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The Sweet Science Paperback – September 9, 2004
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I took the plunge into "The Sweet Science," and while I loved some of the writing, especially the very revealing looks at Archie Moore and Rocky Marciano, those bits not about the Old Mongoose or the Brockton Blockbuster left me relatively cold. Some of this has to do with Liebling's style, which is logorrheic (that sounds like a sexually-transmitted malady, but is just another word for "wordy"). He also demonstrates a weird over-reliance on Pierce Egan's old "Boxiana" treatises on fighting. And he's strangely attached to using the word "cove," which in modern lexicons usually means a recessed area by the sea-line or a sheltered nook, but for him (and probably in other archaic lexicons) means an expert. Some people like this maximalist (sic) approach to their boxing journalism, but it just doesn't work for me, as a matter of personal preference. It's like reading Joyce Carol Oates' essays on Tyson; after awhile I don't want to hear anymore about the quotidian limning of the primal urge instantiated in the ring.
Some hyperbole is fine, but I much prefer Mark Kram's eloquence over Liebling's muddled historical metaphors. That said, this is just a personal preference (and I'm in the visible minority with my dissent here), and there are snatches of true poetry in and among the larger whole. Liebling's work is an artifact from a time when men wore cigar-smoke as a kind of cologne, and fights were as apt to happen at the Polo Grounds as at Madison Square Garden. In that sense, the book's a good time capsule, but even if I were searching for something to recommend on pure nostalgic grounds, I'd rather recommend some Budd Schulberg (whose "The Harder they fall" was loosely based on the story of the mafia's connection with heavyweight champ Primo Carnera, later adapted into a great movie starring Humphrey Bogart).
The whimsical quality of some of his writing is apparent in the following excerpt, when he's describing how putting sparring partners on the preliminary card makes for bad fights: "Sparring partners are endowed with habitual consideration and forbearance, and they find it hard to change character. A kind of guild fellowship holds them together, and they pepper each other's elbows with merry abandon, grunting with pleasure like hippopotamuses in a beer vat." That's great writing.
A final note; this book is a window into an different world, the age just before television took hold, when many people still took their amusement outside their homes. Unfortunately, that world is gone, but you can explore it in this wonderful book.
"Joe" was a boxing writer for many newspapers from the 20's and 30"s. He was there when the Original Sugar Ray was pounding his way to the top along with Joe Lewis and Rocky Marciano......and many of the old Champions who got paid little but loved the sport.......
The many secrets of the "Sweet Science" are revealed is this great book,
It contains many details so has to be read carefully to savor the special contents of his labors and those of the fighters from this generation...... It's a piece of American History that thankfully will not be forgotten because of his writing......
I would read more from the same author. This is stylish writing, great sports journalism and an invitation to post-war American boxing. I would rank this with the best of Angell on baseball.