978-1-84467-527-2 / 9781844675272

Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties





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About the book:

Ali has been a player on the world stage for so long, it's hard to remember that before his metamorphosis into a cultural icon holding the Olympic flame aloft he was a cultural lightening rod. Hero to some, traitor to others, he managed to land powerful punches both in and out of the ring. What changed him from athlete to personality to a heavyweight of global reach? "At the core of the Ali story," Mike Marqusee reminds us, "is a young man who made daunting choices and stuck to them in the face of ghastly threats and glittering inducements." Redemption Song explores those choices in the context of the turbulent times in which they were made.

Ali and the '60s were a naturally synergistic fit. It was a time of great change, and Ali, the seeker, had remarkable access to the fomenters of that change. They, in turn, had a prime influence on his symbolic rebirth and reemergence. As Redemption Song recounts, the night the young Cassius Clay upset Sonny Liston for the title in 1964, he skipped the traditional post-fight party and headed straight for Miami's black ghetto where he met with Black Muslim leader Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke, and the running back Jim Brown, an early advocate of black rights in sports. The next morning, announcing to the white world that "I'm free to be what I want" and "I don't have to be what you want me to be," he confirmed rumors about his conversion to Islam. Clay was dead; long live Ali.

The conversion to Islam was only one of Ali's "daunting choices." As Marqusee moves through the decade, he carefully traces Ali's choices to confront the establishment and stand as a symbol of civil rights and the anti-war effort; his relationships with Malcolm X, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King; and the importance of his travels to Africa. There's plenty of boxing too--Liston, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, George Foreman; the ring, after all, was his arena. Marqusee, though, is more interested in how Ali expanded that arena to take in the kinds of fights that go beyond the ropes. It's a tall order, but Redemption Song fulfills it with solid reporting and worthy analysis. --Jeff Silverman

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