I recently asked a number of sage boxing people the following: “If you had to select ONE boxing book as your favorite, what would it be?” Some chose more than one.
Though not particularly sage myself, I’ll start it off with Ralph Wiley’s “Serenity: A Boxing Memoir.” I also enjoyed Mike Silver’s “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” for the primary reason that it stirred up a lot of much needed debate between Old School and New School.
Here are the responses of twenty-five boxing buffs. The respondents are listed in alphabetical order:
JIM AMATO (writer, historian): A.J. Liebling’s “The Sweet Science.”
RUSS ANBER (elite trainer, corner man, and TV personality): “Joe Louis -Black Hero in White America” by Chris Mead. I remember reading this from cover to cover, unable to put it down. Others: “The Greatest Fight of Our Generation” by Lewis A. Erenberg, “The Sixteenth Round” by Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, “Beyond Glory” by David Margolick.
JOE BRUNO (former New York Tribune sportswriter; author of more than 45 crime-related books, including true crime, novels and screenplays): AJ Liebling’s “The Sweet Science.”
TRACY CALLIS (eminent boxing historian, writer, and journalist): Seven come quickly to mind. I love to read about boxing so I like almost any book about the game.
“A Man among Men” by Kelly Richard Nicholson
“Chicago’s Greatest Sportsman” by Mark T. Dunn
“Hitters, Dancers and Ring Magicians” by Kelly Richard Nicholson
“In the Ring with Bob Fitzsimmons” by Adam Pollack
“In the Ring with James J. Jeffries” by Adam Pollack
“The Choynski Chronicles” by Chris LaForce
“Ultimate Tough Guy” by Jim Carney Jr.
STEVE CANTON (A member of the International Boxing Research Organization, Steve has been involved in every aspect of boxing for more than 52 years): There are so many excellent boxing books. “Only The Ring Was Square” by Teddy Brenner with Barney Nagler was outstanding. “Bummy Davis vs. Murder Inc.” by Ron Ross, “Boxing Babylon” by Nigel Collins, just to name a few.
WILLIAM DETLOFF (former amateur boxer, author, editor of Ringside Seat magazine): I’ll go with Liebling’s “The Sweet Science.” Wiley’s anthology is certainly up there. It’s underrated.
JILL DIAMOND (boxing writer, official, and matchmaker): BOX: “The Face of Boxing” by Holgar Keifel because I love a good photography book. “Four Kings” by George Kimball. In fiction, “The Harder They Fall” by Budd Schulberg. There are so many others.
BERNARD FERNANDEZ (boxing writer and lifetime member of the BWAA): It’s a tough call. There are a lot of good ones floating around, but I’ll go with John Schulian’s “Writers’ Fighters and Other Sweet Scientists.” But then I’m kind of biased as John, a colleague of mine for a time at the Philadelphia Daily News, is a friend.
IVAN GOLDMAN (ex-Washington Post and LA Times newspaperman, boxing writer, novelist): I humbly submit my novel “The Barfighter” for consideration.
Dr. MARGARET GOODMAN (President of VADA, former Nevada boxing official, neurologist, author): Actually my novel “Death in Vegas” is my favorite book as it tells the truth about the sport via thinly-veiled fiction. Writing it was very cathartic.
LEE GROVES (boxing writer, author): If I had to pick one, it would be “McIlvanney on Boxing” by Hugh McIlvanney. Anytime I want to get a booster shot of excellent, muscular prose, that’s what I read. The two A.J. Liebling books “The Sweet Science” and “The Neutral Corner” also provide inspiration.
KEVIN IOLE (Yahoo boxing and MMA writer): I loved “The Fight” by Norman Mailer, which I found to be a well-reported, gripping tale of one of the seminal events of my youth. I also loved “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times” by Thomas Hauser and “Fight of the Century” by Michael Arkush.
MIGUEL ITURRATE (TSS writer and Senior Archivist at The Boxing Channel): I really enjoy the history books, especially biographies. Battling Nelson’s autobiography is a good one. I also really enjoyed “Muldoon: The Solid Man of Sport” by Edward Van Every.
Dr. STUART KIRSCHENBAUM (former amateur boxer; co-founder National Association of Boxing Commissioners): “Empire of Deceit” by Dean Allison. It’s a fascinating true story of the Wells Fargo Bank embezzlement by boxing promoter Harold Smith. I had dealings with him while I was the head of the boxing commission in Michigan. He promoted several Kronk championship fights. Cast of characters include Muhammad Ali, Thomas Hearns, and a who’s who of that era. Only in America and only in boxing… crime does pay.
HAROLD LEDERMAN (famous boxing judge, member of HBO team, and 2016 IBHOF inductee): “All Time Greats Of Boxing” by Peter Arnold is my favorite boxing book because it’s a great book.
FRANK LOTIERZO: (TSS writer and lead analyst for The Boxing Channel): I can’t pick a favorite….so I’ll give you a few of my favorites that I’ve read this summer. “In This Corner” by Peter Heller which I read for the third time; “Sugar Ray Robinson” with Dave Anderson, “Joe Louis: The Great Black Hope” by Richard Bak, “Hard Luck: The Triumph and Tragedy of Jerry Quarry” by Steve Springer and Blake Chavez
ARNE LANG (historian, author, editor-in-chief of The Sweet Science): Many years ago I stumbled on a book called “Bella of Blackfriars” in a used book store in Carlsbad, California. Bella was Bella Burge, the widow of Dick Burge, an English middleweight champion who went to prison for eight years in a massive bank fraud. From her husband’s death in 1918 until 1940, Bella ran “The Ring,” a boxing house in a circular building on Blackfriars Road in London that was originally an Anglican chapel. I would liken “The Ring” to the Olympic Auditorium in LA. It didn’t get the biggest fights but housed many important fights and attracted a loyal clientele that included some salty characters. I found the book a great window into the world of boxing in London. By the way, The Ring had fallen on hard times when it was reduced to rubble by the German Luftwaffe in 1940. I never tire of reading A.J. Liebling, whether he’s writing about boxing or Louisiana politics or whatever. I read Liebling for pleasure and also in hopes that some of his skill as a wordsmith will rub off on me but it never has.
RON LIPTON (world class referee): I enjoyed “Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula” and “Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal,” both by Adeyinka Makinde, and the Rocky Graziano biography “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Also, anything by Ted Sares, Springs Toledo, Mike Silver, and William Detloff.
GORDON MARINO (philosophy professor, Wall Street Journal boxing writer, trainer): I guess I would go with Carlo Rotella’s “Cut Time” and Roger Kahn’s “A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring 20’s.”
ROBERT MLADINICH (former NYPD police detective, author, boxing writer): “Writers, Fighters and Other Sweet Scientists” by John Schulian. It is a collection of his columns from the Chicago Sun-Times and there is not a weak story in the batch. He is a master storyteller and my favorite boxing writer. I also immensely enjoyed “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Scheming and a World on the Brink” by David Margolick for its historical and social significance and the underrated but exceptional “Weigh-In: The Selling of a Middleweight” by title challenger Fraser Scott.
JOHN SCULLY (elite trainer, former world title challenger): My favorite boxing book is one that I believe to be one of the greatest books ever written on the inside of boxing called “The Black Lights” by Thomas Hauser. It was actually sent to me by Mike Jones back in 1988 when he was trying to sign me to a professional contract. He sent me the book I assumed as a way to show me how he deals in the boxing game as it is centered around his fighter, Billy Costello. It is a truly great book.
MIKE SILVER (boxing historian; author): I could easily name at least a dozen truly outstanding boxing books that are my favorites, but if asked to name just one I would place David Margolick’s “Beyond Glory Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink” in the top spot. Another all-time favorite is the great Nat Fleischer’s “50 Years at Ringside.”
CARYN A. TATE (boxing writer) While it encompasses more than boxing, Bruce Lee’s “Tao of Jeet Kune Do” is probably my favorite book on combat. The book is filled with priceless instruction that is relevant and insightful. Lee was a great admirer of many Western boxers and incorporated some of their techniques into the martial art he founded. More than just an instruction manual, the book fuses technique with philosophy and real world psychology. The book shows that Lee was on the same page with great minds in boxing like Emanuel Steward and Cus D’Amato.
BRUCE TRAMPLER (Top Rank matchmaker; a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame): Off the top of my head, “The Professional” by W.C. Heinz, “Fat City” by Leonard Gardner, “A Boxing Companion” by Richard O’Brien, “Only The Ring Was Square,” and “James Norris and the Decline of Boxing” by Barney Nagler.
GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS: (boxing writer, blogger and “Master of the Beltway”): I have two. Jack Newfield’s “Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King” is one of the great investigative books of all time. It was riveting. Also, Brad Berkwitt’s “Boxing Interviews of a Lifetime.” I love the range of people — in and out of the sport — that he interviews in the book.
PETER WOOD: (former boxer, author): My favorite iconic boxing books are “The Sweet Science” by A.J. Liebling and “The Harder They Fall” by Budd Schulberg.
My favorite non-fiction boxing books are “Weigh-In” by Fraser Scott; “In This Corner” by Peter Heller, “Atlas” by Teddy Atlas , and “The Raging Bull” by Joseph Carter and Peter Savage.
My favorite fictional boxing books are “My Father’s Fighter” by Ronald K. Fried and “The Professional” by W.C. Heinz.
Special Mention goes to “Flash Gordon’s 1970 East Coast Boxing Yearbook” with Johnny Bos and Bruce Trampler. My all-time favorite boxing autobiography is “Confessions of a Fighter” by Peter W. Wood.
Observations: “The Sweet Science” by A.J. Liebling seemed to get a lot of attention. No surprise there. That said, I think we now have a pretty comprehensive list from which we can select some compelling stuff for our reading enjoyment.
Thanks to all.
Ted Sares, a member of Ring 4’s Hall of Fame, is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. He has won the EPF Nationals four years in a row.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.