Muhammad Ali – His Life and Times
By Thomas Hauser
Portico/Anova Books – £11.99
”I’m expected to go overseas to help free people in South Vietnam, and at the same time my people here are being brutalized and mistreated, and this is really the same thing that’s happening over in Vietnam. So I’m going to fight it legally, and if I lose, I’m just going to jail. Whatever the punishment, whatever the prosecution is for standing up for my beliefs […].”
Never short of a suave, sparkling sentence or two, it goes without saying that the greatest fighter ever, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, wowed audiences in a plethora of arenas – both inside as well as outside the ring. For apart from being a stupendous boxer, he was nigh irresistible to (obviously) watch and (curiously) listen to.
The above quotation being not only a perfect example, but a mere tiny tip of the literary iceberg contained within these 516 pages.
To be sure, Muhammad Ali – His Life and Times – which has been described by The Times as: ”A superb book; hilarious, sad, moving and hopeful” – ticks an array of boxes so far as a really good and fulfilling read is concerned. As it is indeed, sad, moving and hopeful. But like Ali himself, the book is also in your face, somewhat monumental and rather provocative; much to the credit of its author, Thomas Hauser, which ought hardly be surprising, as apart from being a Pulitzer Prize nominee, Hauser has written a number of books (among them: The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing, Brutal Artistry and Mark Twain Remembers).
Admittedly however, some of the more idiosyncratically entertaining writing, was already written for him by Clay himself. All the author had to do was chronologically indulge his labour of love, and capture the full essence of a man to whom the title, ‘bigger than life,’ surely belongs and was surely never more warranted.
For instance, I found the opening gambit of this review in the seventh chapter, ‘Exile,’ which alone, is far more stimulating than a menagerie of entire books I’ve recently read. Reason being, a mere seven paragraphs later, Hausen once again quotes Ali on the subject of hate: ”I don’t hate nobody and I ain’t lynched nobody. We Muslims don’t hate the white man. It’s like we don’t hate a tiger; but we know that a tiger’s nature is not compatible with people’s nature since tigers love to eat people. So we don’t want to live with the tigers. It’s the same with the white man. The white race attacks black people. They don’t ask what’s our religion, what’s our belief? They just start whupping heads. They don’t ask you, are you Catholic, are you a Baptist, are you a Black Muslim, are you a Martin Luther King follower, are you with Whitney Young? They just go whoop, whoop, whoop! So we don’t want to live with the white man; that’s all.”
Muhammad Ali – His Life and Times will undoubtedly appeal to the entire boxing fraternity; although there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever, why it ought not also appeal to those to whom boxing means very little. Or next to nothing.
Just one reason being, the subject’s outspoken humanity. What John Lennon endeavoured to attain for world peace, Muhammad Ali at least tried to attain for Black Human Rights (alongside many other issues).
If nothing else, Ali believed – which to my mind, surely places him alongside the likes of Martin Luther King and South Africa’s Archbishop Desmod Tutu.