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Strong Boy: The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan, America's First Sports Hero

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“I can lick any son-of-a-bitch in the world.”

So boasted John L. Sullivan, the first modern heavyweight boxing champion of the world, a man who was the gold standard of American sport for more than a decade, and the first athlete to earn more than a million dollars. He had a big ego, big mouth, and bigger appetites. His womanizing, drunken escapades, and chronic police-blotter presence were godsends to a burgeoning newspaper industry. The larger-than-life boxer embodied the American Dream for late nineteenth-century immigrants as he rose from Boston’s Irish working class to become the most recognizable man in the nation. In the process, the “Boston Strong Boy” transformed boxing from outlawed bare-knuckle fighting into the gloved spectacle we know today.

Strong Boy tells the story of America’s first sports superstar, a self-made man who personified the power and excesses of the Gilded Age. Everywhere John L. Sullivan went, his fists backed up his bravado. Sullivan’s epic brawls, such as his 75-round bout against Jake Kilrain, and his cross-country barnstorming tour in which he literally challenged all of America to a fight are recounted in vivid detail, as are his battles outside the ring with a troubled marriage, wild weight and fitness fluctuations, and raging alcoholism. Strong Boy gives readers ringside seats to the colorful tale of one of the country’s first Irish-American heroes and the birth of the American sports media and the country’s celebrity obsession with athletes.

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Christopher Klein

9 books67 followers


I’m a total history geek. Favorite historical figure: Teddy Roosevelt. Favorite historical event: the Defenestration of Prague. (Go ahead, Google it.) I love writing about history because it allows me to indulge my passion, travel back in time, and constantly learn more about humanity’s incredible backstory. History helps to explain our present-day world and acts as our roadmap to the future. After all, how can we know where we are going without knowing where we’ve been? (Not to mention, writing about dead people means never having to worry about your subjects returning your phone calls.)

I love to sweep away the cobwebs of history and introduce modern-day audiences to incredible figures who have begun to fade from our collective memory. My latest book is When the Irish Invaded Canada, the outlandish, untold story of the Irish American revolutionaries who tried to free Ireland by invading Canada. Taking their cue from a previous generation of successful American revolutionaries, these Great Hunger refugees and Civil War veterans attacked Canada five times between 1866 and 1871 in what are known as the Fenian Raids. With the tacit support of the U.S. government, these Irish Americans established a state in exile, planned prison breaks, weathered infighting, stockpiled weapons, and assassinated enemies. Defiantly, this motley group, including a one-armed war hero, an English spy infiltrating rebel forces, and a radical who staged his own funeral, managed to seize a piece of Canada--if only for three days.

In addition to When the Irish Invaded Canada, I am also the author of Strong Boy The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan America's First Sports Hero, Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands A Guide to the City s Hidden Shores, and The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston. I’m a frequent contributor to History.com, the web site of the History Channel, and often write about subjects from the past for the travel and Ideas section of the Boston Globe. I have also written for the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Harvard Magazine, Red Sox Magazine, ESPN.com, Smithsonian.com, and AmericanHeritage.com.

I am a member of the Authors Guild, Biographers International Organization, Boston Authors Club, and American Society of Authors & Journalists (ASJA).

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