We all know of Muhammad Ali, intimate details about his work and life and present condition, and for this one needs to read no books, for living idols exist not stifled between pages, but in conversations and myths and stories that waft around and just always seem to be there. So although I have seen Ali in the Academy-award winning documentary When we Were Kings (1997), and seen Ali in Ali (2001), the music-videoesque film version of his life starring Will Smith, and read of him in parts of Maya Angelou’s work and The Autobiography of Malcolm X I never felt the need to delve further. After all, boxing isn’t exactly my Friday night sport.
This weekend, however, I simply couldn’t let go of King of the World, David Remnick’s classic profile of Ali’s rise to fame, and as importantly, the canvas of politics and race which encouraged this rise. Along with Ali, Remnick’s writes in beautiful detail of Sonny Liston (“the bad black heavyweight”), whom Ali dethroned as heavyweight champion of the world, and of Floyd Patterson (“the good black heavyweight”), from whom Liston won the title and who Ali would later defeat as well. Perhaps the greatest compliment that Remnick’s writing could receive was a comparison to Ali himself. Toni Morrison called the book, “astute, double-hearted, irresistible.” The Mail on Sunday added greater clarity to the comparison describing it as “nimble, graceful and unexpectedly hard hitting.”
I was riveted.