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Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 27, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Fought with thunderclouds of war on the horizon, the 1938 heavyweight rematch between Detroit's Joe Louis and Germany's Max Schmeling qualifies as the sort of sporting event that coalesces into a symbolic moment with much larger themes. The African-American Louis's success and demeanor were an unsubtle rebuke to the Aryan theories of race; the affable Schmeling, for his part, would be shoehorned into the role of "Nazi Max," despite the uneasiness of the fit—later that year, on Kristallnacht, he would courageously protect two German Jews. Vanity Fair contributor Margolick (Strange Fruit) keeps his bold, colorful focus squarely on the hubbub leading up to the bout; the all-consuming welter of hype—almost every utterance in the book is tinged by race or geopolitics—makes for compelling reading. The fight pitted talent against tactics: Schmeling's previous defeat of the hitherto "unbeatable" Louis depended on Schmeling's shrewd perception of a flaw in Louis's technique. Louis was a critical transitional figure between the controversial first African-American champ, Jack Johnson, and the equally polarizing Muhammad Ali. Schmeling, in turn, was truly the antithesis of the thugs who were running his country. Every chapter in the company of such estimable and likable stalwarts is an unalloyed pleasure. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* In 1938, radio announcer Clem McCarthy called the rematch between German Max Schmeling and American Joe Louis "the greatest fight of our generation." The greatest fight, as it turned out, was still to come and would be contested outside the boxing ring. This new book examines a world near war and grapple with the lasting importance of Louis versus Schmeling. Margolick provides a roaring ride through Nazi Germany and Depression-era America, as seen in the lives of Louis and Schmeling. Written with all the verve and wit of the best 1930s sportswriters (whom Margolis often quotes to great effect), Beyond Glory contains gripping accounts of Louis and Schmeling's two fights with each other and their bouts with other top contenders. But the greatest strength of Margolick's narrative is the larger history it supplies. For two boxers who claimed no interest in politics, Schmeling and Louis got caught up in one of the great political conflicts of the century. Margolick magnificently captures the tension--between white and black, American and German, Jew and Gentile, Fascist and Democrat--that defined the time. Readers emerge with nuanced characterizations of the fighters and the nations they represented. With its balance of popular history and riveting comeback story, Beyond Glory will be the definitive account of Louis versus Schmeling. And it's a hell of a good read besides. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
To boxing fans it also presented a chance to settle who was the real champion. "Officially" Louis was the champion, but he had won the title by butting in line. When it was--according to fair and traditional rules of boxing--Schmeling's turn to fight James Braddock for the championship, Louis fought Braddock instead, and Louis won to gain the title. Because of this, Germany and much of Europe disparaged the machinations of American boxing, and Schmeling touted himself as the real champ.
So, Louis vs Schmeling = Democracy vs fascism, Louis vs Schmeling = black vs white, and Louis vs Schmeling = unfairness vs fairness. Also, to many people, Louis vs Schmeling = fairness vs unfairness. These people considered Schmeling unfair because he represented an anti-semitic, anti-social, and uncivilized government. Of course for most Jews, Louis vs Schmeling = Jews vs Nazis.
Author David Margolick provides readers with details regarding how and why Louis got his chance for the title when it was supposed to be Schmeling's chance. He gives loads of other details too. In fact, despite the book's title, only a few pages of the book are devoted directly to the 1938 Louis-Schmeling fight, though those few pages are enough to give readers a "You Are There" feeling. We also learn the backgrounds of Louis and Schmeling, we meet their families and colorful associates (Schmeling's manager was ironically a Jew), and we tune into the culture. Margolick does this largely with words from contemporary journalists. Which is a good thing. It preserves Margolick's neutrality as well as invoking the humor and spirit of the time.
Two sets of seventy-seven photos, including a few newspaper clippings, bring the reader closer to the real scene. We also get many chapter notes and a well-composed index.
As I was reading the last few pages in BEYOND GLORY, I watched the documentary movie JOE LOUIS: AMERICA'S HERO BETRAYED. With it and the book I now understand why the legendary Louis-Schmeling fight ended as it did. I won't convey my understanding because that would spoil the matter. You can do your own thinking. But I will tell you what did NOT determine the ending: Race.
Although the text is totally dependent on quotations from the writers of that era, it is just that, that provides the color and texture of the period. Quotes from Runyon, Lardner. Hemingway, and a myriad of others from dozens of newspapers and periodicals, intersticed among those from American regional locations and Germany provide an in depth view of the pulse, feelings and tempo of those days. This was a period that preceded "political correctness" and was a time when the imperfect, but free, American way could be viewed in comparison with the repressed and savage nature of the German regime.
For those unable to recall that decade, this book should be an eye opener. So very much has changed in the world and in our country during the intervening time that it is hard to believe that all of this occurred just two generations ago.
Margolick does this by not just retelling the wonderful story of these classic boxing matches, but by presenting much of the story through the words of the journalists of the day. In doing so, the book carefully chronicles the paths to and from these historic fights, and in doing so, not only tells the tale of wonderful boxing characters, but exposes both the pervasiveness of racism in America, and the astonishing face of anti-Semitism and racism that was the Third Reich. Even though it is recent history, which we think we know well, it is still surprising to see and understand the clarity and depth of these issues as reported in Beyond Glory, in part through the eyes and words of an earlier generation of newspaper reporters. (As newspapers today shrink and consolidate, the creativity and glory of those reporters is especially interesting.)
The magic of what Margolick has done is to present the history of the Louis-Schmeling fights by weaving the words of the journalists of the day, reporters long silent, who wrote in the style of the day--and with the prejudices of the day. Margolick does not spare us the ugly side of either American racism, or German repression. Mainstream American journalism bluntly writing about this "colored boy," northern cities (not just southern) with segregated fight attendance, German media bluntly assailing the evil Jewish control of all things American, the weakness of American reliance upon Louis, a man from an "inferior race".
We all know these things, but to read them in the day to day quotidian press of those times gives vivid life to those years. One can see the social struggle far beyond the ring where these fights were waged, and it is truly eye opening. As well, it is fascinating to see the frightening German press, and on the American side, two different press corps, the white press, and the black press. Amid the racism of the thirties, there stirred the growing civil rights movement in a vital black press (now largely forgotten) with its own distinct voice, again brought to life in Beyond Glory.
By not only reporting on the history of these famous fights, but fully immersing us literally in the words of the day, Margolick brings vivid life and reality to an extraordinarily important transition in history. By putting us back in those days, he not only well presents the course of these fights, the wonderfully colorful characters of the boxing game, the descent of the world into war, but gives a different understanding of our own history than might be expected. Beyond Glory does not just retell history, it puts the reader in the time, thereby creating something very vital and unexpected--a sometimes uncomfortable understanding of "a world on the brink".
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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