King Of The World: Muhammad Ali And The Rise Of An American Hero

King Of The World: Muhammad Ali And The Rise Of An American Hero

  • Publish Date: 1998-10-20
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: David Remnick
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There were mythic sports figures before him--Jack Johnson, Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio--but when Cassius Clay burst onto the sports scene from his native Louisville in the 1950s, he broke the mold. He changed the world of sports and went on to change the world itself. As Muhammad Ali, he would become the most recognized face on the planet. Ali was a transcendent athlete and entertainer, a heavyweight Fred Astaire, a rapper before rap was born. He was a mirror of his era, a dynamic figure in the racial and cultural battles of his time. This unforgettable story of his rise and self-creation, told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, places Ali in a heritage of great American originals.

Cassius Clay grew up in the Jim Crow South and came of athletic age when boxers were at the mercy of the mob. From the start, Clay rebelled against everything and everyone who would keep him and his people down. He refused the old stereotypes and refused the glad hand of the mob. And, to the confusion and fury of white sportswriters, who were far more comfortable with the self-effacing Joe Louis, Clay came forward as a rebel, insistent on his political views, on his new religion, and, eventually, on a new name. His rebellion nearly cost him the chance to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.

King of the World features some of the pivotal figures of the 1960s--Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, John F. Kennedy--and its pivotal events: the civil rights movement, political assassinations, the war in Vietnam. Muhammad Ali is a great hero and a beloved figure in American life. King of the World takes us back to the days when his life was a series of battles, inside the ring and out. A master storyteller at the height of his powers, David Remnick has written a book worthy of America's most dynamic modern hero. 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

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