The best boxing books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about boxing and why they recommend each book.

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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.

Who am I?

One reason is that I belong to Europe's leading sports institute, the International Centre for Sport History and Culture at De Montfort University in England. The other reason is that I’m mad about all history, not just sports history. I am currently a Professor of History at De Montfort University, Leicester. Before that, I was a Professor of English History at Leicester University.

I wrote...

This Sporting Life: Sport and Liberty in England, 1760-1960

By Robert Colls,

Book cover of This Sporting Life: Sport and Liberty in England, 1760-1960

What is my book about?

Apart from a truly great cover (look right) this book gets down to what it was like, for instance, to ride with Minna Burnaby and The Quorn in 1910, or fight bare-knuckle with English champion Tom Sayers in a Hampshire field in 1860, or be young, female, sporty, and up to university in the 1920s. This Sporting Life also tells how sport ran through every part of people’s lives, showing them, in actions not words, how to belong and how to be free – the two great themes of the modern era.

Cinderella Man

By Jeremy Schaap,

Book cover of Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History

Boxing was such a popular sport during the Great Depression. My grandparents’ family regularly listened to “the fights” on the radio. Dubbed “Cinderella Man” by writer Damon Runyon, James J. Braddock, with 24 losses, won one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing championship history. He defeated Max Baer on June 13, 1935, in Long Island City, New York, for the world title in a unanimous decision after a grueling 15 rounds.

The next day, Leora Wilson wrote her two sons who’d joined the Navy during the Depression, “Expect you may have heard the Braddock and Baer fight. I’m glad Braddock won–he needs the money for his family.” Not only that, but Braddock had been “on the dole” at one point, an underdog in many ways. He was so embarrassed at needing help to feed his three children that he paid back the money he’d received from the government. A…

Who am I?

I am the author of two books (the first book was Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II), a blogger, an Iowa historian, and a regular contributor to Our American Stories. I’ve woven letters and newspaper clippings, along with memoirs and family stories, into the narratives of the lives of Clabe and Leora Wilson. As their oldest granddaughter, I also enjoy giving programs, as well as TV and radio interviews, about the Wilson family.

I wrote...

Leora's Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression

By Joy Neal Kidney,

Book cover of Leora's Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression

What is my book about?

The undertow of the Great Depression becomes poignantly personal as we experience the travails of Leora and Clabe Wilson, a displaced Iowa farm family living in a small town, trying to make ends meet. Gritty determination fuels this family’s journey of loss and hope, a reflection of what many American families endured during those challenging times.

In this true story, the Wilsons slowly slide into unemployment and poverty. Leora must find ways to keep her dreams alive while making a haven for her flock of seven children in one run-down house after another.

Behind the Mask

By Tyson Fury,

Book cover of Behind the Mask

The thing I love about Tyson's story is he makes it so relatable to ask questions that others are too afraid to answer. He talks about his triumphs but especially his tribulations. He single handily put mental health on the horizon up for discussion and this man being a giant and talented boxer showed men in particular that it was alright to hurt at times to get lost and to fall apart. Up to then, most celebrities were too proud to go deep and talk about their struggles. Not Tyson, this is the greatest gift you can give.

Honesty and integrity. Not being afraid of being shamed or judged but allowing the world to know that it's ok to talk about this. Not only OK but necessary. I admired the man and his family even more from that very read. It was fabulous looking into the mind of the best…

Who am I?

I am Karen Slater the author of My Journey Through Hell. It’s a memoir of addiction and generational abuse. A story about my dysfunctional childhood and the negative consequences that took me to hell and back. The books I love the most are the stories that inspire me. The true stories of real people overcoming tragedy and adversity give me such hope and motivation to keep on doing what I do and reach other people still struggling. I like to think these are the books that radiate courage and optimism and let others know that we all have our crosses to bear but we can bear them nonetheless.

I wrote...

My Journey Through Hell: Finding My True Worth

By Karen Slater,

Book cover of My Journey Through Hell: Finding My True Worth

What is my book about?

Karen grew up believing she was worth nothing, told by her parents on a daily basis she was a useless excuse for a human being. She was beaten and abused and exposed to the dangers of a rough council estate in Newcastle’s West End. 

Her life became a drunken blur as she spiraled out of control and eventually there was only one way out. She was found just in time and in intensive care she watched a slowing heart monitor and begged her God to let her die. As she drifted in and out of consciousness spoke to her, told her that she had something to live for, a purpose, because why should people be made to suffer the way she had? She had to live, had to talk to the abused, help the victims of domestic violence, those who had been raped, and the alcoholics and the addicts. The day she left hospital Karen Slater bought some exercise books and some pens and began to write. This is her story, her message to the world.

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.

Who am I?

The world is a strange place and life can feel very weird at times, and I have long had the suspicion that a truly imaginative and inventive comedy has more to say about reality, albeit in an exaggerated and oblique way, than much serious gloomy work. Comedy has a wider range than people often think. It doesn’t have to be sweet, light, and uplifting all the time. It can be dark, unsettling and suspenseful, or profoundly philosophical. It can be political, mystical, paradoxical. There are humorous fantasy novels and short story collections that have been sadly neglected or unjustly forgotten, and I try to recommend those books to readers whenever I can.

I wrote...

My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand

By Rhys Hughes,

Book cover of My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand

What is my book about?

A novella that makes use of playful experimental techniques to tell the strange story of an entertainer who specialises in creating rabbits from shadows. He creates twelve special shadow rabbits who communicate with him via stories and poems that are fully contained works but also interact with each other to form a bigger story. These twelve narratives are set in a frame by another story and it turns out that this framing story is also potentially framed in a much larger cosmos. My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand is a fantasy tale, a romance, and an example of philosophical speculative fiction with a humorous slant.

The Contender

By Robert Lipsyte,

Book cover of The Contender

High school dropout, Alfred Brooks, lives in the inner city. He’s hounded by street kids when he parts ways with his best friend’s involvement in drugs. Alfred finds consolation and hope at Donatelli’s gym where the owner sees potential in Alfred as a boxer. Alfred learns that making the effort can change his life and when he loses he gets up and tries again. Becoming a contender becomes his self-identity. Such an important lesson for all of us but especially vulnerable young readers, my students. I loved Alfred’s determination and Mr. Donatelli’s recognition of his potential and refusal to give up on a troubled kid. I rooted Alfred along with every boxing match and cheered his discovery of his own strengths—both physical and otherwise. The book is brutally realistic but so upbeat, I just wanted to keep reading.

Who am I?

I have a passion for the theme of building self-esteem and finding self-identity at middle and high school age because I taught secondary English for 30 years. So many of my students struggled with this issue; reading novels about kids with similar situations offers a way for readers to help themselves work out their own problems. I deliberately chose both recent and classic novels with a wide variety of protagonists, settings and plots, each with a unique author voice to show how universal the need to build self-esteem can be. My own novel, Eaglebait, is another strong novel with a similar theme.

I wrote...

Eaglebait: Can a smart kid survive school bullies?

By Susan Coryell,

Book cover of Eaglebait: Can a smart kid survive school bullies?

What is my book about?

Wardy Spinks has been a loser for as long as he can remember. Freshman year in high school Wardy becomes the victim of malicious bullying. Eventually, his life begins to change. First, a charismatic science teacher becomes his mentor. Then, quiet Meg seems friendly. And Big Vi takes on a life of her own. Wardy discovers his attitude makes a difference in how others treat him. If Wardy doesn’t feel like a loser, maybe he won’t be one.

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. 

Who am I?

Claudia Keenan is a historian of education whose interest in American culture was awakened during her doctoral studies, when she researched the lives of mid-twentieth-century educators. Growing up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., she developed a strong affinity with place and time among the beautiful old homes and avenues lined with elms, set against a backdrop of racial strife and ethnic politics. She continues to reconstruct and interpret American lives on her blog, and has recently finished a book about Henry Collins Brown, founder of the Museum of the City of New York. Claudia received a BA from the University of Chicago and a PhD from New York University.

I wrote...

Waking Dreamers, Unexpected American Lives: 1880-1980

By Claudia Keenan,

Book cover of Waking Dreamers, Unexpected American Lives: 1880-1980

What is my book about?

Opportunists, millionaires, student radicals, artists; industrialists, posers, bohemians, suffragists— Waking Dreamers is a set of short stories, largely about obscure nineteenth-century Americans, whom Claudia Keenan discovered in the course of 20 years of historical research. Messianic, tragic, brave, clever; they seemed to merit attention, so she sifted through thousands of clues, details, and images in digitized magazines and newspapers, digging up their pasts. Her interest in reconstructing lives, and interpreting cultural and social context, grew out of her doctoral studies in the history of American education.

Ranging from the modern dancer Violet Romer to the brilliant progressive educator Willard W. Beatty; from the freethinker and vegetarian J. Howard Moore to the forlorn First Lady Jane Pierce, Waking Dreamers pulls back the curtain on Americans who suffered and triumphed through the Gilded Age and into the twentieth century.

How to Pronounce Knife

By Souvankham Thammavongsa,

Book cover of How to Pronounce Knife: Stories

In these stripped-down stories, the minute observations are just as significant as the broader strokes the writer uses to depict the lives of refugees, people at the margins. Told mostly from the perspective of a Laotian adolescent, the characters are each trying to understand the steps they must take to fit into their new barricaded lives. In spite of the claustrophobia that encloses the characters, the stories are funny and tender. 

Who am I?

I grew up in a large extended family in a rural district in Trinidad. Frequently, as a young boy, I sought escape in the forested area at the back of the house. There, I would craft childish stories and fantasize about becoming a writer. This wish was granted after I moved to Canada in the 1990s. As an immigrant writer here, most of my books are about movement, dispossession, and finding a home. So, in a sense, I have always been running away from, while at the same time, searching for a home. This tension has given birth to most of my books.

I wrote...

The Amazing Absorbing Boy

By Rabindranath Maharaj,

Book cover of The Amazing Absorbing Boy

What is my book about?

Both familiar and strange, this story of a large Canadian city seen through the wide eyes of a naive and inexperienced young immigrant — wise in the culture of comic books — is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Samuel is just 17 when his mother dies and he is called to live with the father he has only heard of. He leaves his village in Trinidad and flies to Toronto, where he finds his father living in a place called Regent Park. Samuel is lonely in this “big mall of a country,” but he has his memories of superheroes — his mentors — to guide him, including the memory of an unusual friend who was two superheroes in one, as he sets out to explore what Toronto has to offer.

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