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SMOKIN' JOE

THE LIFE OF JOE FRAZIER

Bookish fans of the sweet science will flock to this biography.

A spirited biography of the thunder-punching boxer.

Former Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter Kram Jr. (Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion, 2012) picks up where his late father left off with his reporting for Sports Illustrated on the long feud between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (1944-2011), particularly as played out in 1975 in a celebrated match, the “Thrilla in Manila.” As the story opens, Frazier—called “Smokin’ Joe” after promising the press corps that he would “come out smokin’ ” in a 1967 prizefight—is in a reflective mood, surprisingly gentle for someone reputed to be so fierce. Yet Frazier earned every bit of that reputation: “His way was the hard way,” writes the author. “In the ring, he lived and died by the simple yet daring principle of engagement that in order to deliver one bone-crunching blow, it was too frequently necessary to absorb three in exchange.” Absorb the blows he did, while pounding just about everyone who came up against him, including Rocky-era Sylvester Stallone, who recalls “a thunderous left hook that was planted extremely deep in my body.” The author speculates that Frazier, who died in 2011 with no autopsy, may have been finally felled by chronic traumatic encephalopathy following years of concussive blows. The author covers all the bases while focusing, appropriately, on the long enmity between Frazier and Ali, who called the younger boxer a “gorilla" and played mind games, race cards, and all sorts of mischief, later claiming that he did it to stir up attention and sales at the box office. Frazier was thought never to have forgiven Ali for the barrage of insults, but the closing of the narrative finds the two boxers in a tender moment, albeit one that might have blown apart had the two been their younger, healthier selves. The narrative is sometimes by-the-numbers, but Kram pays appropriate homage to a fighter who, though lacking in finesse, dominated heavyweight boxing for nearly a decade.

Bookish fans of the sweet science will flock to this biography.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-265446-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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