The Boxing Kings

The Boxing Kings : When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring

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For much of the twentieth century, boxing was one of America's most popular sports, and the heavyweight champions were figures known to all. Their exploits were reported regularly in the newspapers-often outside the sports pages-and their fame and wealth dwarfed those of other athletes. Long after their heyday, these icons continue to be synonymous with the "sweet science."

In The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring, Paul Beston profiles these larger-than-life men who held a central place in American culture. Among the figures covered are John L. Sullivan, who made the heavyweight championship a commercial property; Jack Johnson, who became the first black man to claim the title; Jack Dempsey, a sporting symbol of the Roaring Twenties; Joe Louis, whose contributions to racial tolerance and social progress transcended even his greatness in the ring; Rocky Marciano, who became an embodiment of the American Dream; Muhammad Ali, who took on the U.S. government and revolutionized professional sports with his showmanship; and Mike Tyson, a hard-punching dynamo who typified the modern celebrity.

This gallery of flawed but sympathetic men also includes comics, dandies, bookworms, divas, ex-cons, workingmen, and even a tough-guy-turned-preacher. As the heavyweight title passed from one claimant to another, their stories opened a window into the larger history of the United States. Boxing fans, sports historians, and those interested in U.S. race relations as it intersects with sports will find this book a fascinating exploration into how engrained boxing once was in America's social and cultural fabric.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 374 pages
  • 161 x 239 x 32mm | 694g
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 20 Halftones, black and white
  • 1442272899
  • 9781442272897
  • 938,971

Table of contents

Introduction: The Lineage

Chapter One: Progenitor
Chapter Two: Pariah
Chapter Three: The Million-Dollar Hobo
Chapter Four: The Substitutes
Chapter Five: Black Moses
Chapter Six: The Last White King
Chapter Seven: Freudian Floyd, the Swede, and Sonny
Chapter Eight: The Butterfly
Chapter Nine: The Greatest and a Golden Era
Chapter Ten: Bloom in the Shadows
Chapter Eleven: Kid Dynamite
Chapter Twelve: End of the Line

Epilogue: A Funeral
About the Author
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Review quote

Boxing is a sport, but the heavyweight title is also an institution. As former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver once wrote, "The boxing ring is the ultimate focus of masculinity in America, the two-fisted testing ground of manhood, and the heavyweight champion, as a symbol, is the real Mr. America." He is the man who, as John L. Sullivan boasted, could walk into any saloon anywhere and announce, "I can lick any son-of-a-bitch in the world." As an institution-as the "real Mr. America"-the heavyweight champion is loaded heavy with cultural baggage. For more than a century, he spoke eloquently, if sometimes silently, about the changing nature of masculinity, race, and even international politics in America and the world. Beston, a journalist, explores the century of American heavyweight dominance-from its rise in the era of John L. Sullivan and Jack Johnson, to its height in the period of Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis, to the slow decline during the years of Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson. His analysis lends insight not just into reins of the champions, but what they meant to the larger social canvas of their times. A compelling study. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. * CHOICE * Attempting to condense more than a century of heavyweight boxing champions into a single and cohesive narrative is a daunting task. But that's exactly what The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring sets out to do. And it succeeds admirably.... The level of detail is impressive, indicative of meticulous research.... Simply put, The Boxing Kings is a delight - a comprehensive history that segues smoothly through the years and one which should appeal to both hardcore fight fans and those with little previous knowledge of the heavyweight division's storied past. An outstanding book. Thoroughly recommended. * Boxing Monthly * The most feared man on the planet used to be The Boxing Heavyweight Champion of the World. Sadly, those days are long gone. However, with great books like The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring by Paul Beston set to come out soon, the interest in boxing will only increase. Beston harkens back to some of the greatest, if not all of the greatest days of the American Heavyweight in this thrilling book. It is a can't miss and I would highly suggest ordering your copy today! * Neo Sport Insiders * It's not a bad time, then, for a review of the subject. Paul Beston jumps all in with his fine book, The Boxing Kings.... The major stars receive much of the coverage here, and deservedly so. Still, all of the heavyweight champions receive a mention here, including those who seemed to have the title for about an hour. And almost every bout is mentioned. The classic fights - Ali-Frazier, Tunney-Dempsey, Louis-Schmeling, etc. - are covered in much more detail, and Beston comes up with some new material that will surprise even some veteran fans. Beston is the managing editor of City Journal, and has written for several newspapers, magazines and websites. He obviously knows his stuff, and that shows up on every page here. The Boxing Kings, then, takes us back to a time when boxing mattered.... [T]hose looking for information on the subject will find this an excellent source of material. Four stars. * Sports Book Review Center * In The Boxing Kings, Paul Beston, managing editor of City Journal, gives a thorough and readable tour d'horizon of the heavyweight championship from John L. Sullivan in the late 19th century, when spectator sports were first capturing the attention of Americans, though the sad end of Iron Mike Tyson's bizarre career, which featured a meteoric rise followed by near free-fall.... Boxing is clearly a lifetime love of Beston's. But in Kings he doesn't attempt to hide the dark underside of the sport, which includes mob influence, thrown fights for the benefit of gamblers, larcenous promoters and managers who cheated fighters of what they earned in the ring, ravenous television executives who enabled the proliferation of sanctioning agencies and new weight divisions that produce bogus champions by the dozens. But for all the brutality and corruption of boxing, Beston is able to see and share with readers the thrills and beauty of the sweet science. Boxing fans, and those who know and/or love boxing fans, should get this fine book. Or at least tell Santa about it. * The American Spectator * [A] nice read.... Beston provides nicely detailed portraits of the major champions, and elegant snapshots of those who were the less than legendary. He's especially handy with the quick one liner that puts a champion in perspective, such as when he calls Rocky Marciano, `an embodiment of American striving,' or describes Larry Holmes as `boxing's version of a venture capitalist.' Naturally, the largest sections of the story belong to Louis and Ali, but for my money the best part of any book such as this one is the period from Sullivan to Dempsey.... The Boxing Kings is a fine book, partly because Beston portrays the fighters not as unblemished heroes, but as flawed, fallible men. * This Dazzling Time * The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring, is not only a book on the lineage of heavyweight champions from John L. Sullivan to Mike Tyson, but it's also a history lesson through a boxing lens.... The Boxing Kings is as entertaining as it is educational. * * What Beston does brilliantly throughout the book is give us both sides. Yes, the sociological impact is important, but for the diehard boxing fan, it's the fights that have to take center stage, and his exhaustive research brings us ringside through his own observations of old fight films and the accounts of the reporters of the day. * * Paul Beston's The Boxing Kings approaches the sport's champs in the premier division the way a historian would examine a kingly succession. . . . Beston's book has that magic, and he deftly calls upon his predecessors to fill out his book with beauty and authority. His description of the fight between Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis is compact, swift, and efficient. * National Review * The Boxing Kings shows off an expert knowledge of the sport's history fitting for someone who can still recall by memory boxing's Dewey decimal number, as well as a talent for archival storytelling. * Modern Age * The Boxing Kings is another reminder of why boxing is the undisputed center of the sports storytelling world. -- Jim Lampley, HBO boxing commentator It's truly refreshing to read a paean to the great days of heavyweight boxing from someone who knows and loves the sport. Paul Beston takes us back to an America where men were honored-and even crowned-for being willing to walk into a ring with nothing but their courage and their skill. He recreates the outsize personalities who captured the imagination of the country and reigned as kings over the sporting world. Boxing has fallen on leaner times today, but Beston brings its glories back to life. -- Andrew Klavan, author, True Crime and Don't Say a Word The subject has everything going for it-sex, politics, war, race, crime, celebrity, money. Yet until now, the story of American heavyweight boxing lacked one thing: a powerful narrative to tie it all together. This Paul Beston supplies in overplus. He tracks the `Sweet Science' from its corrupt beginnings, to its nationally televised heyday, to its decline and fall in the final rounds. En route to that TKO, the heavyweight title gained stature and international attention, magnified by the writings of A. J. Liebling, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, James Jones, and others. With the cool, unbiased eye of a referee, the knowledge of a historian, and the wit of a skeptic, Beston belongs in their distinguished company. -- Stefan Kanfer, author, Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart and Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando As you read about John L Sullivan, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey and others, you may find, if you're like me, that you're imagining yourself ringside, right in the middle of boxing history. -- Michael Woods, editor, and host, "Talk Box" podcast from Everlast It seems inconceivable that American fighters no longer rule the heavyweight division. For more than a century, it seemed our turf; and during those years, there was a rough equivalency between the heavyweight champion and Mr. America. Then, in a heartbeat, it ended. Paul Beston's The Boxing Kings is a book to read while we wait for the next Great American Hope in the distinguished line of Sullivan, Johnson, Dempsey, Louis, Marciano, Ali, and Tyson. Here is how the heavyweight division once was in all its red, white, and blue splendor. -- Randy Roberts, award-winning author of books on Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali Norman Mailer once quipped that the heavyweight champion is like the big toe of God. For almost a century, the heavyweight title was the most vaunted prize in sports. Paul Beston's comprehensive history brings the reader inside the ropes of battles that compelled the interest of just about everyone. At the same time, he deftly delves into backstage questions: What was the nature of Max Schmeling's relationship with the Nazis? What role did Joe Louis play in the fight for civil rights? A perfect one-two combination, The Boxing Kings is rigorously researched and lyrically written, a book that both devoted and casual fans will savor. -- Gordon Marino, veteran boxing trainer and award-winning boxing writer for the Wall Street Journal and HBO Inside Boxing
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About Paul Beston

Paul Beston is managing editor of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, City Journal, Real Clear Sports, The American Spectator, The American Conservative, The Christian Science Monitor, The Millions, and The New York Journal of Books, as well as on the boxing website The Sweet Science.
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Rating details

43 ratings
4.58 out of 5 stars
5 63% (27)
4 33% (14)
3 5% (2)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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