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: 253

King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero is a 1998 biography of the renowned boxer Muhammad Ali. The author, David Remnick, has since written a biography on Barack Obama (The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, 2010). Remnick is a writer for the New Yorker, and so he is equally attune to contemporary social issues. He situates Muhammad Ali in the social fabric of Ali's athletic and political world.

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The biography is a story of the transformation of Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. The narrative is one of vivid detail, describing in particular his fights with renowned black boxers Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Several other prominent figures of Ali's time are featured in Remnick's biography: John F. Kennedy, Malcom X, and his mentor, Elijah Muhammad (whose namesake Muhammad Ali is).

Major topics parallel to Ali's life addressed in the book include the Vietnam War. A Muslim, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted, declaring himself a conscientious objector. The Civil Rights Movement is also depicted at great length in the course of Remnick's biography. The Nation of Islam, of which Muhammad had once been a member, opposed the Mass Civil Rights movement, though Ali himself was a proponent of it.

This biography is unique for its close-up, journalistic tone, and its vivid descriptions of select fights. Muhammad Ali's history is closely bound up with the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the 1960s in general; Remnick shows that Ali was more than just an incredible boxer.

King of the World

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1473

“It never occurred to me that you couldn’t like both Walt Whitman and the New York Knicks,” wrote thirty-nine- year-old David Remnick in reference to his first full-time job in journalism as a sportswriter for The Washington Post. “That kind of false dichotomy has always seemed ridiculous to me.” Remnick’s “false dichotomy” is inseparable from the misperceptions of him and of The New Yorker magazine, whose editor he became in mid-1998, succeeding Tina Brown. Covering the infamous ear-biting Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas last year, his sixth as staff writer for the magazine, Remnick was approached by a middle-aged couple who saw his reporter’s ID. “The New Yorker?” he was asked. “Do they cover boxing?”

Remnick early cherished The New Yorker essays on boxing by the late A. J. Liebling. He also recognized that literature’s touchstone is dramatic conflict, whether found in large in the death agony of the century’s most formidable totalitarian system or, in smaller but no less galvanic terms, the legend of Ali, a transcendent sports hero. The transition from his 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning Lenin’s Tomb to King of the World, which will be among the essential books for students of the American 1960’s, was easy.

The quintessential locus for naked conflict in sports is the boxing ring, according to Remnick. It pits two men, without any protective apparatus other than padded gloves, whose mutual intent is to destroy. Yet professional boxers have always been sport’s walking wounded—kept alive by mobsters and media.

Neither support group took seriously an eighteen-year-old 1960 Olympic gold-medal winner from Louisville, Kentucky, who boasted to a young sportswriter named Dick Schaap that “I’ll be the greatest of all time.” Big men were supposed to wade in and flatten their foes—not, like the young Cassius Clay, to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and have the brass to write self-celebrating doggerel about it.

To Liebling, “Clay had a skittering style, like a pebble scaled over water . . . good to watch but making only glancing...

(The entire section contains 1726 words.)

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