Eig's punch-by-punch fight descriptions are riveting and the next best thing to watching old videos. They keep the pages turning a briskly even though fans might be remember the outcome. Readers old enough to remember Howard Cosell will not doubt hear his voice as they hang on the outcome of each fight.
This book has something for everyone -- sports fan, humanitarian, mother, brother, wife, or father. The highlights and lowlights of Ali's relationships makes Ali: A Life as gripping out of the ring as inside it.
Despite, or because of, the fact that it’s an unauthorized biography Eig has been very industrious in chasing down materials. Thus in addition to trawling through the secondary literature and newly available FBI and Justice Department files he’s conducted more than 500 interviews with more than 200 individuals, many of whom were as close to Ali as it was as possible to be, including his three surviving wives and his managers. Eig has, moreover, obtained access to the original audiotapes used for ‘The Greatest: My Own Story’; has engaged speech scientists at Arizona State University to analyse Ali’s TV appearances so as to chart the impact of his boxing on his cognitive skills; and has even got researchers to watch every one of Ali’s recorded fights so as to count the number of punches he threw and received (the latter totalling “around 200,000 blows to the body and head”).
The boxing fan may, nevertheless, note some omissions, such as Ali nicknaming George Chuvalo ‘the Washerwoman’ and Chuvalo responding by dressing as a washerwoman to challenge Ali in person: the only instance of Ali being successfully upstaged. More significantly, there is no mention of Ernie Terrell’s claim, when they fought in February 1967, that Ali had deliberately jammed a thumb in his eye. Instead Eig devotes all his energies to defending Ali from the charge that he deliberately did not finish off Terrell so that he could administer the “torture” that he’d threatened beforehand because Terrell was an “Uncle Tom” who persisted in calling him Cassius Clay.
Indeed, if one were to criticise this book it would chiefly be on the grounds that Eig is so enamoured of his subject that this sometimes skews his presentation of the facts.
In short, this is a substantial book and a very rewarding read, which is right to put the issue of race at the centre of Ali’s story, but whilst doing a very good job it falls just short of greatness, for the reasons given above.
I know a ton about Ali—I met the man a number of times, wrote about him, produced documentaries about Ali—so I wasn't expecting to find a whole lot that I didn't know. But there are some true gems in here.
Far more importantly, it's Eig's storytelling abilities that are the reason to read this book. This is no hagiographic, Ali worshiping bio... it's an attempt to capture the fullness of the man. And it truly succeeds.
Just click on the book's image above to read the first pages of "Ali"—you will be hooked.