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On Boxing Paperback – August 29, 2006
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About the Author
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.
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She's far too grandiose in her claims, too arrogant in her attempts to encapsulate what boxing is and isn't. It just comes off as uninformed and pompous. The book seems to be meant for the people she encounters at dinner parties. People who know nothing about boxing, who aren't really interesting in knowing, and who will only nod politely as you cleverly try to draw parallels between unrelated topics. Sadly since they are indeed unrelated, no matter how much she tries to sew them up into an insightful bit of boxing anthropology, she fails. There are long passages of word salad and armchair psychology that don't describe anything meaningful or true in regards to boxing, at least not in my opinion (and I'm sure it would be the opinion of most boxers, everywhere).
So read it if you feel compelled. Perhaps make it a game to see how many times she repeats the same language over and over, or uses the same phraseology. She particularly loves the word quotidian. But avoid this book if you're looking for some actual insights into boxing. You'll do much better with A.J. Liebling.
Oates also discusses the rise of Mike Tyson, and his desire to punch Jesse Ferguson's nose into his brain. She also underscores how terrible judging can mar an otherwise compelling boxing match (Holmes-Spinks II as an example).
The author feels that Muhammad Ali in his prime was one of if not the greatest fighter of all time. She pulls not punches, though, in describing Ali's early racist, segregationist comments.
There is also a chapter about the great Jack Johnson and how he taunted opponents in the ring, dated (and married) white women, and lived the way he wanted to live, and was revered and reviled by many.
The book is a bit dated, and there are occasional misspellings of fighters' names (Pernell Whitaker, not Pernell Whittaker), but the insight into the game is timeless and priceless.