King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero

by David Remnick
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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 286

King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero is American journalist David Remnick's 1998 biography of Muhammed Ali. It focuses on Ali's life during the first half of the 1960s.

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The principal character and protagonist in Remnick's non-fiction story is Muhammed Ali himself. Born Cassius Clay, he legally changed his name in 1964. Ali had trained as an amateur boxer since the age of 12 and entered the world of professional boxing

at a time when the expectation was that a black fighter would behave himself with absolute deference to white sensibilities.

In his mannerisms both inside and outside the ring, Ali broke this expectation and forged his own path. This fact, combined with Ali's athletic success, put him on a trajectory for confrontation throughout his career; during the 1967 "Super Fight" one boxer, Jim Jeffries, declared—according to Remnick—that his only purpose for fighting was "to prove a white man is better than a Negro."

Sonny Liston is a major character in part II of the book. He is Ali's opponent in a highly promoted 1964 fight. While, like Ali, he is an African American boxing champion he exhibits a different type of character. While Ali transcended the racial expectations set upon him by society, Liston purposely mocked them, becoming what Remnick would characterize as a "bad Negro" (in contrast to Floyd Patterson, who aligned himself with racial expectations and was, therefore, a "good Negro").

Other characters in the biography include Ali's various love interests, such as his several wives, particularly his spouse Sonjii Roi, a "pretty waitress" whom he met in Egypt; his brother Ali Rahaman; his friend and fellow boxer Joe Frazier; fight promoter William MacDonald; and numerous opponents, agents, and acquaintances.

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