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The Devil and Sonny Liston

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  453 ratings  ·  41 reviews
A biography of the controversial fighter follows Liston from the mean streets, where he was a petty criminal, to the heavyweight championship and his life as a pawn of organized crime. By the author of Power on Earth. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 6th 2001 by Back Bay Books (first published April 1st 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 827)
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Tina
An interesting book, but not one I'd want to duplicate.

Tosches is clearly a skilled writer, and this book is full of good, muscular prose. The scope of the book is admirable, as is the thoroughness of research. Tosches covers a lot of ground--quite admirably, in fact--and is unbelievably dexterous in reminding readers where in the book they've encountered particular underworld characters before.

So that's the good stuff (very stripped down).

On the less good front--and I'll say upfront that a lot
...more
Ryan
The first time I ever heard of Sonny Liston was in - I believe, it's a little hazy that far back - 1989. There was a 25th anniversary documentary about Clay-Liston, where Liston is of course presented as the villain on the way down fighting the soon-to-be-Muslim-and-famous Cassius Clay. Given that I was bored 14 year old who knew nothing about boxing, this documentary was quite a history lesson. I remember coming away from watching it with 2 indelible impressions - a) Cassius Clay was a really ...more
Jason
Feb 07, 2008 Jason added it
I have to say that this book was something of a slight disappointment to me. That's not to say that I didn't learn things about Sonny Liston that I did not know prior to going in, but my problems are more with the author himself and the way he approaches the subject.

I have read a Nich Tosches biography before, his book on Dean Martin, so I should have been prepared. Tosches is one of those biographers who seems to approach his subject the way does his fictional ones. He takes the sketch he gets
...more
Ensiform
A study of the short, mysterious, brutal and strange life of Charles Sonny Liston. Tosches is an erudite writer; his vivid, poetic prose propels his narrative along, even when as a detective biographer he goes out on a limb. It’s fact that Liston was in with the Mob, but that it’s a given in this book that Liston’s two fights to Ali were fixed is a little presumptuous --- but only a little. Tosches has a wealth of interviews and solid evidence at his disposal; that and his moody, evocative prose ...more
Todd
The first chapter of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man": Battle Royale sums this book up, except there isn't a protagonist. Like in this chapter, a kind of metaphor for black oppression, black men fight blindfolded in a boxing ring while their white superiors watch in enjoyment: Sonny Liston was slaved into boxing. A giant thug who was used to make other people money. A modern day slavery despite a huge paycheck.

In this Book Nick Tosches' narrative just got to me and I found his style overbearing a
...more
Cwn_annwn_13
This book is worth reading but it could have been a lot better. The author should have left out some of his personal commentary, which was bad enough and made even worse in many cases because it often had nothing to do with the subject matter and seemed totally random. However for all its faults it has more stuff about Sonny Liston than anything else I have ever read. It more or less obsesses on his "darkside" more than boxing or anything else. His various run ins with the law and prison stints, ...more
James
"Fuck this shit - adjournment for dick in the midst of this ever more precipitous and perplexing narrative. Let's talk cock. Let's talk all sorts of shit." (p. 134)

I think you have to, if not like, at least respect a writer who has so little regard for the tried-and-truly-tired, faux-tasteful metaphors for competitive sports' sexual allure that he literally stops dead in the middle of his book to talk about how fucking huge Sonny Liston's cock was. Did anyone else get the vibe Tosches was into s
...more
Susan  Odetta
One of the real-life characters in this biography made a comment that the author, Nick Tosches, wrote like Sonny punched. I agree. This is a powerfully written book about a powerful and tragic man. Read the first and last couple of sentences of the story's first paragraph and then try to tell me you aren't hooked: "The corpse was rolled over and lay face down on the metal slab. It was then that the coroner saw them: the copper-colored whipping welts, old and faint, like one might imagine to have ...more
Seán
Dirt -- Fist -- Feet.
David Fox
Jan 13, 2014 David Fox rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fight aficionados
Shelves: owned-books, reviewed
The Mob’s Fight Racket Costarring Sonny Liston

Ostensbibly, Tosches wrote a biography of Sonny Liston. Sad to say, that ain’t the case. While Liston receives more page time than any of the other scurrilous characters that populates this fascinating investigation of America’s dark underbelly, this book is more of something else than simply a biography of Sonny Liston. It is closer to a treatise on a number of issues, the main one happening to be the relationship of the mob to the fight game costar
...more
Brad Lyerla
I first became aware of THE DEVIL AND SONNY LISTON when I saw it on a list of the ten greatest books on sports. It is a biography of Sonny Liston, who was the heavy weight boxing champion of the world in the early 1960s. He won his title from Floyd Patterson and lost it a few years later to Cassius Clay, who very shortly after winning the title renamed himself Muhammed Ali. Liston was an unpopular champion and allegedly connected to the underworld. I remember listening to his fights on the radio ...more
Conroy Dylan
It's hard to write about Sonny Liston. Not much is known about his past and not many people wanted to get close to him.
Tosches does a pretty good job at painting a picture of Liston, given the resources he had. It became clear that he put time into his research but didn't get much from it.
There were times where his voice was too strong. In the beginning he seems to attempt to ease white man's guilt by going into detail about how race had slaves. While this is true, it was not relevant to the b
...more
Steve Mikkelson
I didn't know much about Sonny Liston, and after reading this book, I still don't know much about him. It's odd when the subject of a biography makes cameos in his own book.

If you are looking for a unique style of biography, this may be the one for you. The author spends far more time discussing the lives of people surrounding Liston than Liston himself. Granted, his history is nebulous and founded on conjecture, so there are not a lot of concrete facts with which to illuminate the reader. But,
...more
Çorkan
Great book. You can feel, page after page, how Tosches has been dragged to share Liston's feelings and sense of doom pervading his life. The book is also accurate from a journalistic point of view, considering how Tosches is able to track down even the least background players of Liston's life. Obviously he never pretends to be impartial but this, far from be detrimental to the narrative, gives it a warming sense of intimacy as if, more than conducting interviews, he was asking people about a co ...more
Kurt
Just finished reading this and really liked it. It has the usual Tosches touches of excellent storytelling, amazing research and a dark subject, that make all of his books enjoyable for me to read. However, I don't know who in the hell I'd recommend it to. There's a good deal of writing in here about the history of the Mafia and their hands in the history of boxing, so maybe if you're into that kind of thing you'd dig it. Mostly I like it because it's a human story about a guy that can't quite t ...more
Jack Burnett
This is a rare kind of biography. Its subject is not sympathetic, but was a towering figure in sport and culture. Normally (in my experience), the formula for a biography like that will be: (a) making the subject sympathetic, while ostentatiously distancing yourself as the author from that sympathy; and (or, by) (b) making an iconoclast out of the subject, that is, suggesting his or her problem is that he or she was or is too contrary to established mores to have been properly understood, throug ...more
Tobinsfavorite
I got what I wanted from this book, which was to learn about the life and career of Sonny Liston. (Mark Knopfler made me do it.)

Sometimes, the writing departs from the narrative into flights of poetic vulgarity. That annoyed me.
Micah
I love the style of Tosches, but this book won't educate you about Liston's boxing; however, it will educate you about his life's struggles and the shady characters that controlled his career. I enjoyed it.
Camilo Colorado
I really liked Nick Tosches hard-nosed, in your face writing. It was a new way to read a biography and I appreciated it. An incredible story told very well. I enjoyed it very much. Read this book!
Matt
It's fractured and full of holes (and suspect theorising - especially about slavery) but it's Nick Tosches and as such is lit by a different light. No other biography would get you this close to Liston.
Joshua Lanning
this was a pretty cool book. it also got me to read another book, Paul Clifford, but that's another story.

i really like Tosches' style. he's very raw and gritty and very direct. he gets right to the point in a vivid manner.

throughout the book i kept thinking to myself about the amount of labor that went into research for this book. Tosches drills to the core of the details of Liston's life. it's a frustrating story to hear. Ali would be in a different spot in the boxing history books if not for
...more
Steven Kent
Sonny Liston lived a tortured life, but he was no dumb thug. Here is a book that creates an in-depth history and profile of a very complex and ignored man--Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champion who lost the title to Muhammad Ali.

So why only three stars? When I read a book about boxers, I want to read some analysis of their fights, and I did not find that in these pages. maybe I should have just stuck to Youtube for the fights, but I was disappointed.

Jose-rodrigo Hernandez
What separates Sports Bestsellers from Sports writers? What separates Good Sportswriters from Excellent ones? Or Excellent ones from legendary writers, in general? Research. Research, Research, Research.

I have no other recommendations except that if you love boxing, you are lucky enough to have been graced by Nick Tosches to write a book about one of the most slighted boxers in history.
Matthew
Ohh MAN! I am CONVINCED that if Liston hadn't taken a fall (2 times!!) Ali would NEVER have had the career he had. This guy was just too miserable a human being for people in the sport to let him continue. He couldn't be beat! Tragic story. Who knows if he's the greatest heavyweight ever- the Brown Bomber probably will always get that title, but he is certainly top three- Louis, Liston, Ali.
Herbert
Students can learn about the issues that athletes faced during the time period of Sonny Liston and Ali in comparison to today. The book humanizes a historical figure by exploring his personal life and how greatly it impacted his career. The book explores topics such as racism, drugs, corruption, and organized crime to name a few.
Brendan Babish
Really disappointing. At times this book seems to be about everyone around Sonny Liston, in particular the criminal element, but not about Sonny himself. I really wanted to learn more about Sonny, but instead got all the intricate details about how the crime world was intertwined with professional boxing. No duh.
Nick Mecham
I feel like this book shows why Sonny Liston, who was defeated by Muhammad Ali, was such an interesting person and complicated person. This book doesn't apologize for Sonny Liston's behavior but instead shows the complexities that were Sonny Liston and why he was so misunderstood.
Ike
I did not enjoy this book. Gratuitous vulgarity and an intrusive, hackneyed style made it hard to read and a little laughable. I suppose I shouldn't have expected to come out of it liking Sonny Liston but I didn't expect to dislike the author personally.
Kevin Kosar
Tosches Makes Hemingway Looked Genial and Demure! An interesting tale of the triumphant and tragic life of the boxer, Sonny Liston. It details the extensive mob involvement with boxing...(read more)
Jess
I don't like sports writing generally but this book is just brilliant. Liston is a guy who seems to punch life itself in the face. Too bad about the shady characters who undid him eventually, he seems, in this portrait, like an all right fellow.
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22854
Nick Tosches was born in Newark, New Jersey, and raised by wolves from the other side. Through nepotism he became a barroom porter at the age of fourteen. Casting this career to the wind in his quest for creative fulfillment, he became a paste-up artist for the Lovable Underwear Company in New York City. On January 12, 1972, he went to lunch and never came back, drifting south to Florida, where, a ...more
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