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The Sweet Science

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  628 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
A.J. Liebling's classic New Yorker pieces on the "sweet science of bruising" bring vividly to life the boxing world as it once was. It depicts the great events of boxing's American heyday: Sugar Ray Robinson's dramatic comeback, Rocky Marciano's rise to prominence, Joe Louis's unfortunate decline. Liebling never fails to find the human story behind the fight, and he evokes ...more
Paperback, 267 pages
Published September 29th 2004 by North Point Press (first published January 1949)
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Sep 12, 2010 Greg rated it really liked it
The Sweet Science ranks number one on the Sports Illustrated best books of all time list. The book collects some of A.J. Liebling's boxing essays from The New Yorker . Liebling writes in a dry and sarcastic style, and even without knowing or caring much about boxing in the pre-Cassius Clay era of the 20th century I could still find the book enjoyable. It's kind of like David Foster Wallace's tennis essays. I don't care about tennis, but the writing brings and enjoyment to a topic that I would no ...more
Peter Derk
Aug 03, 2012 Peter Derk rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
You can't go too far into books about fighting without running into this one over and over.

Like a lot of older books, you can feel the vintage on this one. For me, it's about three things: Descriptions of people, descriptions of places, and a careful catalouging of what everybody is eating.

The first serves the book well. Getting a description of the different boxers is helpful, especially because it seems like most descriptions of the time are strongly influenced by whether or not the writer is
Mar 23, 2011 Caroline rated it liked it
I never really thought I would read a book about boxing. It's not a subject I'm very interested in or know much about. In fact, right before I started this book, I did a short review of all of the boxers I know by name and realized that I knew most of them from Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire". Awesome.

But when I found out that Sports Illustrated named this book as the best American sports book of all time, I figured I had to give it a read. I'm glad I did.

The Sweet Science is a collectio
Tyler Jones
Sep 19, 2015 Tyler Jones rated it really liked it
Shelves: boxing
I am far more in love wit the style than I am with the subject, but Liebling does an admirable job of capturing the allure of the sport. More than just a book about boxing it captures the spirit of America at it's post war peak- a cigar chomping, manly America that we will never see again. I loved the sarcastic style. The bar-room smoke filled, beer and mustard stained pages.
Paul O'Leary
Jun 26, 2016 Paul O'Leary rated it it was amazing
I mentioned to my wife that I was reading a book called The Sweet Science. She initially appeared intrigued. The title does prompt an eye arch from anyone unfamiliar with the book's subject or renown. Upon her further inquiry, however, and the discovery that the "sweet science" actually concerned the "sweet art of bruising", according to Pierce Egan, who Liebling refers back to time and again, she appeared to lose interest; although whatever lost, she gained in puzzlement. She would need seek he ...more
Corey Erdman
Mar 02, 2016 Corey Erdman rated it it was amazing
Some of the finest boxing writing ever, which launched a whole era and style of writers trying to sound like Liebling.
David Ranney
Apr 04, 2015 David Ranney rated it really liked it
Mr. Brown looked at me with placid, obliging condescension. 'He fought the way he fought because Marciano fought the way he fought.' he said. 'Charles come in in a good mental condition, and he started right in to execute--biff!' Mr. Brown here took the stance of a confident standup boxer. 'But Rocky is coming in.' Mr. Brown here stepped back. 'It is very hard to think when you are getting your brains knocked out,' Mr. Brown said. 'So Charles withdraws back to consider the situation.' Mr. Brown
May 04, 2013 Mike rated it liked it
Colonel Stingo, Mush Sallow, Chickie Ferrara, Whitey Bimstein, Tiny Payne, Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, Jimmy Tomato, Bertie Briscoe . . . This book is worth reading just for the names.
Andy Mitchell
Mar 07, 2015 Andy Mitchell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I'm not a boxing fan, this was a fascinating book.

I especially enjoyed learning a bit more about Rocky. I didn't realize he was a Massachusetts native before listening.

The only reason I didn't give this book 5 stars is because the last quarter or so of the book felt a bit redundant, like I wasn't learning much new.

But that's a small complaint and may be because I don't love the sport. I probably wouldn't have felt the same way if this had been about baseball or basketball or football.

Jul 12, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it
Liebling, A. J. THE SWEET SCIENCE. (1956). ****. If you’re not, or never were a boxing fan, then this book may fall flat on your sensibilities. If you were (or are), however, this book will probably be the best one you will ever read on the sport. Then again, if you’re not, you will at least come to recognize what the average boxing fan sees in the sport and to learn more about the principal players of the early 1950s. Liebling, at the time, was a reporter for the New York Post and a contributor ...more
Jan 09, 2008 Tung rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Sports Illustrated once called this book the “best American sports book of all time.” If one were to rate books based completely on prose and intelligence, you might be able to make that argument. I prefer to make book recommendations based on prose and intelligence certainly, but also on depth and meaning, and on entertainment value and personal appeal (hence my high opinion of The Stolen Child). And on both of those last two points, this book was a profound disappointment to me. The Sweet Scie ...more
Oct 08, 2012 Andy rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this thoroughly despite not knowing much about boxing at all. A collection of boxing essays from A.J. Liebling, a writer for the New Yorker from the first half of the 20th century, that are similar but enjoyable. Somewhat cantankerously narrated and dryly observed, Liebling spends time not only watching fights but visiting training camps, sitting at bars with old-timers, chatting about fighters with the man-on-the-street, and periodically referring to the pugilist culture of 19th centu ...more
Jun 25, 2013 Jeff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Boxing fans
Keep in mind that Liebling wrote these stories individually without intention of compiling them into a single tome and you'll be able to endure the repetition of his epithets for Pierce Egan (his predecessor whom he unabashedly idolizes).

I enjoyed Liebling's voice and his objective viewpoint. He provides a deep and rich history of the fights he covered by telling us about the people involved and bringing us into the world they inhabit. A full experience of the time that i doubt any reporter nowa
Dec 31, 2009 Kid rated it it was amazing
I'm a fan of the sports read - check the rest of my titles if you're a doubter. . .this book is somewhat unassailable - even if it is exclusively about boxing in the 40s and 50s. . .

This is a collection of essays about various boxing matches first published in the New Yorker back when pugilists held more of a cultural sway. I think the last boxer who penetrated the popular imagination was Mike Tyson right? Perhaps for all the wrong reasons - but anyway. . .

To call this "the best sports book of a
Aug 19, 2012 Erik rated it really liked it
Deeply enjoyable read, stacked with metaphors and boxing lore. Ever wonder where a 'double cross' got its name? The more you think about it, however, the more paradoxical the book is. For a gregarious sport, where big talk is as much a spectacle as the fight, the author is mostly alone with his thoughts throughout the book, looking in on the action, going for a drink by himself after the fight, walking around in the midtown streets and stopping in at the Neutral Corner to drink with the regulars ...more
Mar 18, 2013 A.C. rated it it was amazing
The Sweet Science is not really a book about boxing. Yes, it does talk about boxing and various legends in the sport (Rocky Marciano, Jersey Joe Walcott, Sugar Ray Robinson, etc.), but they are not the real focus here.

The real focus is A.J. Liebling's travels through this world, attending fights and getting into the real mechanics of the sport. Liebling's voice is lively and his prose is both funny and sharp. Most importantly, it becomes clear within 10 pages that Liebling truly loves the sport.
Dec 18, 2013 Ryan rated it it was amazing
I have a fascination with the rough and tumble sports of earlier days - the old grit and romance of F1, the days when horse racing was a major draw with celebrities such as Bing Crosby owning horses, the six day races and endurance track cycling events in smoke filled velodromes often accompanied by raucous live music. Add pre-television era boxing to that list. Though Liebling's volume spans the transition to the television age, he looks at the present through an antiquated - or, more accuratel ...more
Dec 05, 2014 Ta0paipai rated it liked it
At first Sweet Science disappointed me but it heated up towards the end. Liebling paints a colorful picture of boxing's bygone era, a time where TV was still gaining a cultural foothold and written accounts of fights still held high value. Liebling also dawdles around the trivial details of his experiences - his cab rides, his meals, how he obtained his tickets (did he pay or were they free?). You'll learn more about Liebling's preflight habits than you will about most if the actual fighters or ...more
John Keats
Jan 02, 2014 John Keats rated it really liked it
A great book for defining what writers and writing teachers are after when they talk about voice: Liebling creates a personality on the page that is distinct and real and alive. That means, of course, that you might not always like it; you'll just always feel its pulse. And even though I've considered myself a boxing fan for about forty years, he made me realize that I really am a fraud. If you haven't seen a fight live--through the noise of the crowd, around obstructions, and in spite of what t ...more
Andrew Dolbeare
May 31, 2014 Andrew Dolbeare rated it really liked it
The prose is entertaining, I'm not sure if it's the sentimentality so many of these essays evoke, but it reminded me of Jack Kerouac's writing a little bit. His descriptions of fights are great but I think what's greater are his descriptions of the shift in boxing culture, live event to broadcast, the shrinking pay for amateur bouts, the dwindling number of boxers (I think at some point he estimates that there were 1,000 professional boxers living in New York city). There's a trove of cultural a ...more
Bryce Rausch
May 20, 2009 Bryce Rausch rated it really liked it
This book is old, pre-Cassius Clay, yet Liebling does a fantastic job putting you in the time effortlessly.
Quick review:
The writer goes to all these boxing matches, many times meeting with the fighters ahead of time, and just writes about his experiences. Describes his surroundings, what he does before the fights, after the fights, the best post-fight bars to go to, it all seems very casual.
That being said, I've never read such an articulate sports writer. His last fight with Marciano and Moore
Tom Stamper
Jan 21, 2016 Tom Stamper rated it really liked it
Joe Liebling followed boxing greats like Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Sugar Ray Robinson through the 1950s for the New Yorker and this book is a collection of those articles. Although I have seen my fair share of boxing matches this is probably the first book I have ever read on the subject. I found it informative and entertaining.
Mar 01, 2011 Mac rated it really liked it
Probably would have been a little more relevant if I was more familiar with guys like Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano, but Liebling is as erudite about the world of boxing as any snoot might be about history or literature, and brings an intellectual eye to the ring. The first-person accounts of the fights from the crowd is archetypal of the sage sports-fan, who knows enough about a game to not get too excited about passing fads, and to sit quietly and observe, rather than jump around and shout at h ...more
Aug 10, 2015 Ian rated it liked it
This book is a collection of essays that the golden era of boxing, the 1950s- in my opinion, it wasn't much of a golden era. It was interesting because a number of scenarios that an experienced boxing fan is aware of are covered like the slow decline of a fighter who refuses to acknowledge what is happening, although Liebling could get too bogged down in minor details and jargon. Taken as a whole, it was enlightening.
Jan 17, 2015 Sunny rated it liked it
Shelves: sports
I thought this was slightly overrated. It had some good insights and hints and tips for aspiring boxers and talks about some of the fighters from yesteryear like Robinson, Marciano, Joe Louis, Archie Moore, Patterson and a whole bunch of others. But I found myself skipping chinks of the book when it was talking about fighters that I didn’t recognise. Some of the stories were interesting I guess but didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.
Feb 04, 2008 Swanson rated it it was amazing
He was fat, droll, liked Paris, food, drink, cigars, and the sweet science -boxing. A newspaperman and writer for the New Yorker in it's hey day, Liebling respected the sport enough to to call a bum a bum, pay special homage to the black fighters of his day, and a fine tuned ear for what was said -from the training camps to the bars, taxis to ring side. He's not always politically correct but, he's never mean spirited, especially when it comes to the little guy. You can have the skill, but boxin ...more
Dec 14, 2014 Bap rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports
Rated best sports book of all time by Sports illustrated. An account of boxing in the 1950s. Lieling was a journalist who wrote for the New Yorker. He wrote this book about boxing in the early 1950's when Joe Louis is knocked out by Rocky Marciano. He also writes about sugar Ray Robinson and Archie Moore and dozens of lesser known boxers, their managers, and trainers. This was the golden age of boxing before TV overexposed the sport and drove out most of the boxing clubs that were the incubators ...more
Apr 15, 2015 Tom rated it really liked it
Great description of boxing (and the Northeast in general) during a low ebb for both. Not as cacophonic as McPhee's "A Sense Of Where You Are" but it's great for what it is.
Tom King
Feb 25, 2014 Tom King rated it really liked it
Liebling manages to make you feel like you are at each fight, it's incredible. This was the first book I've read of his and definitely won't be the last
Oct 14, 2009 Kevin rated it really liked it
A classic of sports writing generally and of boxing specifically. Liebling's first-person, experiential style inspired the so-called New Journalists. Like Hemingway's book about bull-fighting Death in the Afternoon, Liebling's book is about more than boxing -- it's about change, especially that from young to old, champion to the defeated. And it's also about the advent of TV, which was just becoming a must-have household item. Liebling thought it was ruining boxing, but by the final line, he nai ...more
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“Boxing has always been a primarily urban pastime (whereas the defining suburban sport is auto-racing, in which the machine and its anonymous mechanics hold far greater importance than the driver). When white Americans left the cities, they left boxing as well.” 0 likes
“I can only surmise about what Liebling would make of today’s pugilistic dark ages. In his era, fighters fought rematches of close fights, even title fights, almost automatically. Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta met six times, inconceivable for champions today. In the 1950s a quality pro thought himself underemployed if he had only eight or ten bouts a year, and the amateur scene was thriving. Nowadays pros who make a living from boxing are about as common as Yetis, and amateurs can’t get enough fights to learn the rudiments of the craft.” 0 likes
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