A journalist’s obsession with his subject is renewed.
As a scrawny runt who suffered bullying, Miller (The Tao of Bruce Lee: A Martial Arts Memoir, 2000, etc.) took inspiration from his idol, Muhammad Ali, to gain the confidence to defend himself, and he maintains that “my admiration for him saved my life.” As a writer, he not only found in Ali his “muse and mentor,” but he also discovered the subject that would continue as his obsession for his professional life: in books, newspaper and magazine articles, as the boxing editor for Sport magazine, and in presentations he would give as someone who had become unusually close to Ali and stayed close during his ongoing battle with Parkinson’s and his spiritual journey. One of his main revelations—voiced twice in the book in exactly the same words—is “how the young Ali’s seemingly endless energy had promised that he would never get old, and how in many ways he is now older than just about everyone his age.” Readers see both sides in descriptions of famous fights and in intimate visits after Ali’s retirement, when he remained more playful and engaged than accounts that would reduce him to his disease might suggest. The author wants to set the record straight about his hero, but he reveals more about himself than about his subject—and about the hero worship that is practically a religion with him, as Ali is depicted as rarely less than a saint and more like a god. “Ali has been the most reliably large planet in my solar system, the astronomical constant,” writes Miller, who recognizes the fortuity of his relationship with the Champ but who insists that Ali treats everyone the same.
Hagiographic pieces that never quite coalesce into a book that matches the author’s ambitions.