- Hardcover: 344 pages
- Publisher: Lyons Press (March 4, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1630761397
- ISBN-13: 978-1630761394
- Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 1.2 x 11.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #697,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing: A Photographic History Hardcover – March 4, 2016
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Boxing writer Silver looks at four centuries of Jewish pugilists, from the slums of London to the ghetto of the Lower East Side. The bare-knuckle era produced relatively few Jewish prizefighters, but their numbers included champion Daniel Mendoza, who revolutionized boxing with his defensive prowess. Only with mass immigration to the U.S. did Jewish boxers enter the ring in large numbers. For young men growing up in poverty, the sweet science offered an escape from the sweatshop and allowed them to rebut stereotypes of Jews as frail bookworms. Boxing's golden age (ca. 1920–1940) produced a host of Jewish champions, including all-time greats Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, and Lew Tendler. Post-WWII prosperity saw Jews leave boxing with the slums, but the recent diaspora from the former Soviet Union has created a few Jewish contenders. After a broad overview of boxing history, Silver lists Jewish fighters first by era and then alphabetically, leavening the capsule bios with colorful anecdotes. He also includes profiles of important Jewish figures around the sport, including promoter Mike Jacobs and The Ring publisher Nat Fleischer. Entertaining sidebars cover "Boxing Suffragettes" and "The Shanghai Ghetto," and a series of appendices includes Jewish Olympic medalists and Jewish Golden Gloves champions. The quality and expanse of this impressive survey make it an achievement unlikely to be equaled. (Publishers Weekly)
About the Author
Mike Silver is an internationally respected boxing historian and the world’s foremost authority on the Golden Age of the Jewish boxer. His first book, The Arc of Boxing, won two awards for boxing journalism from the American Association for the Improvement of Boxing and The Boston Veteran Boxers’ Association. He has been an inspector with the New York State Athletic Commission; a boxing promoter; a historical consultant and on-air commentator for 19 televised boxing documentaries; a curator of the “Sting Like A Maccabee: The Golden Age of the American Jewish Boxer” exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia (2004); and a co-curator of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s centerpiece program, “Jews, Boxing, and Hollywood” (2007). Silver currently serves as an advisor to the Hank Kaplan Boxing Archives at Brooklyn College. He continues to research and write about the sport as a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO). Silver lives in New York. His website is www.mikesilverboxing.com.
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In the early 20th century, the rough-and-tumble sons of poor immigrant Jews found a sport that welcomed them and allowed them to compete, for perhaps the first time in 5,000 years, on even terms. New York City's lower east side was an epicenter of activity (as was the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and London), where young men emerged as trainers, cut men, managers, fighters and before long, as contenders and champions. No one can deny the critical contribution of this demographic to boxing as we know it. This book proves it. And Silver proves again that he is a first-rate historian of the sweet science as he combines exhaustive research with vignettes that neither rabbinical students nor students of sports history will easily forget. During several sittings (this isn't a book you can read in a day), I was faced with stories poignant enough to prompt me to put the book down and take a walk. Silver is good to scatter many light-hearted moments amid the tragedies. Consider Harold Green, a contender in the 40s. Green was hit or seemed to get hit by Rocky Graziano, fell on his face, and as the referee yelled out "10 and you're out," Green popped up and strenuously argued that he was okay and ready to fight. Green went after Graziano anyway, but it's too late. What happened? Green said he was promised a title shot by the guys with toothpicks in their mouths if he took a dive, but changed his mind at -literally- the last second. Then there's "Blink" McCloskey (nee Louis Silverman), a Philly fighter who turned pro in 1902. He went half-blind but refused to retire. He replaced his bad eye with a glass eye and before the first round of a fight, he'd pop his glass eye out of its socket and hand it to one of his corner men. "Ergo," quips Silver, "his nickname." I'm wondering if "Gruesome" McCloskey would have been a more fitting nickname. Benny Leonard, Ted "Kid" Lewis, "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom. Silver summons them all to appear on these pages; and they are joined by, believe it or not, former Golden Gloves boxer Billy Joel, Jackie Mason, and aspiring 16-year-old boxer named Allen Konigsberg (nee Woody Allen).
Silver handles a universe of information with great skill and style. Nothing is overdone. At the end is a lamentation that is a must-read for modern boxing fans and boxing writers who are too caught up in the status quo to think straight. While he duly recognizes the corruption that has always plagued the sport, he turns the full brunt of his indignation toward those "bandits" operating behind the facade of so-called sanctioning bodies that pass off faux titles for profit. Silver is both master boxing historian and a clear-thinking pragmatist. Someone ought to hand him a ram's horn and get him to a mountaintop.
The book is an excellent source of information for readers who are not familiar with that era in the sport’s history. There are passages that speak of nearly every part of the sport during that time, such as the popularity, the media coverage, the venues and the rules. Of the latter, there is an excellent section on how the current Marquess of Queensbury rules came to be the standard rules governing the sport. It was also interesting to learn facts about the sport such as how breaks in the sport were demanded to break up the fights into the rounds as we know them now and how there used to be an unlimited number of rounds – just keep fighting until a winner is declared. It would be hard to imagine some of the rules being able to exist in today’s version of the sport.
Each boxer discussed by Silver in the book has Jewish heritage, even if he may not have been practicing the religion. Records for each boxer are included and some of them have very extensive histories. Greats such as Benny Leonard and Ted “Kid” Lewis are well documented, but what was truly impressive about the book is the extensive research that Silver did to be able to include at least a few paragraphs about more obscure Jewish fighters and their records.
Of course, there are plenty of pictures of the boxers to go along with their stories and these combined with the good writing and exhaustive research make this a pleasurable book for boxing fans to read. It is one that is recommended to add to one’s boxing book library.
I wish to thank Lyons Press for providing a copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.