On Boxing
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On Boxing

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3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  570 ratings  ·  71 reviews
A reissue of bestselling, award-winning author Joyce Carol Oates' classic collection of essays on boxing.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 29th 2006 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published February 20th 1987)
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Community Reviews

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Jessica
Dec 27, 2011 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fight fans (probably no one else)
Shelves: dicklits, phys-ed
I am really pissed off, because I spent a long time writing a whole long review of this book but then this fucking website just spontaneously erased it.

But whatever. It wasn't a great review by any means. I'll just write another, similarly mediocre one.

Being as I'm a lady boxing enthusiast who likes to read books, for years I've been vaguely embarrassed about not having ever got around to this. Now I finally have, and I'm not sure how to rate it -- there was stuff I really liked in here, but by...more
Sebastian
The first half of this book is outstanding. In a lengthy essay, Oates ruminates on boxing from a number of fascinating angles, discussing issues including idealized masculinity, the appeal of violence, the draw of the sport on writers, and the experience of being a true "other" watching a boxing match. While she sometimes seems to be making overbroad generalizations, even when she swings and misses this is a hugely entertaining and interesting impressionistic take on boxing.

The next portion, a...more
Alana
Recommended by Stacy Kaye - possibly my favorite book that I've ever read. It's a collection of long essays, and some material does repeat, so be prepared for that. The writing is...beyond beautiful. It's a work of art; 'non-fiction' doesn't begin to describe it. Her observations on masculinity and violence are inflammatory and thought provoking. Her writing about race, poverty, and athletes as entertainment is profound. Really excellent.
Colin
An easy read, that is clear and concise on all of boxing's good and bad historic moments up until the mid 1980s. Oates writes quick and witty essays on Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, and even Mike Tyson. Although not in chronological order, the essays give information that seem more factual based and less fictional based which other writers tend to not do (especially in writing about boxing). It seems these 'fictional' tales (that borderline on gossip) of boxing are a sexier sell in the 21st centur...more
Ryan
This was an interesting read. I love Joyce Carol Oates. I love how she doesn't shy away from any topic. Lots of people kind of assume that the boxing world is owned by men, and that it shouldn't be of interest to women, especially female academics. Of course, Joyce Carol Oates is gonna punch right through that shit.

She always brings a unique perspective to her subject matter. She blends psychology, sociology, history, a her classic literary and poetic insights to the conceptual dichotomies in t...more
Benjamin
Written with an eye towards explaining and depicting the attraction toward and zeal for boxing that both it's participants and audience have, I feel unsure whether Joyce Carol Oates is really able to understand the perspective of a non-fan sufficiently to be able to convert or convince an outsider. Her passion is compelling, but her digs at Whites and Liberals who misjudge or react negatively to the sport -- excuse me, "way of life" -- show her to be both unsympathetic and misapprehensive about...more
Michael
"Considered in the abstract the boxing ring is an altar of sorts, one of those legendary spaces where the laws of a nation are suspended: inside the ropes, during an officially regulated three-minute round, a man may be killed at his opponent's hands but he cannot be legally murdered. Boxing inhabits a sacred space predating civilization; or, to use D. H. Lawrence's phrase, before God was love."

"The artist senses some kinship, however oblique and one-sided, with the professional boxer in this ma...more
Brad
I am still conflicted about Oates' homage to the sweet science. I constantly found myself muttering "it's not a bad book, but..." I think in the end the decision to publish this collection of exhaustively similar essays as a single volume is the books undoing.

If you spend time sifting through the repetitive arguments of the different essays you find true gems. For example, her incorporation of Floyd Patterson's definition of courage, that "Real courage is required when you lose... Winning is ea...more
Brad Lyerla
ON BOXING is a collection of Oates' essays on the subject of boxing. I did not enjoy it. The title essay, ON BOXING, is the longest piece included in this collection and dominates the book. My principal criticism is that it is not purposeful. Oates offers a good deal of psychological musing on the motives of fighters and fight fans, but not to any end that I could discern.

She is a fine writer. So the prose is crisp and her grasp of the sport is credible. But there is no message. No moral. And in...more
S.W. Gordon
A bit dated and rather repetitive but overall it's an intelligent, well-written historical treatise "on boxing." This collection of essays is filled with pearls that boxers/fighters know in their hearts without having to read about in books. I'd love to hear what JCO has to say about UFC, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquio, Ronda Rousse and the rise of the Latino Boxers. It's amazing that a woman who has never stepped foot in the ring or taken a punch can have such profound insights in the sweet sc...more
Miroku Nemeth
There is much to be appreciated about this book for those who wish to truly contemplate boxing fully. Oates’ prose is beautiful, and she weaves a narrative which will keep the lover of literature and history stimulated as much as the lover of fighting. Sam Sheridan refers to Oates’ On Boxing many times in his A Fighter’s Heart. I am using Sheridan’s text for the second time in a writing course I am teaching at the college, and I finally broke down and bought the book this week. The first half wa...more
Jake
If it seems to you that my reading of this book is slightly random, you're only partially right.

I know very little about Joyce Carol Oates as an author. Truth be told, I never really bothered to learn much about her or her writing. Not for any good reason, mind you. She just struck me as a writer of the sort of fiction that is no doubt well written, but does not necessarily capture my interest. I have a peculiar bias against bestsellers which has occasionally steered me past some good writing, a...more
Jon
Joyce Carol Oates watches a lot of old boxing matches on film, goes to a few bouts, sees a few movies, reads a lot of books, and then throws it all at us in a very readable, if somewhat lackluster, way. Consequently we come away with a few interesting facts: for example, Rocky Marciano was the only undefeated heavyweight champion, but this was largely because he never fought anyone very good. With a few insights: for example, being shorter than one’s opponent may not be a disadvantage. In fact,...more
Ignacio Irulegui
He aquí un libro extraño. No por su contenido, sino por las condiciones de su producción: un ensayo sobre el boxeo escrito por una mujer. Si creyésemos en la quimera de los roles de género, tendríamos que asombrarnos, pero eso queda de lado cuando la prosa de Joyce Carol Oates nos cautiva en lo estilizado de su consistencia, en la poderosa lucidez de la exposición y la sensibilidad para admirar a este deporte en toda su grandiosa contradicción.
Oates no pretende definir una "filosofía del boxeo":...more
Charlotte
"spectators at public games derive much of their pleasure from reliving the communal emotions of childhood but spectators at boxing matches relive the murderous infancy of the race."-19

"The artist senses some kinship, however oblique and one sided, with the professional boxer in this matter of training. This fantastic subordination of self in terms of a wished for destiny...That which is public is but the final stage in a protracted arduous, grueling and frequently despairing period of preparati...more
Suman
Apr 21, 2012 Suman added it
Recommends it for: upper-middle class boxing fans
I wasn't sure what to make of this book (really a collection of essays) when I picked it up. I box - which mostly involves punching focus mitts and a heavy bag, doing lots of situps and pushups, jumping rope, and occasionally sparring other people with protective gear - while Joyce Carol Oates watches people who do that and so much more - including trying to render their opponents unconscious in front of thousands of spectators. As such, most of the book seemed very alien: the eponymous essay re...more
Alice
Sep 28, 2009 Alice rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
On Boxing is a collection of essays that were originally published as separate works. I think reading them all at once and fairly quickly does make some of Oates’ language and points seem a bit repetitive. Originally published in 1987, some of her concerns seem a bit outdated. She talks about her contemporary time being a low-point for boxing. I don’t think we are currently in a period where general public opinion on boxing is low, so some of her defense of the sport seems too adamant when read...more
Richard
Who knew that Joyce Carol Oates was a highly erudite boxing fan? Well, lucky us!

In this book of essays, Ms. Oates takes us down the path of the manly art of self-defense from Jack Johnson to Mike Tyson with long stops at the camp of the greatest - Muhammed Ali.

Because they are essays, information gets repeated a number of times, but no matter, Ms. Oates gives us history, romance, psychology, technique, and analysis enough to hold our own in most any parlor conversation about the sweet science.

It...more
Robert
It was a good read if a bit dated. She had no way of knowing how some of the boxers would end up - it was kind of disconcerting to realize she was a bit of Tyson fangirl. Long before his conviction and incarceration, still a little odd.

I think she romanticized a lot of elements of boxing and really ignored glaring elements that I think would have fit well. For starters, the corruption in the sport was glossed over, how poorly it's officiated and the confusing set of vague rules that don't do a v...more
Benjamin Barry
The kind of book that opens up the rabbit hole for me. I've been watching boxing videos and interviews for days. As an amateur wrestling fan and aspiring writer, this is the type of non fiction sports writing to aim for. The metaphor is unavoidable, even though she clearly tries to. And it will resonate.
John Mccormack
I had to put down her latest book of stories,High Crime Areas.good book,but a little dark for the moment.I had been a boxing aficionado during the period of Joyce's book,and it was nice to look back.She knows boxing,and she is a terrific writer.
Colleen
i enjoyed this book immensely, though broke up with JCO at this point: she gets decidedly sexist / anti-feminist / blegh in some parts here. aside from that though, wonderful, poetic statements on the game & art of boxing.
Lance
Joyce Carol Oates writes about the "sweet science" with the same wonderful style as her works of fiction. The main section of the book that talks about the sport in general is very interesting as she compares boxing to other diverse objects like art and pornography. Her essays on Mike Tyson (before his bizzare behavoir became his trademark) and Jack Johnson are superb in the details of how the two black men viewed themselves in "white" America. There are also essays on Ali and Joe Louis vs. Max...more
Tayvonne
A little pretentious and heavy handed at times especially since she is dealing with the topic of fighting.Yet because of the parallels between fighting and life her high brow approach at times is fitting and not to disjointed.

If you can get over her approach at some points or you're even looking for this sort of approach you'll love the book even more than I do and it might even be perfect for you. All in all you can tell the lady knows her boxing and I appreciated her detailing of the history,...more
Eric
This is an interesting duscussion of the Sweet Science from a very gifted author. This is a very good read. The few photographs in the book are fantastic, as well.

Oates gives a sense of not only the physical, but the social and philisophical about the sport. Indeed, she even asks what a sport is, how we define it and what that means. This text does not trip over itself too much. If I make it seem overly academic, that is my flaw, because Oates does not. Rather, she fuses the beauty of the sport...more
Carolyn
The only Joyce Carol Oats book I've ever really loved. And so unlike her.
Deborah
This is the first JCO book I ever read. I believe it to be one of her best
Isak
Dec 09, 2009 Isak marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: not my mom
Man, I like boxing a lot, but I hate Joyce Carol Oates. What a douche. This is the only thing I've liked by her, only by trying to not think about who's writing. She writes about boxing in a cool romantic way though, kinda the way I think about it to justify it to myself even though it's kinda violent and fucked up.
From the other end though, it might also be total bullshit.
Really enjoyable though.
Is that how you spell enjoyable? It looks funny... doesn't Firefox have a spell checker now? Yeah I...more
Jonathan Norton
Although some of the factual detail is fascinating (even though repeated many times), Oates herself has little to add in the way of interesting comment or testimony. She is correct in recognising that a boxing match is not a metaphor, but unfortunately can't remember this insight and constantly drifts off into spurious meditations on symbolism, larded with utterly redundant references to irrelevant highbrow authors. But the picture of Tyson's early career is quite eerie, from a later vantage poi...more
Matthew
I'm not currently enjoying this. I was warned about her over-intellectualizing boxing, but she's obviously a brilliant woman, so I wanted to hear what she had to say. Strike one: she doesn't like A J Liebling. Liebling is The Best. Strike two: Even as she tries not to, she goes on about "the self" "the shadow id", and brings up masculinity and race more often than an undergrad term paper. She can't help writing from an ivory tower. Still, she is capturing a pretty cool period in boxing, and I lo...more
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure...more
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“I can entertain the proposition that life is a metaphor for boxing-for one of those bouts that go on and on, round following round, jabs, missed punches, clinches, nothing determined, again the bell and again and you and your opponent so evenly matched it’s impossible to see your opponent is you …” 12 likes
“No American sport or activity has been so consistently and so passionately under attack as boxing, for "moral" as we'll as other reasons. And no American sport evokes so ambivalent a response in its defenders: when asked the familiar question "How can you watch . . . ?" the boxing aficionado really has no answer. He can talk about boxing only with others like himself.” 1 likes
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