Sunday, June 12, 2016

TBG Book Review: Muhammad Ali: 15 Books About the Greatest

The Boxing Glove Sunday Night Book Review
By Peter Silkov

On Friday, June 3rd, the world lost someone very special, Muhammad Ali.  Muhammad Ali has long since gone beyond being merely the greatest boxer of all time.  35 years after he had thrown his final official punch in the ring, he remained as famous as ever and more importantly perhaps, his popularity had, if anything, grown over the years, rather than waned.  As well as leaving a legacy as a boxer, which shines even brighter with the passing of the years, he also left a shining legacy through the years in which he was devoted to various humanitarian projects.  Like his boxing career, Muhammad Ali’s legacy as a self-appointed ambassador for goodwill and reconciliation will continue to grow now even after his death.  He spent the last years of his life making sure that his mission to enact positive change in the world will not end with his death.  Muhammad Ali is a man of many legacies, and while we may now feel bereft at his passing, we can take some comfort what he has left behind.  It is fair to say that few men have left behind so much.  Muhammad Ali’s imprint upon the world has been remarkable.

Usually one of the signs that a man (or woman) has had a large impact on the world is the appearance of books and biographies on their life.  In an era of celebrity and idol worship, there have been hundreds, if not thousands of biographies and autobiographies printed over the recent decades, most of them as complicated and disposable as a Big Mac from your local McDonalds.   There are exceptions to this of course, and one of the most powerful exceptions is the many books, which have been written upon Muhammad Ali.  Boxing itself seems to have a knack for producing biographies and autobiographies of impressive grace, experiences, and achievements.

The boxer is without doubt the most compelling of all sportsmen, and no boxer has been as compelling as Ali, ‘The Greatest.’  No other sportsman has had so many books and articles written about him as Muhammad Ali.  The biographies have been been numerous, and there have also been a number of ghostwritten autobiographies thrown into the mix.  It says something about both Ali the man and Ali the boxer, that despite the proliferation of literature written about him, the vast majority of it is of a high standard.  Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that Ali, despite all his fame and exposure to the world, remained for many an enigma, a fascination for writers of various backgrounds and outlooks.  Ali, the man, even in his sickly old age, always remained somewhat elusive to world.  He would never be just what people wanted or expected him to be, right up until his death. 

Perhaps this aspect of the man is one of the reasons why writers found him to be so fascinating. 

So today as we still come to terms with his physical loss to the world, I have been looking at my various collection of Muhammad Ali books.  There are (unsurprisingly) many, of all different shapes and sizes, and generally focus on  different aspects and times in Muhammad Ali’s life and career.  I thought it would be timely to complete my top 15 list of ‘greatest’ books written about ‘The Greatest.’  It is no mean feat to select a top 15,  and try as I might, I cant really find a ‘bad’ book amongst them.  Each one seems to show a different side and different experience of Ali.  Surely no other man, (certainly no other sportsman) could have so much written about him without his image growing staid and stale.  This is something that never happened to Ali due to the depth and intricacies of his personality.

This is a man who spent his life touching people, both physically and spiritually, and this comes across in many of the books upon him.  Especially the latter ones when the boisterousness of his youth had given way to the humility and maturity of his later years.

Compiling this list has been difficult, but in the end, I have simply decided to go with a list of books about this great man that have had a personal effect upon me, and rank them accordingly.

 The Greatest! Muhammad Ali! My Own Story!


Written in 1975, just after ‘The Thriller in Manila’ this is perhaps surprisingl, the only Ali autobiography written in his own words.  It begins with his calamitous defeat at the hands of Ken Norton and then goes through his life from some of his earliest childhood experiences, onto his boxing career right up to the aftermath of his epic 3rd match with Joe Frazier in 1975.  This is a revealing and fast moving book with some fascinating insights into his relationship with Joe Frazier, especially early on when Frazier was the ‘Champ’ and Ali was in exile.  There are also some great insights into Ali’s thoughts before some of his greatest fights.  This was the first book I ever brought on Ali and still my favourite. 



Muhammad Ali by Wilfred Sheed

Also written in 1975, this is a photographic biography of Ali with many stunning photos of Ali (by Neil Leifer.)  Sheed attempts to analyze the man behind the image and controversy.







Cassius Clay by Jack Olsen 

Published in 1967, this is a very penetrating biography of the young Muhammad Ali, looking at him as a young champion and his religious beliefs, and how they might affect his career.  There are some fascinating insights in this book on Ali’s upbringing and the experiences with racial discrimination that shaped his later beliefs.





Cassius Clay By Claude Lewis

This book is one of the earliest published on Ali.  Published in 1965, it focuses on Ali straight after he has won the World heavyweight title for the first time from Sonny Liston.  Although this is still very early in his career, it is already apparent how strong an impact that Ali has had already upon the sport.





Facing Ali By Stephen Brunt

Published in 2002, this book profiles 15 of Ali’s opponents, who faced him at various stages of his career.  Ranging from Tunney Hunsaker, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Karl Mildenberger, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ernie Shavers, and Larry Holmes.






The Tao of Muhammad Ali by Davis Miller

Published in 1996, Davis Miller gives us one of the most revealing portraits of the older Ali, through his experiences of knowing Ali over a period of 30 years.







The Sunshine in My Life by Paddy Monaghan

This is Paddy Monaghan’s autobiography, and his account of his long friendship with Muhammad Ali, which started in the late 60s when he started a campaign for Ali after he was banned from boxing due to his refusal to go to Vietnam.  Published in 1993, this offers a very personal portrait of Ali.






The Fight by Norman Mailer

"The Fight" is an extraordinary account of the lead up to Muhammad Ali’s legendary fight with George Foreman in 1974, when he regained the World heavyweight championship, and proved beyond doubt his true greatness.  Norman Mailer offers us one of the most perceptive accounts of the Foreman vs. Ali fight ever written, as he attempts to get past the punches and examine the psychology of both men.





Shadow Box by George Plimpton

George Plimpton was another writer who was mesmerized by boxing, and especially by Muhammad Ali.  This is an idiosyncratic, sometimes eccentric book, as Plimpton meets various boxers, trainers and promoters, and follows Ali through the years from his fights with Liston in the early 60s to his epic struggles with Frazier and Foreman.

This book was published in 1977.  Plimpton paints a very personal picture of Ali and his entourage, and brings alive the back stage happenings behind ‘The Greatest’s biggest fights



Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years: Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo

In 1975, Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo wrote the excellent “Muhammad Ali, The Holy Warrior.”  In 2002, they followed this up with Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years, a large-scale photographic biography of  ‘The Greatest’ which though it goes through his whole life, its main focus is his glory years of the 60s and 70s.




Soul Of A Butterfly by Muhammad Ali and Hana Yasmeen Ali

"Soul of A Butterfly" is a very touching and spiritual book, which was written by Ali’s daughter, Hana Yasmeen Ali, and consists of the wisdom and beliefs of Ali, and memories of the important experiences of his life.  This is one of Muhammad Ali’s most personal books, that travels into the heart of his spiritual, and religious beliefs.





The Big Fight by Dave Hannigan

Written in 2002 by Dave Hannigan, “The Big Fight” delves into the background of Ali’s fight with Al ‘Blue’ Lewis, on July 19, 1972, at Croke Park Dublin, Ireland.  This is an offbeat and fast moving book, and it is fascinating to see the details behind the fight, as well as Ali’s interaction with the Irish fans.  There is also a look into Ali’s own Irish roots.





King Of the World by David Remnick

This is perhaps the best Ali book regarding its focus upon Ali’s first fight with Sonny Liston.  It has a great in-depth portrayal of both men, and Liston emerges as a much more complex person than some would have you believe.  First published in 1998, this is a great book on one of Boxing’s greatest and most controversial fights.





Muhammad Ali His Life And Times by Thomas Hauser

Published in 1991, Thomas Hauser’s biography of Ali is seen by many as the definitive Muhammad Ali biography.  With exhaustive research, and contributions by many who were with him at the height of his boxing career, this book brought Ali back into public attention, after he had spent much of the 80s in seclusion as he sought to deal with Parkinson’s disease.




Sting Like A Bee by Jose Torres

“Sting Like A Bee” is an idiosyncratic look at Muhammad Ali in the run up to his first showdown with ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier.  There are some stories that this book was actually written by Norman Mailer, in exchange for boxing lessons from Torres, who had only recently retired from boxing and turned full time to writing.  Whoever wrote this did a good job in capturing the mystery of Ali, and the diverse often-controversial drama’s of his life.  “Sting Like A Bee”, which was published in 1971, just after Ali vs. Frazier 1, when ’The Greatest’ was returning from his enforced exile, and at a pivotal point of his career.

That’s my top 15 list, there’s others that I had to leave out for now, maybe next time!.  As for these, if you haven’t managed to read any of them yet, my advise is to get reading!


Copyright © 2016 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

1 comment:

  1. Great Article Peter! - Melissa Donatelli.