A sturdy and surprising work: good reading for fans of boxing and American history alike.

A Muhammad Ali for his time rises and falls in this vigorous history by Ken Burns collaborator Ward (Not for Ourselves Alone, 1999, etc.).

Born Arthur John Johnson in Galveston in 1878, Jack Johnson “was an inexhaustible tender of his own legend, a teller of tall tales in the frontier tradition of his native state.” He remembered his father, for instance, as “the most perfect physical specimen I have ever seen,” even though the man was only five and a half feet tall and was disabled by a bad leg earned in the Civil War. Years later, he would allow a legend to surround him that he single-handedly captured a U-boat on the high seas, “subdued the Austrian captain and blew up the submarine and was rescued after drifting three days.” Johnson himself, Ward writes, was magnificent, handsome, and picture-perfect, and he attracted women of all races as he traveled from city to city and continent to continent, taking on all contenders in prize matches. Indeed, he wrote, “I have found no better way of avoiding race prejudice than to act with people of other races as if prejudice did not exist.” It did, of course, in those days of Jim Crow, and Jack Johnson was derided by the press and eventually investigated by the fledgling FBI on charges of having engaged in white slavery. He was, Ward writes, “a master of timing in the ring. . . . Outside the ropes, that mastery often deserted him.” Johnson eventually fled the charges and lived in exile in Paris and elsewhere abroad, evidently regarding WWI as a personal affront but taking pride in the fact that the French artillery had named a big cannon after him for the punch it packed and the black smoke it raised. On returning to the US, Johnson spent only nine months in federal prison and was released for good behavior, but his magic was broken.

A sturdy and surprising work: good reading for fans of boxing and American history alike.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-41532-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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