Time Magazine's Best Nonfiction Book of the Year.
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"A literate, intelligent evocation of the great heavyweight champion. Remnick, the Pulitzer Prize winner who is now editor of the New Yorker, opens wisely with the September 1962 fight between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. His profiles of both men are remarkable studies of the sociological backdrop for Ali's entrance upon the scene....Despite his 1960 Olympic gold medal, his obvious speed, and his boxing skills, sportswriters hated the impudent young fighter....[Ali's] friendship with Malcolm X and his espousal of the Black Muslim creed, along with his promotional rantings of 'I am the greatest!,' did not endear him to the public. But he kept winning, beating Liston yet again in 1965 in the most controversial hit in heavyweight history. Remnick's reenactment of that one-punch, 'phantom punch' knockout in the first round is brilliant. Remnick tails off with Ali's 1967 refusal of the military draft and his subsequent suspension, not going into quite enough depth to explain Ali's virtual canonization by the American press and public. But no matter: This is a great look at a warrior who came to symbolize love." Kirkus Reviews
"Succeeds more than any previous book in bringing Ali into focus...as a starburst of energy, ego, and ability whose like will never be seen again." The Wall Street Journal
"A most excellent book. Remnick's account of the 1964 Liston fight is so vivid one can imagine Ali saying, 'How'd you get inside my head, boy?'" Time
"It has been an amazing story, and Mr. Remnick captures the best of it in King of the World." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
"King of the World is a book about a boxer, not a book about boxing. Remnick is most interested in what happens outside the ring....Remnick's deft staging and insight make familiar events seem fresh in the retelling....With King of the World, David Remnick has written a great book about Muhammad Ali a book that is worthy of its subject." Hal Hinson, Salon.com
"David Remnick is no fan of boxing, which he calls 'a sport designed to stun the brain' and 'finally indefensible,' but he gives us an eloquent picture of a man destroyed by his game and ennobled by life, a man who doesn't have to show anything anymore because he has become a symbol and symbols don't have to do but only to be." Heywood Hale Broun, The Washington Post Book World
"In this completely fresh and utterly compelling account of Ali's early career through his refusal to be inducted into the army...Remnick manages to capture what has largely eluded a host of other starstruck writers (Mailer, et al.): a balanced mix of the myth and the reality of Ali, a sense of how the gestalt of a nation in transition happened to land on the beautiful brown shoulders of a cocky young man from Louisville. How does Remnick do it? By avoiding the tendency to become swept away, as Mailer was, by Ali as metaphor and, instead, by carefully turning the soil of his early years and, especially, by looking closely at the supporting players in the drama of those first fights. Remnick's portraits of Floyd Patterson, the sensitive champion, beloved by civil-rights advocates (but, ultimately, despised by Ali) and of Sonny Liston, the evil bear, are not only remarkably humanizing, stereotype-shattering character studies in their own right but also make us realize more clearly than ever just how subversive Ali's unique mix of flamboyance, commitment, and playfulness must have seemed to an establishment mindset comfortable only with the polarized view of blacks symbolized by Patterson and Liston....This is the best book ever on Muhammad Ali and one of the best on America in the 1960s." Bill Ott, Booklist
"Nearly pulse-pounding narrative power....[A]n important account of a period in American social history." Chicago Tribune
"Intelligent, informed, enlightened." Entertainment Weekly
"By using the Clay-Liston battle as a pivot and placing Muhammad Ali in an accurate social context, David Remnick constructs a narrative very much like Ali himself: astute, double-hearted, irresistible. He is so completely in charge of his craft that it becomes an art." Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Beloved
"Stratton offers boxing fans a solidly researched, popularly written study of a complex, good man. A clear winner
and#8212;Library Journaland#160; (starred)
"Strattonand#8217;s attention to detail is impressive, and he seems to have uncovered every little tidbit about Patterson's life both in and out of the ring, making this warm biography a must for boxing fanatics. An engaging, breezy portrait of an underappreciated boxing giant."
A "deftly written autobiography...Stratton reminds us of Floyd Patterson's remarkable talent, mortality, and determination."
"An even-handed, surprisingly readable account of one of Americaand#8217;s neglected sports figures."
"A well-researched and overdue tribute to Floyd Patterson. Like one of Patterson's reliable left hooks, Stratton sharply recounts the life of an important, but often forgotten, two-time world heavyweight champion."
and#8212;Gary Andrew Poole, author, PacMan: Behind The Scenes With Manny Pacquiaoand#8212;The Greatest Pound-for-Pound Fighter in the World
"Stratton provides some fascinating insight into, surely, the most inscrutable heavyweight champion we've ever had. His book about Floyd Patterson is comprehensive and sensitive, as it seeks to help us understand a man who seemed so temperamentally in contradiction to his profession."
and#8212;Frank Deford, author of Over Time and Everybody's All-American
"Floyd Patterson was one of the more beguiling and hypnotic figures to stride across the stage of twentieth-century boxing. W. K. Stratton tells the story of this proud and mannered man with insight and artful compassion."
and#8212;Wil Haygood, author of Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson
"W. K. Stratton's Floyd Patterson revives the life of a boxer who was larger outside the ring than within it, a boxer who had a heart and humanity (and courage) beyond what his fight record revealed. He overcame obstacles and persevered in a manner that his more ferocious opponents did not."
and#8212;Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life and The Silent Season of a Hero
"The extant literature on Floyd Patterson had heretofore been the province of often-fawning admirers, but with Floyd Patterson, W. K. Stratton has managed to produce a refreshingly honest and even-handed deconstruction of the owner of the uneasiest head to wear a crown this side of Henry IV."
"A knockout biography of the best boxer in 1950s and early 1960s America. From winning an Olympic Gold medal to developing the peek-a-boo stance that influenced Muhammad Ali, Patterson was a monumental influence on the boxing profession during its Cold War era heyday. Highly recommended!"
and#8212;Douglas Brinkley, bestselling biographer and professor of history at Rice University
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.
The powerful story of boxing legend Floyd Patterson, civil rights activist, national icon, and the youngest man to win the World Heavyweight Champion title, and the first to ever win the title twice, from critically acclaimed author W.K. Stratton.
"A well-researched and overdue tribute. Like one of Patterson's reliable left hooks, Stratton sharply recounts the life of an important, but often forgotten, two-time world heavyweight champion." and#8212; Gary Andrew Poole, author of PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao
In 1956, Floyd Patterson became, at age twenty-one, the youngest boxer to claim the title of world heavyweight champion. Later, he was the first ever to lose and regain that honor.
Here, the acclaimed author W. K. Stratton chronicles the life of "the Gentle Gladiator" and#8212; an athlete overshadowed by Ali's theatrics and Liston's fearsome reputation, and a civil rights activist overlooked in the Who's Who of race politics. From the Gramercy Gym and wildcard manager Cus Dand#8217;Amato to the final rematch against Ali in 1972, Patterson's career spanned boxing's golden age. He won an Olympic gold medal, had bouts with Moore and Johansson, and was interviewed by James Baldwin, Gay Talese, and Budd Schulberg. A complex, misunderstood figure and#8212; he once kissed an opponent at the end of a match and#8212; he was known for his peekaboo stance and soft-spoken nature.
Floyd Patterson was boxingand#8217;s invisible champion, but in this deeply researched and beautifully written biography he comes vividly to life and is finally given his due and#8212; as one of the most artful boxers of his time and as one of our great sportsmen, a man who shaped the world in and out of the ring.
About the Author
David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker. He began his career as a sportswriter for The Washington Post and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for Lenin's Tomb. He is also the author of Resurrection and The Devil Problem and Other True Stories, a collection of essays. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.
Table of Contents
Prologue: In Michigan xi
1 Underground Man 3
2 Two Minutes, Six Seconds 27
3 Mr. Fury and Mr. Gray 43
4 Stripped 69
5 The Bicycle Thief 81
6 Twentieth-Century Exuberance 99
7 Secrets 125
8 Hype 145
9 The Cross and the Crescent 163
10 Bear Hunting 173
11 "Eat Your Words!" 183
12 The Changeling 205
13 "Save Me, Joe Louis . . ." 221
14 Gunfire 233
15 The Anchor Punch 253
16 What's in a Name? 267
Epilogue: Old Men by the Fire 285
Notes on Sources and Acknowledgments 307