A literate, intelligent evocation of the great heavyweight champion. Remnick (Resurrection, 1997, etc.), the Pulitzer Prize winner who is now editor of the New Yorker, opens--wisely--with the September 1962 fight between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. His profiles of both men are remarkable studies of the sociological backdrop for Ali's entrance upon the scene. Patterson was cast as the good, bumble Negro aligned with God; Liston, an ex-con who worked as an enforcer for the mob, as the big, bad, scary black. The brash, poetry-spouting Cassius Clay (as he was still known) fit neither stereotype. Despite his 1960 Olympic gold medal, his obvious speed, and his boxing skills, sportswriters hated the impudent young fighter. He was ""considered. . . little more than a light-hitting loudmouth."" Clay was no one's pick to steal the title from the overpowering Liston. Remick does a fantastic job of setting the stage for that February 1964 fight, noting that even Clay's people had their doubts: One insider merely hoped ""that Clay wouldn't get hurt."" The jabbering, taunting Clay pummeled the plodding, dispirited Liston, who simply quit after the sixth round. It was shortly after the fight that Ali's association with the Nation of Islam was revealed. His friendship with Malcolm X and his espousal of the Black Muslim creed, along with his promotional rantings of ""I am the greatest!,"" did not endear him to the public. But he kept winning, beating Liston yet again in 1965 in the most controversial hit in heavyweight history. Remnick's reenactment of that one-punch, ""phantom punch"" knockout in the first round is brilliant. Remnick tails off with Ali's 1967 refusal of the military draft and his subsequent suspension, not going into quite enough depth to explain Ali's virtual canonization by the American press and public. But no matter: This is a great look at ""a warrior who came to symbolize love.