Pale Wire (Popscene)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Greatest


I finished David Remnick's Muhammed Ali book, King of the World, today. I liked it.

It's a detailed telling of Ali's early years, covering everything up to the Floyd Patterson fight in '65, that's chief virtue is all the valuable context it provides. By exploring the entire culture of boxing at the time, telling the stories of Frank Carbo and Jimmy Cannon as well as Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson, Remnick is able to really get at Ali in a way I've never seen done.

But best of all is Remnick's writing. There are reasons he's managing editor at The New Yorker. Clear, simple writing that isn't afraid to make a stylistic florish but takes its greatest pleasures in savoring the details and characters that made boxing so colorful, it's exactly the sort of prose I'd like turn out.

While most of the material comes from second-hand sources, Remnick did a little reporting of his own. He bookends the tale with material from a personal visit he had with Ali, now suffering from Parkinson's disease, in the 1990s.

The book came out in '98. It must have been a big holiday gift at the time because I'm seeing used copies on the web going for around a buck. I got mine at the Goodwilll, without dust jacket, for about that much.

It's sort of fun to google the old critical notices. (Salon.Onion. ALA) Since all the reviewers would probably stab their mother to write for the NYer, I'm not surprised most of the reviews were pretty positive.

But, then again, it's a pretty damn good book.