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On Boxing Paperback – November 1, 1994

3.9 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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The Underground Railroad
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Yes, the same Joyce Carol Oates who packs one of the most lethal punches in American literature also happens to be an astute observer of the sweet science. Oates filters her knockout collection of essays through multifaceted prisms of art, history, sexuality, and politics to directly confront and explore boxing's physical and commercial brutality, but also the sense of human struggle and survival that's at boxing's purest core. "In the boxing ring," she writes, "man is in extremis, performing an atavistic rite ... for the mysterious solace of those who can participate only vicariously in such drama: the drama of life in the flesh. Boxing has become America's tragic theater." And from her ringside perspective, Oates, a true heavyweight of letters, analyzes the performances just brilliantly.

From Library Journal

A fight fan since her youth, novelist Oates follows in the tradition of boxing-loving writers like Hemingway and Mailer. In a slim volume expanded from a New York Times Magazine article, she candidly assays "The Sweet Science" for its spectacle, aesthetic elements, and its history from ancient Greece and Rome to today's ring dominated by callous promoters, casinos, and TV. Oates concedes boxing's brutality and often seamy side but finds positive merits as tragic theater. Good fare for fans and haters alike, especially those who have read Thomas Hauser's The Black Lights ( LJ 10/15/85) and Sam Toperoff's Sugar Ray Leonard and Other Noble Warriors ( LJ 11/1/86). Morey Berger, Monmouth Cty. Lib., Freehold, N.J.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: HarpPeren; Expanded edition (November 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0880013850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0880013857
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,736,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on April 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
I am still stunned that a person who has never been in the ring could have gained insights into boxing as powerful as the ones Oates pulled together in this book. And I'm grateful (and stunned) that a woman could be as sympathetic, not just to fighters, but to men and manhood, as Oates has managed to be in this book.
I am a serious amateur fighter and a sparring partner to the professional fighters I train with. I do gym work or road work five days a week with a former-professional trainer who was also a two-time NY Golden Gloves champion and junior Olympian. I spar Glovers and pros and I love it. I understand boxing and the love for boxing. The gist of my review here is this: After I read this book I realized I didn't understand my love for boxing -- where it comes from and what it all means and what it is I'm doing exactly -- as well as Joyce Carol Oates does. This woman is amazing to me. I've never read her fiction, but I will.
The first section of this book, the one in which Oates seemingly tries to take on boxing and what it means from every imaginable angle, is best. This is one of those very, very few books that made me fold down corners so that I can easily return to specific passages. I don't know if non-fighters will really understand this book, or if many fighters will ever bother to read it. But I'm damned glad I did and damned glad Ms. Oates is out there writing.
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Format: Paperback
The sport of Boxing, on the surface at least, does not automatically come to mind as obvious subject matter for the premier writing talents of Joyce Carol Oates; even though Ms. Oates certainly can get down and dirty with the best of them as in her "Man Crazy" or "Zombie."
But as Oates explains in her 1987 collection of essays (revised in 1994), "On Boxing":"No one whose interest began as mine did in childhood--as an offshot of my father's interest is likely to think of boxing as something else, a metaphor...Life is like boxing, in many respects. But boxing is only like boxing."
Oates is a boxing fan and a great writer and it was inevitable that these two facets of her life would converge.
"On Boxing" is really 3 separate essays: "On Boxing," "On Mike Tyson" and "The Cruelest Sport."
The first essay is so crammed full of fascinating, revelatory statements about the nature and function and the social and psychological nature of boxing that it is hard to pick out only a few to quote here. But I will try: "To enter the ring near-naked and to risk one's life is to make of one's audience voyeurs of a kind: boxing is so intimate. It is to ease out of sanity's consciousness and into another, difficult to name. It is to risk, and sometimes to realize, the agony of which "agon" (Greek, "contest") is the root."
In Oates view, the boxer brings more than his body to bear in the ring...he also brings his soul: "There are some boxers possessed of such remarkable intuition, such uncanny prescience, one would think they were somehow recalling their fights, not fighting them as we watch."
"On Boxing" the essay is also a boxing history lesson highlighting the careers of Jack Dempsey,Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali,Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, etc.
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Format: Paperback
Where the most eloquent writers display their best prose is through passion. And the seeds of passion thrive in sex, exploitation, and violence. The human condition, written about by every writer but only successfully by a minority, is dissected and shaved away and exposed layer by layer until one gets to the core of what the soul is, of what separates us from our basest instincts. To that end, boxing is the true display of the human condition and the greatest writers have recognized this and have poured forth their own souls to capture the brutality that occurs inside the squared circle.

Joyce Carol Oates at first seems like an odd choice as an expert on the sport. A frail academic known for her moving stories of family interaction, she wouldn't at first strike you as a devotee to a sport that most academics abhor. But she is a lifelong fan. Her father was a fan and it seems that it runs in the blood. She's been going to matches and watching them on film since she was a young girl, and due to her thoughtful approach and extraordinary access she manages to coax the true spirit of the athletes from a myriad of interviews.

Many spectacular authors have written about the sport. Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, and A.J. Liebling are a few that come to mind. None of those giants bring to the sport a cautious sensitivity that Oates does. Her prose are so rich that when reading this book, I had to frequently set it down and digest what I'd read. Like a rich chocolate, too much at one time would overload my senses, dulling me and causing me to miss nuance and ramble through the poetry. Her book is a treat, slowly and steadily read.
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There is much to be appreciated about this book for those who wish to truly contemplate boxing fully. Oates’ prose is beautiful, and she weaves a narrative which will keep the lover of literature and history stimulated as much as the lover of fighting. Sam Sheridan refers to Oates’ On Boxing many times in his A Fighter’s Heart. I am using Sheridan’s text for the second time in a writing course I am teaching at the college, and I finally broke down and bought the book this week. The first half was amazing, but the book is a collection of essays, was originally published in 1985-86, and it is, in many ways, a historical artifact that gives you a poetic vision of boxing up to that time, but does not age well in its insights into the contemporary heroes of the time, such as Tyson (his doc, which I have shown in part this week, sits on top of my worn copy of A Fighter’s Heart next to me), though, again, they are interesting historically. Her writing on Muhammad Ali is excellent, however, and needs to be read. I cannot entirely praise this book as a complete work, however, for the problem with this being a collection of essays is that the passionate prose style of Oates can just become hyperbolic when the same phrases or theories (the atavistic urge, the warrior primitive man, the sacrificial victim and sacred rite of boxing, the oft-repeated assertion that boxing is “not the most dangerous sport” but seventh, etc.) are used over and over again. And, as a man who has fought all of his life, mostly in the streets, it is hard to read too much from someone who writes “about violence”, but seems to have had no direct life-threatening experience of it herself.Read more ›
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