King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero
|Publisher:||Random House Trade|
On the night in 1964 that Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) stepped into the ring with Sonny Liston, he was widely regarded as an irritating freak who danced and talked way too much. Six rounds later Ali was not only the new world heavyweight boxing champion: He was “a new kind of black man” who would shortly transform America’s racial politics, its popular culture, and its notions of heroism.
No one has captured Ali—and the era that he exhilarated and sometimes infuriated—with greater vibrancy, drama, and astuteness than David Remnick, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lenin’s Tomb (and editor of The New Yorker). In charting Ali’s rise from the gyms of Louisville, Kentucky, to his epochal fights against Liston and Floyd Patterson, Remnick creates a canvas of unparalleled richness. He gives us empathetic portraits of wisecracking sportswriters and bone-breaking mobsters; of the baleful Liston and the haunted Patterson; of an audacious Norman Mailer and an enigmatic Malcolm X. Most of all, King of the World does justice to the speed, grace, courage, humor, and ebullience of one of the greatest athletes and irresistibly dynamic personalities of our time.
You’d think there wouldn’t be much left to say about a living icon like Muhammad Ali, yet David Remnick imbues King of the World with all the freshness and vitality this legendary fighter displayed in his prime. Beginning with the pre-Ali days of boxing and its two archetypes, Floyd Patterson (the good black heavyweight) and Sonny Liston (the bad black heavyweight), Remnick deftly sets the stage for the emergence of a heavyweight champion the likes of which the world had never seen: a three-dimensional, Technicolor showman, fighter and minister of Islam, a man who talked almost as well as he fought. But mostly Remnick’s portrait is of a man who could not be confined to any existing stereotypes, inside the ring or out.
In extraordinary detail, Remnick depicts Ali as a creation of his own imagination as we follow the willful and mercurial young Cassius Clay from his boyhood and watch him hone and shape himself to a figure who would eventually command center stage in one of the most volatile decades in our history. To Remnick it seems clear that Ali’s greatest accomplishment is to prove beyond a doubt that not only is it possible to challenge the implacable forces of the establishment (the noir-ish, gangster-ridden fight game and the ethos of a whole country) but, with the right combination of conviction and talent, to triumph over these forces. —Fred Haefele