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The Sweet Science

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4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,102 ratings  ·  112 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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Average rating 4.13  · 
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Greg
Sep 12, 2010 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
Caroline
Oct 16, 2007 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
...more
Peter Derk
Aug 03, 2012 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
...more
Joseph Hirsch
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
I resisted reading this book, just because, as a lover of boxing and literary journalism, my tendency is to love books I don't hear praised much, and to find myself underwhelmed by canonized classics. I never liked Leonard Gardner's "Fat City" or W.C. Heinz's "The Professional," but I loved Ralph Wiley's "Serenity" and Tom Hauser's "The Black Lights" about a now-mostly-forgotten champ named Billy Costello.

I took the plunge into "The Sweet Science," and while I loved some of the writing, especia
...more
Captnamerca
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very good and very well-written. Each chapter is an essay about a fight, usually covering a short history, training camp, the fight itself, and some reflection. Liebling is an excellent writer and makes every fight seem like the outcome is still uncertain, even sixty years later. I only wish he would have been around to cover the rise of Muhammad Ali.
Tung
Jan 09, 2008 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
Jay
This was a rambling tour of the world of boxing over a number of years before and after WWII. You hear all the stories. This is a fan’s view, but from a fan with access to the boxer and, as important, access to the other people in the “industry”, the boxers, the trainers, the gamblers, the other writers. And, most importantly, the other fans (and frankly anyone who had an opinion). The stories ramble from one topic to the next, often following Liebling through a night of watching boxing, from fi ...more
Ta0paipai
Nov 13, 2014 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
Tyler Jones
Sep 19, 2015 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. ...more
Corey Erdman
Feb 24, 2016 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.
Noah Goats
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’m not really much of a fan of boxing (although I do love boxing movies). If it’s on TV I’ll watch a bit, and if someone invites me over to their house for a pay per view party, I’ll probably go. So, I’m not sure I’m the ideal audience for this book, and yet I enjoyed it. Liebling is a very good writer with a gift for capturing memorable people (and their dialogue) in a few bold strokes. The world he describes has largely vanished, (It was vanishing even as he wrote these essays, a victim of te ...more
Daniel
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Joe might have been the best fight writer of all time. His piece on the first Marciano fight against Jersey Joe Walcott alone makes the book worth the read.
Boy Blue
Nov 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: sport
The first essay in the book is excellent and hilarious, the way it so artfully describes the role of the sports fan makes it a classic. A later piece on Marciano vs Walcott is also worth the price of admission alone. Unfortunately, a collection of essays is much like boxing; not all the punches you throw connect.

My enjoyment of each essay was moderated by three features, how well I knew the boxer he was referring to, how good of a boxer they were, and how much the essay connected to a wider soc
...more
Paul O'Leary
Jun 26, 2016 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
Kid
Dec 28, 2009 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
...more
Erik
Nov 22, 2011 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
A.C.
Mar 18, 2013 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.
...more
Andy
Sep 04, 2011 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
Robert S
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
The Sweet Science is often cited as one of the greatest sport books of all time, a tall order among boxing books alone.

Liebling's collection of essays through the 1950s come at an interesting time for the sport of boxing. It is beyond the "glory" days of the sport during the Great Depression but it is before the time where giants like Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier would bring new life to the sport.

Liebling's prose is like few others who decide to pen essays about two men beating each other to a p
...more
Ryan
Dec 10, 2013 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
Mark Greenbaum
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wasn't alive to read Ring Lardner or Jimmy Cannon, or to listen to Mel Allen or Red Barber, but I can still read Liebling, a voice from the distant past, and that voice, even in boxing recaps that go back over 60 years, is alive: fully distinct, always cynical, never at a loss for the words of observation. His reports can be repetitive -- the same trips to training camp, the same bull sessions on bar stolls in midtown, the same stooped trainers with miens so grizzled and voices so crusted they ...more
Rick
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A. J. Liebling is a great essayist who wrote on a wide variety of subjects. This book is a collection of essays produced for the most part for the New Yorker on the Sweet Science boxing. Liebling died in 1963 but these essays on the fight game are prescient in their prediction about the decline of boxing brought on by television and changing economic times. The standard format of each essay centers around a particular bout between two fighters. Noteworthy fighters included in these pages include ...more
Jeff
Jun 19, 2013 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
...more
David Ranney
Apr 01, 2015 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
...more
Robb Bohannon
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I bought this book solely because it was ranked by Sports Illustrated as the best sports book ever written (and I'd read the number two book "The Boys of Summer" years ago and thought it was phenomenal). Also, I have more than a passing interest in boxing, and do follow it somewhat.

It wasn't what I thought - I thought it would cover some of the big fights on boxing' golden era - which it does some, particularly related to Rocky Marciano, but is more a detailed following of what makes fighters g
...more
Bryce Rausch
Apr 19, 2009 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
...more
Mac
Feb 22, 2011 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
Scott
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a fantastic collection of pieces. Like Royko and Breslin and Terkel, old boy was "of the people" but still knew how to turn a phrase. The only thing I didn't like about this book was how sad it made me that most everyone I know would be stumped by his vocabulary every other page. That said, he knew the fight world inside out. Lovely. ...more
RA
The incomparable mid-20th century writer A.J. Liebling's essays on boxing. Unbelievable writer, and also wrote about about horse racing, food, politics, and was a WWII war correspondent. Very simply a great writer. ...more
Shane Papendorf
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
A must read if you love boxing literature, or just want a few snapshots of what New York was like before it's decline and subsequent Giuliani/Bloomberg Disney-fixation.

Classic New Yorker writing at its best.
...more
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Abbott Joseph "A. J." Liebling was an American journalist who was closely associated with The New Yorker from 1935 until his death. ...more

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13 likes · 9 comments
“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.” 2 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.” 1 likes
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