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TOP 10 GREATEST BOXING BOOKS?
By Clay Moyle
Possibly no other sport is as rich in literature as the sport of boxing. With so many great boxing books written over the years how can anyone find it feasible to compile a list of the 10 greatest boxing books of all time? Certainly individual opinions vary and it would be hard to imagine a group of hardcore boxing fans reaching consensus on the issue. There are enough unread books already in my rapidly growing collection that it would take me years to read all the titles I have already and I'm sure by the time I finished my own opinion would have changed numerous times. All I can do at this time is share a list of 10 books that I found to be the most enjoyable reads so far and give some reasons as to why. So, in no particular order here's my top ten:
ROSS, BARNEY "NO MAN STANDS ALONE"
1957 J.B. LIPPINCOTT CO. PHILADELPHIA
Most boxing fans know that Barney Ross became both the Lightweight and Junior Welterweight champion of the world. How many also know that he became a WWII medal winning hero as a result of the night he spent in a hole on Guadalcanal with a few wounded comrades battling the Japanese? Or did you know that the old boxing movie "Body and Soul" starring actor John Garfield was originally going to be 'The Barney Ross Story' but was abandoned because of Ross's drug adiction at the time?
This 1957 biography "No Man Stands Alone" brilliantly tells the story not only of his rise to world champion, but among other stories of the night during WWII when after being rescued they found 22 Japanese soldiers he had killed during the night. Surely his greatest triumph was overcoming drug addiction that began with his dependence on morphine to ease the pain suffered as a results of his war wounds. The story of Barney Ross is very well written, interesting and inspiring, and that's why it makes my top 10 boxing list.
GRAZIANO, ROCKY "SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME"
1955 SIMON AND SCHUSTER
The movie version of this book starring Paul Newman is fantastic but as is most often the case pales in comparison to the book. It's just not possible to provide the depth of a story in a two hour movie that you can in a written biography and this book definitely proves that point. This one is my favorite so far and was difficult to put down once I started reading it.
The story of Rocky's rough childhood includes his early boxing beatings at the hands of an older brother who his ex-fighting father envisioned as a future world champion. He goes on to share the details of fights as a neighborhood gang leader, and reformatory and prison inmate which are the stuff of legend. Rocky takes us through his court martial from the army as a result of slugging a superior and going AWOL, and through a professional career that reached the pinnacle with a hard earned victory over Tony Zale to become Middle Weight Champion of the World. When you've got a life story like this with someone as engaging as Rocky to tell it how can you go wrong. Trust me, if you haven't already read this story, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, I guarantee you'll love it.
CARTER, RUBIN "THE SIXTEENTH ROUND"
1974 NEW YORK, THE VIKING PRESS
I read this book as a teenager and thought it was fantastic. Having read this book I was really looking forward to the movie version with Denzil Washington but greatly disappointed in it when it came out. The move concentrated on just such a small part of the Carter's whole story that it doesn't do it justice. Other than the well known story about his prison sentence under very questionable circumstances, which by the way is told much better in the book, this story is somewhat similar to Rocky Graziano's. I say this because like Rocky, Rubin had a very poor and rough childhood. He stuttered as a child and that led to a number of his fights. Like Rocky he became a leader of a gang and some of his epic battles as the warlord of that gang are wonderfully described. Again like Rocky he spent time in a correctional institution for boys and as you might expect there were a number of fights there as well, again described in great detail.
Later in the book Carter's experiences in the army is told and maybe the most interesting fight in the whole book with a tough bigoted army sergeant is relayed in a manner that one would believe it was the fight of his life. The reader will also learn about the origin of Rubin's prizefighting career in the army and much more about his professional boxing career and rise to #1 contender for the middleweight crown. Like the Graziano book this one is tough to put down once you pick it up.
GRIFFIN MARCUS "WISE GUY; JAMES J. JOHNSTON A RHAPSODY IN FISTICS"
1933 NEW YORK THE VANGUARD PRESS
I stumbled across this title in a used bookstore and almost overlooked the fact that it was about boxing. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that now that I know who Jimmy Johnston was and how big a role he has in boxing history. This early 20th century boxing promoter was as colorful as they come in the sport of boxing. He was huge in New York boxing in the early part 1900's and as a young manager of Madison Square Garden became known as "The Boy Bandit of Madison Square". He seconded the great Stanley Ketchel in his fight with Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, and he managed numerous great fighters including Jem Driscoll, Ted 'Kid' Lewis, Owen Moran, and Mike McTigue among countless other well known fighters. There is a great description of a streetfight between himself and a drunken Owen Moran in this book. A fierce competitor of Tex Rickard's as a boxing promoter, Jimmy Johnston was one of a kind. If you want to learn a lot about the history of boxing and some of the greatest fighters in the early 1900's, and especially about New York boxing history, this is the book for you.
INGLIS, WILLIAM "CHAMPIONS OFF GUARD"
1932 NEW YORK, THE VANGUARD PRESS
This isn't an easy book to find, but it's well worth the effort. As the title implies, this book provides great insight into the personalities of some of boxing's greatest champions. The author was a boxing writer who personally knew James J. Corbett, Mike Donovan, Bob Fitzsimmons, James J. Jeffries, Jack Dempsey, and Gene Tunney among other great fighters. If you want to get a peek at the true character of these men Inglis reveals it to you.
The book is filled with intimate reminiscences of John L. Sullivan, Corbett, Fitzsimmons, Kid McCoy, Dempsey, Tunney, Jeffries, Max Schmeling, etc. Particularly interesting, to me at least, were the descriptions of the authors personal sparring sessions with Corbett and Fitzsimmons while in training prior to their title fight.
DOHERTY, W.J. "IN THE DAY'S OF THE GIANTS"
1931 LONDON, GEORGE G. HARRAP & CO.
Bill Doherty was an Australian boxer known as "The Fighting Quarryman" who went to South Africa where he became the middleweight champion of South Africa, and later returned to Australia where he captured the Australian heavyweight crown.
This book was a pleasurable surprise in terms of how good it was. Besides describing the authors biggest fights in great and exciting detail, it's filled with entertaining and informative stories of boxers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially the great Australian fighters. Doherty describes meeting the great Jem Mace as a boy, and there is a wealth of information about fighters such as Mick Dooley, Peter Jackson, Bob Fitzsimmons, Frank Slavin, Tom Lees, Jim Hall, Dan Creedon, Joe Goddard, Billy Murphy, Young Griffo, George Dawson, Albert Griffiths, Peter Felix, and Tut Ryan among others. If some of these names are unknown to you then do yourself a favor and try and find a copy of this book to gain an appreciation of them. His personal reminiscences of Jem Mace and Peter Jackson are particularly enjoyable and as an added bonus there is an interesting chapter of his fight with the great Kid McCoy.
PRYOR, AARON "FLIGHT OF THE HAWK, THE AARON PRYOR STORY"
Years ago I remember pulling over from a drive home to stop at a bar that had a screening of the closed circuit fight of Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello I. The battle between these two great champions still ranks as one of the best fights I've ever witnessed. In his prime Pryor was obviously one of the greatest welterweights. What makes this book especially interesting is that not only does it tell of his poor childhood and rise to become Junior Welterweight Champion of the World, but it tells the tragic tale of his initial exposure and subsequent addiction to crack cocaine. His resulting fall from stardom and ultimately to deaths door, and then eventual recovery is both heartbreaking and inspiring. If there is anyone that you want to put the fear of god in regarding crack cocaine share this book with them.
KEARNS, JACK 'DOC' "THE MILLION DOLLAR GATE"
1966 THE MACMILLAN CO.
Best known as Jack Dempsey's manager, Dock Kearns was a promotional genius who managed many other great fighters including middleweight champion, Mickey Walker. Together with Tex Rickard he helped create the million dollar gate. This fast paced story takes the reader through Kearns adventures. He participated in the Alaskan goldrush where he learned to put syrup in his hair to run his fingers through to help get the goldust in saloons to stick to his fingers, and he boxed as a professional himself including a fight with the dirty Mysterious Billy Smith. However, he is best known for his role as a boxing manager and he shares those stories as only he could in this fascinating book. Doc was a high roller who both made and spent millions. In his time he knew everyone who was anyone. In this book you'll learn all about his acquaintance with men like Al Capone, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jack London as well as all of the big names in boxing in the first half of the 20th century. Say what you will about Doc Kearns, he was never dull.
FAIR, JAMES "GIVE HIM TO THE ANGELS"
1946 NEW YORK, SMITH & DURELL
The story of 'The Human Windmill' Harry Greb. This might be in my top 10 as much or more for the subject matter as for the quality of the writing. As the jacket of this book say's "Against the lush background of show girls, bootleggers, speakeasies, and flowing wealth, Greb blazed a lurid path of riotous, carefree, extravagat living."
The author of this book was one of Harry Greb's closest personal friends, and knew him well both in and out of the ring. It's filled with great stories of this colorful fighters bouts with boxing greats like Gene Tunney, Mickey Walker, Tommy Gibbons, Tommy Loughran, and Tiger Flowers among others. The legend of Harry Greb one of the greatest middleweights of all time is brought to life in this book. It's beyond me why there hasn't been more written about this fascinating fighter who lived a fast life and died at a tragically young age on an operating table while undergoing an operation to repair his misshapened nose.
VAN EVERY, EDWARD "MULDOON, THE SOLID MAN OF SPORT" 1929 NEW YORK, FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
The jacket of this book say's "Muldoon has known every heavyweight champion from Sullivan to Tunney, and practically every notable boxer of his day". Since that time period in boxing history being of more interest to me than any other I might be a little biased in placing this book in my top 10. However, I hope those of you who have either already had an opportunity to read this book, or do so in the future will agree with me that it's a worthy candidate. In the forward of this book written by Jack Dempsey, he refers to Muldoon as the "Father of American Boxing".
William Muldoon's story in this book from childhood to becoming the Graeco-Roman Heavyweight Wresting Champion is interesting enough in it's own right but what I really enjoy is the boxing content which comprises a considerable amount of the content from chapter seven and on. He met a young John L. Sullivan when he was still trying to make his way and helped bring him to New York and get started with his boxing career. It's pretty common knowledge that he later played a crucial role in helping a badly out of shape Sullivan get into condition for his famous battle with Jake Kilrain and he provides the reader with interesting insight into that monumental task. He gives the reader an in depth analysis of the fight and Sullivan's resulting victory. In addition, Muldoon provides first hand accounts of most of the major fights involving the greatest fighters of his day including Peter Jackson, James J. Corbett, the original Jack Dempsey, Charlie Mitchell, Bob Fitzsimmons, James J. Jeffries, Jack Johnson, Jess Willard, Jack Dempsey, & Gene Tunney. His insights into these fights and the character of these men are outstanding.
Well there you have it, one guy's opinion of a top 10 list of boxing books. As I wrote this a number of other books that went through my mind as being worthy of consideration for inclusion. Like I said at the beginning of this article, I believe it's an impossible task. If someone were to ask me for my top 10 a year from now I'd probably have at least a couple revisions to make to the list. That wouldn't by any means lessen my opinion of these particular titles however. Some other excellent books that quickly come to mind include "Raging Bull" by Jack LaMotta, "A Pure Flame of Fire" the latest book about Dempsey by Roger Kahn, "Roar of the Crowd" by James J. Corbett, "The Roosevelt that I Knew" by Mike Donovan, "The Toy Bulldog" by Mickey Walker, and "Muhammad Ali" by Thomas Hauser. Happy Reading!