Book Talk: Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig
Winner of the 2018 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing Winner of The Times Sports Biography of the Year
"Stunning . . . Eig's brilliant, exhaustive book is the biography the champ deserves." —NPR.org The definitive biography of an American icon, from a New York Times best-selling author with unique access to Ali’s inner circle
This is the story
He was the wittiest, the prettiest, the strongest, the bravest, and, of course, the greatest (as he told us himself). Muhammad Ali was one of the twentieth century’s most fantastic figures and arguably the most famous man on the planet. But until now, he has never been the subject of a complete, unauthorized biography. Jonathan Eig, hailed by Ken Burns as one of America’s master storytellers, radically reshapes our understanding of the complicated man who was Ali. Eig had access to all the key people in Ali’s life, including his three surviving wives and his managers. He conducted more than 500 interviews and uncovered thousands of pages of previously unreleased FBI and Justice Department files, as well dozens of hours of newly discovered audiotaped interviews from the 1960s. Collectively, they tell Ali’s story like never before—the story of a man who was flawed and uncertain and brave beyond belief. “I am America,” he once declared. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me—black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.” He was born Cassius Clay in racially segregated Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a sign painter and a housekeeper. He went on to become a heavyweight boxer with a dazzling mix of power and speed, a warrior for racial pride, a comedian, a preacher, a poet, a draft resister, an actor, and a lover. Millions hated him when he changed his religion, changed his name, and refused to fight in the Vietnam War. He fought his way back, winning hearts, but at great cost. Like so many boxers, he stayed too long. Jonathan Eig’s Ali reveals Ali in the complexity he deserves, shedding important new light on his politics, religion, personal life, and neurological condition. Ali is a story about America, about race, about a brutal sport, and about a courageous man who shook up the world.
Reviews and What Readers Say
“Finally Muhammad Ali has a biography as big, complex, and memorable as the man himself—or as close as any book can come. From panoramic views of Ali's place in racial, political, and cultural conflicts, to gripping accounts of his fights, to vivid close-ups of his outsized personality and relationships based on new sources, Ali will fascinate you from beginning to end."
― T.J. Stiles, author of Custer's Trials and The First Tycoon
“Some people want to grow up to be an astronaut. Or maybe even president. Or heavyweight champion of the world. I always wanted to be a storyteller. The hardest story to tell is one that’s been told and told well before. In Ali, Jonathan Eig, a fearless reporter, as relentless on his turf as Muhammad Ali ever was within the ring, has taken on one of 20th century America’s biggest, baddest, most important stories and told it bigger and badder than it’s ever been told before. Ali: A Life floats like a butterfly and stings likes a bee. Stop the fight. It’s over. Eig in a knockout.”
―Jane Leavy, author of Sandy Koufax and The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood
“Ali is a marvelous biography - deeply reported, illuminating, dripping with detail chapter after chapter—in every way worthy of one of the great figures of 20th century America.”
―David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi
“ In the early 90s I read Thomas Hauser's Ali biography, which really transformed my opinion of Ali. When I saw this book in the store, I couldn't walk past it now that Ali has passed on. Eig's biography was even better than Hauser's earlier treatment. Of course he was working with the whole story, but the way that Eig carries us through Ali's life really appealed to me. Of course, there were the stories around each of his fights. But Eig didn't dwell there. He provided just enough detail for a lover of the sport like myself, but didn't get buried in Ali's lower profile fights. Eig's narrative brings us into Ali's life - yes, his life was more than just a boxer, draft resistor/war protester, and celebrity. That's what really appealed here. I felt, after reading the book, that I was given the full measure of the man. The Greatest? Of course he was one of them. Eig puts the arc of Ali's boxing career in very good perspective. Flawed? Certainly, but aren't we all, some like Ali, with some larger flaws than others. But human and someone who really worked in the later years of his life to make right in many ways. All in all, this was one of the better sports bios I've read, particularly because it wasn't just a repetition of the pre- and post-fight details, and nothing more. It was a deep dive into Ali's colorful, incredible life.”
― Andy Glass, Amazon Client, Verified Purchase
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JONATHAN EIG is the author of four critically acclaimed books, two of them New York Times bestsellers. He was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Monsey, New York. Eig is a former staff writer for the Wall Street Journal, and he remains a contributing writer there. He has written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, the Washington Post, and other publications. He has appeared on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and in two Ken Burns films for PBS. He is currently working with Burns to develop a documentary on Muhammad Ali. He lives in Chicago, IL.