It is shocking to recall how controversial Muhammad Ali was in the 1960’s, when he joined the Nation of Islam, changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay, and refused to be drafted into the military service. After he was quoted as saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” he was excoriated by such establishment sportswriters as Jimmy Cannon, who, with unintended profundity, called him “part of the Beatle movement.”
Like heavyweight champions Jack Johnson and Joe Louis before him, but in a more assertive, self-conscious manner, Ali became a charismatic symbol of black pride, a lightning rod for a full range of emotions ranging from blind bigotry to blind adulation. His evolution from “feared warrior” to “benign venerated figure” is a fascinating story well told, for fight fans and social historians alike. Hauser’s moving testimonial to the most famous man in the world does not gloss over unpleasantries (such as his youthful cruel streak, three failed marriages, and his snubbing of Malcolm X after the latter’s break with Elijah Muhammad). A genius at self-publicity (who admired wrestler Gorgeous George), Ali backed up his playful poetic boasts with ring artistry and gallantry, defeating the likes of George Foreman and Joe Frazier after his skills had begun to deteriorate.
Based on 200 interviews and other primary sources ranging from RING magazine to FBI files, MUHAMMAD ALI is oral history at its best, analytical and anecdotal, fair-minded yet intimate. Ali emerges as a man of remarkable dignity, subtlety, courage and resilience.