Daniel Mendoza is unarguably among the most important boxers in the history of the sport.Begetter of the Golden Age of British pugilism, one populated by dandies and royals, characterised by the bludgeon and revolution, Mendoza turned what had been a contest of brute strength with the indiscipline of a street brawl into what some called a science, some an art – but certainly a sport. As a publicist, he was expert manipulator of public opinion. More than this, he used the anti-Semitism of his times to his own benefit, and in so doing raised the social status of his fellow Jews. His final achievement was to have written what may be the first sports autobiography, his memoirs. He was, in all these many respects, quite exceptional, a superstar. Or, as one contemporary put it, ‘The Complete Artist’.Astonishingly, this is the first full biography of one of Britain’s greatest sporting heroes.
A very interesting look at Daniel Mendoza, the father of modern boxing, put in the context of the period--ie incredible casual violence, shocking state indifference to physical assaults while grotesquely punishing property crime and bankruptcy, and of course gross anti-Semitism. It's said Mendoza singlehandedly made life better for London Jews because he was both a superb fighter and a man who took no shit ever. Random street bigotry is a significantly less attractive hobby when the odds of getting punched in the face go up. (He was the father of the strong Jewish boxing tradition in London, as well as of the Fighting Irish.)
Mendoza was probably the first sporting superstar, all England champion, author of the first sporting autobiography, plus a hugely prominent Jew in a bigoted society. Remarkable this is the first proper biography. He wasn't a great person (pissed his money away, lousy father, hair trigger temper), but he was intelligent and could laugh at himself, and he lived an extraordinary if ultimately self defeating life in the teeth of a society that wasn't inclined to acknowledge his humanity without being forced.
As a book: it's reasonably well written if rather uneven in tone, but informative and solid on the historical contextualising. Kind of shows that the author doesn't know a lot about boxing though--the fight description is pretty flat compared to the excellent Richmond Unchained: The Biography of the World's First Black Sporting Superstar by Luke G Williams about the magnificent black Georgian boxer. (They never fought.)