Best Boxing Books



Another New Year's resolution of mine, along with working my way back down to middleweight and then, naturally, taking the middleweight championship of the world (like Homer Simpson, when I imagine my victory over Sergio Martinez, I imagine a congenital heart defect felling Maravilla seconds before entering the ring) is to read more. I'm still a voracious reader, but in the days before Wi-Fi and my laptop, I was a legitimate 48 book a year reader, unless I was taking time out for Underworld or another go at Ulysses.

To encourage others to do something with their dreaded minutes waiting for BLH's next posting, and hopefully get some ideas of my own, here are a few great boxing books, in no order, and with no statement of authority. I look forward to hearing your recommendations in the comments.

-The Professional, W.C. Heinz.

Duh. Widely accepted as the best boxing book of all-time, it's an immensely detailed, ultimately heartbreaking novel, and if you don't read it, Buzz Bissinger will stab you in the throat. (Possibly.)

-The Sweet Science, A.J. Liebling

Another no-brainer, and an immensely important collection in the developing of boxing journalism. I'm especially fond of how Liebling writes about one of his most crafty subjects in the ring, Archie Moore. The Mongoose will come to life in your mind's eye more than he ever did for me in grainy footage.

-The Black Lights, Thomas Hauser

As is often the case with great writers, yes, Hauser loves the sound of his own voice, and not every 1500-word Internet outburst, or collection of his writing, is made equal. But this is the real deal, an unblinking look at how boxing business was (and still largely is) through Billy Costello, a brief lightweight champion made a sympathetic example. In 1986, this was also extraordinarily ground-breaking. Some prefer his Ali book, but I would argue this is much more important.

-The Harder They Fall, Budd Schulberg

Just found this one and breezed through it: a sometimes laughably hard-boiled novel, it's nevertheless riveting. The manufactured rise and fall of all-height, no-punch man mountain Argentine heavyweight Toro Molina, this also became Humphrey Bogart's last movie (and a good one, though sadly out of print). I wonder what Schulberg would have thought of a certain Russian former WBA champion...(Also recommended is Schulberg's Ringside, an uneven collection that does have its gems.)

-This Bloody Mary Is The Last Thing I Own, Jonathan Rendell

Every fighter breaks your heart in the end. A writer turned unlikely boxing manager, a featherweight (Colin "Sweet C" McMillan) geared up to take the title, and a lyrically written journey better read than described. This one really doesn't deserve its obscurity.

-The Last Great Fight, Joe Layden

There are two criticisms I can make of this book: one, the title is hyperbolic, if there is an argument made by this book, solidly, that Tyson-Douglas really did shatter boxing in a sense, never to be rebuilt; two, the Tyson chapters are largely compiled from other sources.

But so what? Alternating between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas before a fight no one but Douglas' camp believed he could win, but taking the story all the way through Douglas' quick implosion and Tyson's multiple explosions, this is a grandly entertaining read that I ripped through in hours, and found the narrative so stuck in my head, I wrote a play influenced deeply by the Buster Douglas story. (Particularly the downfall.) Tyson fans, boxing fans, sports fans, and most literate souls need to pick this one up. It's that good.

(Less recommended: A Savage Business by Richard Hoffer, a somewhat overwrought though very entertaining telling of the Tyson comeback, and how fraudulent it was from the very start. Its perspective gets a little overbearing, but if you can roll with that and just roll your eyes periodically, it's a fun read.)

And yours?

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