10 books like Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine

By Thom Jones,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Contender

By Robert Lipsyte,

Book cover of The Contender

The mantra for this novel could be that the effort matters more than anything—the attempt, the trying. Winning is something, but it’s not everything. Brooks, a high-school dropout, has to find his way in a world where his closest friend is dying from drug addiction, his household is broken, and street thugs are after him. Against all odds, if you love something and want it, the pursuit of that dream can help those who chase it with enough intensity to possibly overcome the hardship. When so many boxing stories are written with utter bleakness, there is light here.

The Contender

By Robert Lipsyte,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Contender as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The breakthrough modern sports novel The Contender shows readers the true meaning of being a hero.

This acclaimed novel by celebrated sportswriter Robert Lipsyte, the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in YA fiction, is the story of a young boxer in Harlem who overcomes hardships and finds hope in the ring on his path to becoming a contender.

Alfred Brooks is scared. He’s a high-school dropout, and his grocery store job is leading nowhere. His best friend is sinking further and further into drug addiction. Some street kids are after him for something he didn’t…


Fat City

By Leonard Gardner,

Book cover of Fat City

I first picked up this novel the year I started boxing. It follows the rough lives of Billy Tully and Ernie Munger, two boxers living in separate but parallel worlds—Tully an aging boxer fooled into thinking he can relive a few more glory days and Munger figuring out the hard lessons of what it means to lose. I love how this novel amplifies people eking out difficult lives who spend most of their time in dive bars, cheap motels, and seedy parts of town engaging with dubious, colorful characters. The writing is sparse, direct, sad, and unsentimental. Here Gardner is always pursuing a tough reality.

Fat City

By Leonard Gardner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fat City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Tremendous' Geoff Dyer

'A pitch-perfect account of boxing, blue-collar bewilderment and the battle of the sexes' San Francisco Chronicle

A major cult film directed by John Huston

Stockton, California: a town of dark bars and lunchrooms, cheap hotels and farm labourers scratching a living. When two men meet in the Lido Gym - the ex-boxer Billy Tully and the novice Ernie Munger - their brief sparring session sets a fateful story in motion, initiating young Munger into the "company of men" and luring Tully back into training.

Fat City is a vivid novel of defiance and struggle, of the potent…


Rope Burns

By F.X. Toole,

Book cover of Rope Burns

This is the most beautiful, touching, and emotional book about boxing, penned by a cut man who didn’t stumble into writing until he was in his sixties. Toole’s prose is sharp, lean, commanding, and coming from the mouth of truth. His gritty characters tell it and show it like it is, and it’s Toole’s ability to demonstrate the love trainers have for their boxers and passion for the pursuit of boxing, along with all the big hearts and often unseen vulnerability in the sport, that makes this story collection so open and heavy and heartfelt and breathing and alive.

Rope Burns

By F.X. Toole,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rope Burns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Ring magic is different from the magic of the theatre, because the curtain never comes down - because the blood in the ring is real blood, and the broken noses and the broken hearts are real, and sometimes they are broken forever. Boxing is the magic of men in combat, the magic of will, and skill, and pain, and the risking of everything so you can respect yourself for the rest of your life.'The hermetic world of boxing is notoriously difficult for outsiders to understand, though it has provided a source of fascination to numerous writers, including Norman Mailer, A.J.…


The Professional

By W.C. Heinz,

Book cover of The Professional

Heinz takes the day-to-day minutia of being a boxer and makes it something beautiful. While the novel follows Eddie Brown’s quest for the middleweight title, told from the cynical perspective of sportswriter Frank Hughes, what’s really being relayed is everything it takes to build up to the one moment so few people ever face—that one-on-one in the ring you’ve got nowhere to run from the truth, from yourself. Did you prepare enough? Did you give it your all? And just who in the hell are you, really?

The Professional

By W.C. Heinz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Professional as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in 1958, The Professional is the story of boxer Eddie Brown's quest for the middleweight championship of the world. But it is so much more. W. C. Heinz not only serves up a realistic depiction of the circus-like atmosphere around boxing with its assorted hangers-on, crooked promoters, and jaded journalists, but he gives us two memorable characters in Eddie Brown and in Brown's crusty trainer, Doc Carroll. They are at the heart of this poignant story as they bond together with their eye on the only prize that matters,the middleweight championship. The Professional is W. C. Heinz at…


The Devil and Sonny Liston

By Nick Tosches,

Book cover of The Devil and Sonny Liston

“A ghost story, a haunting unto itself”—thus, music journalist Nick Tosches opens his tough tale of the boxer Sonny Liston, two-time heavyweight champion of the world. Born in 1932 into a family of tenant farmers that lived on the border of Arkansas and Mississippi, Liston grew up with violence, reinforced by an early stint in prison. Deftly, Tosches conjures the grim, ruthless culture of professional boxing during the 1950s and 60s. Most poignantly, he shows that Liston never possessed his own life—not in the fields from which he fled as a youth and not as a winner in the ring. He was always owned by white men who operated a fundamentally racist business. For readers interested in Black cultural history, this is a timely book. 

The Devil and Sonny Liston

By Nick Tosches,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Devil and Sonny Liston as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A biography of the controversial fighter follows Liston from the mean streets, where he was a petty criminal, to the heavyweight championship and his life as a pawn of organized crime. By the author of Power on Earth. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.


The Sweet Science

By A.J. Liebling,

Book cover of The Sweet Science

In a very British list, there has got to be something from the great American tradition. Liebling wrote for the elite New Yorker but as a New Yorker in every sense he liked to think of himself as a sort of Pierce Egan of the Bronx. So, in the heyday of American fighting, take a ringside seat at The Garden to see the fighter with a face like a worn penny, and see Jersey Joe Walcott take a fall like flour out of a chute.

The Sweet Science

By A.J. Liebling,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sweet Science as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Take a ringside seat next to A. J. Liebling at some of the greatest fights in history. Here is Joe Louis's devastating final match; Sugar Ray Robinson's dramatic comeback; and Rocky Marciano's rise to heavyweight glory. The heated ringside atmosphere, the artistry of the great boxers and the blows and parries of the classic fights are all vividly evoked in a volume described by Sports Illustrated as 'the best American sports book of all time'.

'A rollicking god among boxing writers ... before Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson were out of diapers, Liebling was taking his readers on excursions…


The First Black Boxing Champions

By Colleen Aycock (editor), Mark Scott (editor),

Book cover of The First Black Boxing Champions: Essays on Fighters of the 1800s to the 1920s

This volume presents fifteen chapters of biography of African American and black champions and challengers of the early prize ring. They range from Tom Molineaux, a slave who won freedom and fame in the ring in the early 1800s; to Joe Gans, the first African American world champion; to the flamboyant Jack Johnson, deemed such a threat to white society that the film of his defeat of former champion and "Great White Hope" Jim Jeffries was banned across much of the country. Aycock and Scott construct a vivid and unambiguous view of the sport which is often forgotten. A gifted and prolific author, Aycock has also produced masterful works on Max Baer, Joe Gans, and Tex Rickard.

The First Black Boxing Champions

By Colleen Aycock (editor), Mark Scott (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The First Black Boxing Champions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This volume presents fifteen chapters of biography of African American and black champions and challengers of the early prize ring. They range from Tom Molineaux, a slave who won freedom and fame in the ring in the early 1800s; to Joe Gans, the first African American world champion; to the flamboyant Jack Johnson, deemed such a threat to white society that film of his defeat of former champion and "Great White Hope" Jim Jeffries was banned across much of the country. Photographs, period drawings, cartoons, and fight posters enhance the biographies. Round-by-round coverage of select historic fights is included, as…


On Boxing

By Joyce Carol Oates,

Book cover of On Boxing

This gifted author I have yet to meet but do hope our paths will cross before the final bell. Oates published her first book in 1963, and has since published over 50 novels, several plays and novellas, and many volumes of short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. Her novels Black Water (1992), What I Lived For (1994), and Blonde (2000), and her short story collections The Wheel of Love (1970) and Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories (2014) were each a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her personal, yet insightful, view of the sport will resonate with every fan of the sweet science.

On Boxing

By Joyce Carol Oates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Boxing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Joyce Carol Oates explores the world of professional boxing, examining the subject from many angles: boxing as metaphor, spectacle and history, boxing as seen in literature and film and by women. The author chronicles many famous figures such as Jack Dempsey, Barry McGuigan, Joe Louis and others. She also looks beyond the ring at the links between violence and racism and at how boxing vindicates disenfranchised youth. Joyce Carol Oates is also author of the novel "Marya: A Life".


The Fight

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of The Fight

One of the best sports books ever written? Judge for yourself, but I think it is certainly among the best. Even if you don’t like boxing or martial arts, you’ll enjoy this eminently readable book about “the rumble in the jungle” in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, two heroic athletes in conflict. Although there are moments of self-deprecating humor and Mailer’s usual philosophical concerns, Mailer focuses squarely on the two athletes, their training camps and trainers, the people around them, and the experience of being in Africa. And then of course there is the fight itself, described in vivid and inventive detail that I found is as riveting to other readers as it is to me. The philosophical/metaphysical concerns here are part and parcel of those Mailer developed through his sixty years as a writer, but they are introduced in an easily digestible style and seem to me…

The Fight

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of the major innovators of New Journalism, Norman Mailer's The Fight is the real-life story of a clash between two of the world's greatest boxers, both in and out of the ring, published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Norman Mailer's The Fight focuses on the 1974 World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in Kinshasa, Zaire. Muhammad Ali met George Foreman in the ring. Foreman's genius employed silence, serenity and cunning. He had never been defeated. His hands were his instrument, and 'he kept them in his pockets the way a hunter lays his rifle back into its velvet case'. Together the…


The Exploits of Engelbrecht

By Maurice Richardson,

Book cover of The Exploits of Engelbrecht

The stories that appear in this book were first published in Lilliput in the 1940s, a British monthly magazine. They relate the perilous, often diabolical activities of the Surrealist Sportsman’s Club, a society devoted to playing games that no one else would dream of attempting. Engelbrecht is a diminutive boxer who fights clocks, zombies, witches, and other assorted horrors and marvels, and he generally wins because of pluck combined with luck. Richardson’s prose style here is a blend of gothic horror, period science fiction, and the wisecracking of Damon Runyan, and the reader can expect no respite from the tumult of ideas, images, situations, jokes, and subversion of clichés.

The Exploits of Engelbrecht

By Maurice Richardson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Exploits of Engelbrecht as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published for the first time in a low cost edition, Maurice Richardson's cult classic is one of the strangest works of fiction ever written. Fifteen stories that relate the activities of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club, a society with very dubious morals that spends the time it has left between the collapse of the moon and the end of the universe taking the concept of the 'game' to its logical limit.

A club can't operate without members, and those of the SSC are as strange and astonishing as some of the events they compete in. Most formidable of all, and more…


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