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Muhammad Ali

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The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham (Random House) Over the last seventeen years Muhammad Ali has been barnstorming his way across the fistic canvas in the four corners of the world. Whether it's the Ali Shuffle" at Madison Square Garden or the "Rope-A-Dope" in Kinshasa, Zaire, Ali's singular revival of the sport of boxing has been nothing short of spectacular. Jaded by its underworld associations, boxing in the late fifties seemed moribund beyond recall. With Ali's Olympic victory in 1960, the boxing world began to inhale the fresh breath of new life. Not k since the days of Jack . Johnson had boxing pro . duced an athlete as brash and defiant as Ali. Rejecting the cautiousl ly modest behavior k of the traditional boxing champion, Au awakened a wind of controversy with his poetic boasts. k If his "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" predictions k were not eriough drive mainstream Amer ica out of its mind, Ali's . con ver sion the Black Muslims completely turned the trick. Nothing had prepared this nation, so accustomed to the stereotype of black humility, for a World Heavyweight Champion who turned his back on Christianity. Intensifying matters, Aü's 1966 pronouncement that "1 ain't got no,quarrel with the Vietcong," and his rcfusal to join with "Uncle Sam"to fight the Vietnamese, drew vicious spurts of venom trom Americans stilt unfamiliar with the atrocity of the war. Rescindihg Ali's boxing license because of his then "unpopular" beliefs, the World Boxing Association and the New York State Boxing Commission usurned the best years of Ali's athletic life. Yet Ali's stunning emergence out of this enforced exile displayed all the brilliance of his early victories. Astonishing the world k with the rebirth of the Ali magie, the great pugilist B onstrated in no uncertain terms the validity of his claim to be "The Greatesl." Written byAli with the aid of writer Richard Durham, The Greatest chronicles the enigma of boxing's most outstanding figure like no other account possibly could. Unlike most attempts to capture the spirit of Ali in mere words, the AliDuiham team unveils a graphic illumination ot the strokes which had painted his life. One after anofher the challenges of victory and defeat in Ali's life are delineated to telling effect. Especially instructive is the AliDurham account of the series of events which served to shatter Ali's youthful faith ín America. Returning from his Olympic victory, Ali is told by the mayor of Louisvüle, Kentucky - Ali's home I town - that the Olympic gold was his key to the I city, but Ali soon learned that it also opened the doors to the dark closet of racism. With stark realism Ali and Durham disclose an iricident in which Ali, even with the key to the city, I was refused service in a local white restaurant Chased from the restaurant by a group of white I thugs set on violence, Ali escaped; later that ■! evening he threw his gold medal off the ' son County Bridge and into the Ohio River. Wrestling with the controversy provoked by his Musiim membership, the failure of his first marriage, or the struggle to regairi his World Championshtp. Ali's integrity and dignity remained undisturbed. All in all the AliDurham book isa superb portrayal of a man otten maligned and misunderstood by America. Striking a delicaíe balance between discretion and I tion, The Greatest summarizes a life not yet in l'ull bloom. Stretching our eyes over the horizon, we anxiously await the blossoming of Ali's I next round of achievements - but after The Greatest, it s djfficult to imagine what could I cede this outstanding book.B