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Three Great Books About Boxing

pugilist at restI’ve always been a fan of boxing. I watched fights with my dad during the Mike Tyson heyday. These days I can take it or leave it, as far as watching it goes, but I still love to read about it. I was reminded of this after picking up Katherine Dunn’s book One Ring Circus: Dispatches From The World of Boxing. During the introduction it talks about how most writers eventually get tempted to write about “The Sweet Science.” I wonder why this is. I do believe it’s true. There are so many authors out there who wrote the odd story about pugilism.

Anyway, there are some great books with boxing in them. For non-fiction, I’d steer you to Dunn’s book first. For fiction, here are three of my very favorites that are full of pugilism, anger, and rough men.

1. Rope Burns by FX Toole

This collection contains the story that became the movie Million Dollar Baby. Toole (pen name of Jerry Boyd) was a professional cutman. This short fiction collection is impossibly good. I’ve never read more simple, more effective writing. And the stories are wonderful. Open this book and you immediately inhabit the world of these trainers, boxers, shady promoters, and…well, let me just say that the last story made me cry. This is my favorite book of short stories. Hands down.

Also, Toole submitted short stories for decades before finally getting these stories published.

2. The Pugilist at Rest by Thom Jones

Thom Jones has written the ultimate book of men, rage, pills, boxing, and it’s got a handful of great war stories in it as well. But the stories about boxing were my favorite. It’s a rough book–lots of coarse language and material–but if you like it, continue with his others collection Cold Snap and Sonny Liston Was A Friend of Mine.

Pugilist was a finalist for the National Book Award when it came up. Whoever beat it needs to go ten rounds with in-his-prime Sonny Liston.

3. The Abysmal Brute by Jack London

It’s tragic that many people only know Jack London’s writing through White Fang and The Call of The Wild. This was an incredibly complex man who wrote stories that I’d nearly always file under Non-cheery. The Abysmal Brute is an exception. It’s a feel good story about a big strong farm boy–who also happens to be a boxing prodigy. He gets discovered by a promoter, gets whisked away to the big city, falls in love, and runs up against the ugly specters of greed, corruption, and fixed fighting. I can’t go any farther without spoiling things, but the end is as feel-good as it gets.

Feel free to add to the list.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Frankie Faires January 23, 2011, 10:59 am

    What are your favorite non-fiction boxing books?
    Just got finished with THE FIGHT by Mailer.
    It didn’t move me as much as I’d hoped it would.
    Have you seen WHEN WE WERE KINGS?

    • Chris Dixon January 23, 2011, 12:59 pm

      If you mean the 1996 film about the rumble in the jungle then its a must see. And if you like that you should check out King of the world by David Remnick, its an excellent Ali biography.

  • FSBBB January 23, 2011, 11:10 am

    That Thom Jones book is awesome
    looking forward to finding some of the others
    cheers Josh

  • Beth January 24, 2011, 4:15 pm

    Cool some books to add to the reading collection. Fully recommend the DVD “Facing Ali” based on the book by the same name (which I’ve not read yet). Thanks Josh, this post caught my eye.

  • Mich January 25, 2011, 8:43 pm

    Loved Rope Burns. One of my favorite short story collections.

    In non-fiction books about boxing, I liked “Kill the Body. The Head will Fall” by Rene Denfield.