Sunday, March 1, 2015

Book Review: Live Fast, Die Young: The Life and Times of Harry Greb

 The Sunday Book Review by Peter Silkov

 "Live Fast, Die Young: The Life and Times of Harry Greb" By Stephen Compton


Harry Greb is one of the most mythical figures in boxing history. “The Pittsburgh Windmill’ fought almost 300 fights in a career that ran from 1913 to 1926, and despite being just a middleweight, Greb fought all comers, from middleweight to heavyweight, regardless of size or colour.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 6, 1894, Harry Greb’s life both in and out of the ring was a whirlwind of excitement and incident, and eventually tragedy.

As his nickname indicates, Greb was a human windmill of a fighter, never stopped throwing punches, and from more angles than seemed to be humanly possible.  It seems that he never stopped fighting either during his career; building up one of the busiest records of all time. Greb fought on average 22 times a year, and in 1919, had an astonishing 44 fights. Greb’s accomplishments in the ring are even more impressive when weighed up by the fact that he fought the latter years of his career, including his whole world middleweight title reign, virtually blind in his right eye. 

Greb’s reputation is sealed by his premature death at the age of just 32 years-old in 1926; just another facet of Greb’s life, around which a multitude of myths and half truths have grown.

At the pinnacle of his career, Greb held the World middleweight championship for three years. But, his achievements in the ring go much deeper than that. He was the only man to defeat the master boxer Gene Tunney, the man who would go on to win the World heavyweight title from the legendary Jack Dempsey. The same Jack Dempsey, who it is said, shied away from a fight with Greb. 

Despite his remarkable career, Greb has always been a mysterious figure in boxing history. There isn’t any existing footage of him fighting; just a few silent minutes of him training. Biographies of him have also been totally absent, save for the quirky “Give Him to the Angels” by James Fair, which turned out to be as much a novel as it was a straight biography. Over the years, many legends and stories have grown up around Greb, about him never training, that he was a womanizer and heavy drinker, and one of the dirtiest fighters in boxing history. He has also been hailed by some as the greatest fighter, pound-for-pound, of all time. Until now, there has been little to distinguish some facts from the fiction, and some of the stories about his life and mysterious death have grown in mythology. 

However, S. L. Compton aims to finally shed light on the legend of the mysterious Harry Greb in “Live Fast, Die Young: The Life and Times of Harry Greb.” If the wait for a definitive biography on Greb has been a long one, this biography makes the wait worthwhile. It would be difficult to find a more in depth, acutely researched biography than this book.  S. L. Compton has produced a work of encyclopedic proportions.  Live Fast, Die Young: The Life and Times of Harry Greb weighs in at 715 pages, and features a fight-by-fight analysis of Greb’s career, and also his life outside of the ring.  Previous myths are burst in these pages, not least the idea that Greb was an undisciplined playboy, or that he was simply an unskilled brawler prone to fouling. 

If myths are exploded here, the reality bursts out more impressive than the myth.  Greb emerges as a truly brave and dedicated warrior of the ring, with a unique style, and a strong morale sensibility.  

In an era where many of the top white fighters frequently drew the colour line, Greb wished only to fight the best, regardless of the colour of the man’s skin. Stephen (S. L.) Compton doesn’t just give us a depth analysis of Greb himself; he also sheds light on the lives and careers of Greb’s opponents.  The book also holds a tremendous collection of hundreds of photographs, many of them never seen before. 

Indeed, “Live Fast, Die Young: The Life and Times Of Harry Greb” gives a fascinating portrait of the times and world in which Harry Greb lived, and had to fight so hard to survive in. 

We also find out the truth about Greb’s lost sight in his right eye and how it affected him in the later years of his career. It is revealed that much of Grebs ‘dirtiness’ as a fighter was due to him having to adapt his fighting style to adjust to his fading vision.

Greb’s premature death is also de-mystified, which in a strange way only serves to accentuate the tragic irony of Greb’s life and fighting career.  

 Despite its encyclopedic content, this is a very readable book, that isn’t bogged down in its huge detail.  S. L. Compton keeps things flowing nicely throughout, and the reader is drawn into Greb’s life and career, as he battles his way to the top, and his fight to stay there.  

We see the evidence of Greb’s courage and brilliance in this biography. One needs only to look at his record to be assured of this fighter’s uniqueness, but the exhaustive details within these pages brings Harry Greb’s greatness alive to our eyes.   

In “Live Fast, Die Young: The Life and Times of Harry Greb,” S. L. Compton has brought back to life one of the most mysterious and storied fighters of all time, and provides ample evidence that he was also one of the greatest of all time. This is a book, which is highly recommended for anyone who has an interest in boxing history, and would like to be illuminated about the life and times of Harry Greb.  

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to www.theboxingglove.com and www.theboxingtribune.com

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1 comment:

  1. OT: Get ready for Pac-Man's upcoming bout against Timothy Bradley with this stacked new assortment of Manny Pacquiao sportswear

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