THE MUHAMMAD ALI READER by Gerald Early

THE MUHAMMAD ALI READER

edited by

KIRKUS REVIEW

Early (who also edited the recent Body Language: Writers on Sport, p. 168, etc.) compiles a formidable team of contributors to render honor to a man bigger than boxing, bigger than sports. Can you imagine Ecco Press, with its hard-won literary reputation, publishing a book on any other sports figure of our time than Muhammad Ali? No one but Ali has inspired such a rich tapestry of writing from names as significant as Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, Ishmael Reed, Tom Wolfe, Murray Kempton, Garry Wills, Wole Soyinka, and Hunter S. Thompson, all of whom are represented in this volume. The collection is organized chronologically, beginning with perhaps the best boxing writer of them all, A.J. Liebling, who covered Ali’s first pro fight in New York, against the all-but-forgotten Sonny Banks. From there, the collection traces Ali’s singular career, from his two defeats of Sonny Liston through his affiliation with the Nation of Islam, his refusal to be drafted for combat in Vietnam and the subsequent stripping of his title, the epic battles with Joe Frazier and George Foreman, the slow winding down and his return to the spotlight at the ’96 Olympics. On the whole, the writers are so mesmerized by the sociopolitical implications of Ali that they sometimes forget to mention his fighting. Yet that seems appropriate, because Ali truly transcended sport, and much of the fascination of the book resides in watching the champ’s image evolve from poetry-spouting wiseguy to faltering elder statesman. In his brief essay, Wills observes dryly, “Modern Pindars sing the weirdest songs about Ali. They cluster around him trying to probe non-existent mysteries.” While that might be truthfully said about some of the contributions to this anthology (A. Bartlett Giamatti and Mailer offer particularly abstruse and bizarre thoughts), for the most part, this is a pleasure to read and a deserved and elegant salute to The Greatest.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1998
ISBN: 0-88001-602-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998




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