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King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  2,328 Ratings  ·  200 Reviews
There had been mythic sports figures before Cassius Clay, but when he burst upon the sports scene in the 1950s, he broke the mold. Those were the years when boxing and boxers were at the mercy of the mob and the whim of the sportswriters. If you wanted a shot at a title, you did it their way. Young Clay did it his way - with little more than an Olympic gold medal to his cr ...more
Hardcover, 326 pages
Published October 1st 1999 by Turtleback Books (first published 1998)
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Jun 06, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up."
-- Muhammad Ali


Pre-Review Smack Talk:

I will review this sucker tomorrow. David Remnick better quake. I'm coming for this book. I read it from cover to cover. I know the words better than Remnick could hope to ever know it. Of course he wrote it, because the words ran from him. I know Remick's words better than his mamma knows him.

Tomorrow. Yes. I'll give this book till tomorrow. And then I'm coming. I'm coming wit
Steve Kettmann
May 02, 2010 Steve Kettmann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My S.F. Chronicle review from 1998:

David Remnick deserves a nod of thanks for, among other things, helping us associate the words ``King of the World'' with something other than a pop movie director so awash in Oscar-night self-congratulation that he seemed intent on drawing sniper fire.
Remnick, who is editor of the New Yorker, is a writer to watch, and he and the greatest sports figure of the century are an excellent match. Some will complain that this compact study of Cassius Clay's evolution
Sean Wilson
This is my first David Remnick book and it certainly won't be my last. He writes with such fluidity and clear vision that every page is a delight to read.

This isn't really a pure biography on Muhammad Ali, rather, it is an insight into his early years leading to his championship fight (and rematch) with Sonny Liston, his conversion to Islam, his match against Floyd Patterson and his views on the Vietnam war and eventual refusal to be drafted by the Army. Amongst all of this is also a fantastic h
Apr 04, 2008 Thomas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
majority of this book deals with the timeframe between Cassuis Clay's first heavyweight title fight against Sonny Liston, and the rematch between Liston and (now) Muhammad Ali. an instructive window into a time before Ali was an internationally-known sports icon, and before his refusal to be inducted into the US Army.

well-written, and an interesting window into a time BEFORE Ali was the most polarizing figure in sports. the evolution from being just a talented black boxer to racial lightening ro
Steven Kent
Oh man did I love this book!

This book is the story of the rivalry between Ali and Sonny Liston. Yeah, yeah, everyone says it is about Ali because everyone idolizes Ali; but Liston gets equal treatment here.

So here's the deal. Today everyone talks as if they have always loved Ali, but back in the sixties, his Muslim beliefs scared people and his outspoken ways led many to hate him.

Then there was Sonny Liston, cold, menacing, the man with the largest hands of any heavyweight champion. Liston had k
Samuel Bae
Dec 20, 2013 Samuel Bae rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
David Remnick's King of the World, tells the story of Cassius Clay, a boxing legend also known as Muhammad Ali, who faces America's segregated society and boxing politics while trying his best to become the greatest boxing champion of all time. The book is set in the U.S. during the mid and late 20th century, where the colored stand separated from the whites and boxing is a very popular source of entertainment. Surrounded by many problems, Muhammad Ali continued his path to be the greatest boxer ...more
Jun 19, 2016 Mitchell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this has to be one of my favorite all-time sports biographies. The prose is pure butter: elegant, but also smooth and riveting. One does not need to be knowledgeable about the sport of boxing, nor a particular fan of boxing, to find this book entertaining and enlightening.

This book covers Ali's childhood through his Patterson/Liston fights. The book starts out by describing Patterson's and Liston's tough childhoods, and their rise to fame in the chaotic boxing world. Both of these opponents
Carol Storm
Mar 11, 2016 Carol Storm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful, thoughtful, vibrant, dynamic -- this is a biography truly worthy of its subject!
Jul 17, 2013 Marc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While Muhammad Ali is the main focus, this lively book is in effect a triple biography of the three dominant heavyweight boxers of the first half of the 1960s: Ali, Floyd Patterson, and Sonny Liston, each of whom fought the other two once or twice between 1961 and 1965.

The first quarter of the book focuses on Patterson and Liston, their backgrounds, key events in their lives, and detailed accounts of their two matches, in 1962 and 1963. Then Ali arrives on the scene, and the narrative really pi
Apr 16, 2007 heidipj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I'm not a fan of boxing. But I guess I got sick of being in the pub and listening to men go on and on about about Muhammad Bloody Ali for hours. I mean all he did was biff people right?

Err no. I was probably lucky in picking up this book. There are probably a dozen biographies about Ali but this one is fabulous, I could hardly put it down. Did I mention that I wasn't a fan of boxing. I'm still not. But I'm now definitely a fan of Muhammad Ali. He is beautiful, he is a legend and he has helped s
Bobby Bermea
Entertaining, engrossing and refreshingly grounded in the humanity of not just Ali, but also Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. So much has been written about Ali, there's a lot of ground that simply does not need to be covered again. By focusing his book on a specific moment in a blossoming myth, Remnick, with simple, elegant prose, paints a picture of a time and a hero and makes it clear that both would be very different without the other.
Paul Billy-Bong-Gong
its not what you did its the way you did it. like the way he writes, intwinned with my way of thinking. whatever that says.
David Hollingsworth
This book isn't a normal biography. It gives you the story of Muhammad Ali, but also gives you the story of the two previous heavyweight champions before him and puts them into the historical, cultural, and sociological context of their time and place in boxing history. It reads like a case study almost as much as it does a narrative.

The writing itself is very well done. Remnick has a talent for balancing personal drama, social dynamics, and historical narratives to create a book that is as enga
Apr 04, 2009 Eric_W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
David Remnick is perhaps best known for his award-winning work on Russia since the collapse of Communism (Lenin's Tomb and Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia). His most recent book deals with Cassius Clay and his transformation into Mohammed Ali. "Boxing in America was born of slavery." Southern plantation owners would often pit their strongest slaves against each other, sometimes to near death. Frederick Douglass objected to the sport because he believed it "muffled the spirit of insur ...more
Tom Gase
Sep 06, 2013 Tom Gase rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really well researched book by David Remnick on Muhammad Ali and his rise to fame as Cassius Clay and his first fight against Sonny Liston. This book, unlike what I thought, does not focus on Ali's entire life, but instead just a period from 1960 to around 1966. The main focus is Ali's two fights with Liston (one as Clay) including the second fight that features possibly the best photograph of the last century in sports (trust me, you've seen it). My problem with the book is it takes a little to ...more
Andrew Martin
Follows Ali's early career up through the Liston and Patterson fights, stopping with Vietnam and the draft. Along the way we're treated to first-rate capsule biographies of Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. It is really a shame that we don't get book-length Remnick any more - the guy is a professional.

I'm not really sure how a book-length treatment of Ali ends up leaving out all the Frazier fights (the Fight of the Century? Thrilla in Manilla?) and the Foreman fight (Rumble in the Jungle? - I me
Aug 04, 2011 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I've read on boxing and on one of my personal heroes, Muhammad Ali. Oddly, although written rather recently, the book covers a very short time frame in Ali's career - namely the time between his winning the gold medal at the Olympics and his being stripped of the heavyweight title for refusing to serve in the Army. If you don't know the story of Cassius Clay and his rise to fame as the black Muslim Muhammad Ali (and too many people don't), then this book is an awesome place ...more
Mark Desrosiers
Aug 15, 2009 Mark Desrosiers rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sports
Unfortunately, there isn't very much information here that you haven't already read in Thomas Hauser's Ali biography or (even better) Nick Tosches' The Devil and Sonny Liston. Remnick's mastery of post-journalese narrative does make the book a decent, quick read. But I grimaced every time Remnick deliberately tried to take Ali down a peg or two (ha ha ha Cassius Clay buying a parachute on the plane trip to Rome; for shame, Ali was a total womanizer). Not that I think Ali is beyond criticism: it' ...more
Kyle Crosby
Sep 25, 2013 Kyle Crosby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
*No Spoilers*
Character(s): Cassius Clay/Mohammad Ali=5. Remnick does an excellent job describing Mohammad's character in every little detail."He was beautiful again. He was fast,sleek,and twenty-two"(Remnick 20) this exemplify's Mohammad's image during his first fight and how he was at his prime. Mohammad Ali is one of my greatest role models so of course his character is the best. He stays true to himself all throughout his life; he never once doubts himself and believes from day one that he
Jan 05, 2008 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americanhistory
A superb biography and history by a masterful writer. This book has been described as a biography of Muhammad Ali, but it's really much more than that.

Actually, it's a story about how three men (Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, and Cassius Clay who renamed himself Muhammad Ali) all responded in different ways to the identity choices African Americans faced as a result of the simultaneous civil rights and the black nationalist movements in the early 1960's. At times this book reads more like an ad
Evanston Public  Library
Remnick opens the story on February 25, 1964, when Muhammad Ali was twenty-two and about to face the fierce heavyweight champion Sonny Liston: "for the first and last time in his life, [Ali] was afraid." It's a shrewd distillation of a historic moment. Not many expected Ali to win--just as not many expected him to become arguably the dominant personality of late twentieth-century America.

In his youth, Ali [then Cassius Clay] wasn't out to show the world "a new kind of black man," but Remnick pow
a good, quick read. remnick's writing style has changed since he wrote this in '98 -- it feels like a more novelistic at parts than the stuff in the bridge and his more recent stuff in the new yorker, but that worked just for fine me.

one point of interest for others who have read the book: remnick insists that ali wrote much of his trademark doggerel by himself, including a 32-liner called "song of myself". this seemed unlikely to me (the whitman reference was a pretty good tip-off), and some qu
Jul 20, 2014 Sam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book tells Ali's story mostly from his middle-class childhood in Louisville through his refusal to fight for the US in Vietnam, and also brushes briefly over what happened later in his life, and the physical and mental toll his boxing took on him. It gives a complex picture, repeating and examining the legends and also recalling some of Ali's troubling beliefs. "A black man should be killed if he's messing with a white woman," he once said, according to this book. Remnick's writing is clean ...more
May 28, 2008 Inry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently read Ali one of the best boxers that ever lived. This book was a really good book because it talks about Ali’s whole life, how he started fighting and how he goes through hard times.
Ali was one of the best boxers that ever lived that’s one of the reasons why I life this book. Its hard to believe that he won all those fights in his whole career he only lost 3 fights out of like fifty or more fight and most of them were all ko’s. It incredible how much money he won over his it time, it
Jul 19, 2012 Paula rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most of you know I love sports. I was never into boxing but always curious. There are a ton of Ali bios out there but I chose this one for two reasons:

First, David Remnick is a fabulous writer--hence the Pulitzer. But secondly, his talent with this book really lies within the way he approaches the athlete. You'd be surprised that the first couple chapters are not about Ali at all. In fact, he is hardly mentioned in the entire first section. Instead, the chapters are devoted to other key boxers d
"Clay's only obstacle as an Olympian was his fear of airplanes. He had made his way through the amateur ranks on trains and in the Martin's station wagon. Why couldn't he do the same on his trip to the heavyweight championship of the world? It took Joe Martin four hours of sitting and talking with Clay in Central Park in Louisville to convince him that he could not take a train to Rome. He could grip the armrests, he could take a pill, he could rant and rave, but he had to fly. "He finally agree ...more
Sarah Sammis
I've never watched a boxing match but as a child I knew who Muhammad Ali was. Having read The Autobiography of Malcolm X last year King of the World by David Remnick seemed like a logical follow-up.

King of the World chronicles the first few years of Cassius Clay's boxing career, his conversion to Islam, his rocky marriage (and divorce) to Sonji Roi. Remnick divides his time among describing the boxing matches, Clay's personal life, the political atmosphere and his friendship with Malcolm X.

Sep 14, 2008 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this more for the picture it paints of the boxing world and african american history than out of any admiration for muhammad ali.
Remnick starts by telling the stories of Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston, and how the press depicted them as good negro/bad negro..setting the scene for the explosive appearance of Ali. The discussion of civil rights, african american history, the role of the sports press and Ali's embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood are all fascinating. Oh, and the mob's contr
Aug 02, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is not a biography of Muhammed Ali. It is historical nonfiction in which he is the main charactor. It is about the history of boxing up through the early 1960's and the charactors in the sport. It's about organized crime and it's control of the sport up until that era. It is about racism in this country, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement and the changes through the early 1960's. It is about the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammed and Malcolm X. It is about a brash kid from Louisville wh ...more
Mar 30, 2010 Seth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A New Yorker magazine-style sports biography, with many side-trips into the history of boxing, other fighters, the civil rights movement, and others. I felt like I learned a lot about this era of boxing (1950s through the Ali-Patterson fight in the mid-60s). Ali was a break from the old in a number of ways, and Remnick shows this well, via Ali's fighting style, his religion, his talking, and his management. I was surprised how much he talks about Sonny Liston, too, but I see why he did it: to sh ...more
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King of the world by David Remnick 1 11 Apr 27, 2014 05:54PM  
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David Remnick (born October 29, 1958) is an American journalist, writer, and magazine editor. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his book Lenin s Tomb The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker magazine since 1998. He was named Editor of the Year by Advertising Age in 2000. Before joining The New Yorker, Remnick was a reporter and the Moscow correspondent for Th ...more
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