“Ali: A Life” by Jonathan Eig
Biography, boxing, professional
October 3, 2017
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Not much needs to be said about the impact Muhammad Ali made on the sport of boxing, civil rights in the United States or the Muslim faith. There have been many books and articles written about the man on all of these topics and more. Now there is one source for inside information on Ali the man, Ali the boxer and Ali the spiritual figure – this outstanding biography written by Jonathan Eig.
Covering Ali’s entire life, from the childhood of Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky to his death in 2016, Eig uncovers stories behind Ali’s transformation from being one of the most despised men in America (at least by white Americans) to one of the most beloved figures. Information on just about every aspect of Ali’s life – his association with the Nation of Islam, his training methods, his marriages and eventually the neurological issues that plagued him even before his boxing career ended – are all addressed in the masterful storytelling that has won Eig widespread praise.
Nearly anything that has been said about Ali, even if just in mythological or legendary status, is mentioned in the book. Stories such as the one about a stolen bicycle leading to his interest in boxing, the real source for his famous quote about “no quarrel with the Viet Cong” and the atmosphere of his famous first fight with Joe Frazier in 1971 at Madison Square Garden are written in a flowing style that makes them, and the rest of the book, a joy to read.
This is the case even with controversial or unpleasant topics. The reader will gain a better understanding of the importance of the Nation of Islam in Ali’s transition from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and the roles that Elijah Muhammad, his son Herbert and Malcom X played in that part of Ali’s life. Ali’s conviction on draft evasion, his subsequent association with Don King and his generosity with his money that led to financial problems. Through all of these, however, Eig never fails to remind readers that often Ali was simply being kind to everyone whom he would encounter.
Ali’s boxing career is just as well chronicled as his life. Good coverage of nearly every fight in his career can be found in the book and the bigger fights such as the first and third fights against Frazier, his two knockouts of Sonny Liston and the “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman have substantial pages written. While many of these fights have been covered in other books (some of which were references for Eig’s research as well as over 500 interviews), these accounts of those great matches will leave the reader reliving those fights or give some new information.
Just like his biography on Lou Gehrig, Eig’s biography on “The Greatest” paints a comprehensive picture on a beloved icon in American sports in an enjoyable, entertaining book that readers will want to add to their libraries. One doesn’t have to be a boxing or sports fan to enjoy this, especially since Muhammad Ali transcended sports to become an iconic figure. It is a biography that comes close to that status in the world of books.
I wish to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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