Hailed by critics as a long overdue portrait of Sugar Ray Robinson, a man who was as elusive out of the ring as he was magisterial in it, Pound for Pound is a lively and nuanced profile of an athlete who is arguably the best boxer the sport has ever known. So great were Robinson's skills, he was eulogized by Woody Allen, compared to Joe Louis, and praised by Muhammad Ali, who called him "the king, the master, my idol." But the same discipline that Robinson brought to the sport eluded him at home, leading him to emotionally and physically abuse his family -- particularly his wife, the gorgeous dancer Edna Mae, whose entrepreneurial skills helped Robinson build an empire to which Harlemites were inexorably drawn. Exposing Robinson's flaws as well as putting his career in the context of his life and times, renowned journalist and bestselling author Herb Boyd, with Ray Robinson II, tells for the first time the full story of a complex man and sport-altering athlete.
In hands as skilled at the keyboard as Sugar Ray Robinson's were in the ring, this athlete would've been a great biography subject. His charisma and winning technique made him the prince of Harlem in the WWII era (though he's primarily known to modern audiences as Jake LaMotta's opponent in Raging Bull). His friendship with Joe Louis helped eradicate color barriers. His fighting skills may have been equaled since then, but they've never been surpassed-he was so powerful he killed a man in the ring. And his excesses of libido, temper, spousal abuse and bling-bling were, Boyd points out, tragic precursors of the behavior of many modern black athletes. Regrettably, the book is minimally competent and, at worst, painful. The journalist rarely devotes more than a few sentences to any of Robinson's matches, some of which, like the LaMotta battles, are the most talked about in boxing history. Instead, readers get puns ("The nation may have been experiencing a rationing of sugar, but the other Sugar was on a rampage") and ostentatious metaphors ("There were many fights when Sugar was a virtuoso pianist with gloves on, a soloist in a pugilist recital, delivering a rapid arpeggio of stiff left jabs"). Robinson is a worthy subject awaiting a more worthy treatment. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Toole, who died before seeing the Oscar-winning movie adaptation of his short story "Million Dollar Baby," weighs in posthumously with this bruising smoker of a novel. (The novel was "shaped," notes James Ellroy in the introduction, from a 900-page manuscript by Toole's agent and a freelance editor.) Dan Cooley, a onetime contender who has outlived his wife and children and whose life revolves around his grandson, Tim Pat, goes off the rails after Tim Pat is killed in a traffic accident. As Cooley vacillates between booze-fueled suicidal thoughts and fantasies of homicidal vengeance, Hispanic teenager Eduardo "Chicky" Garza y Duffy begins his troubled ascent in the amateur boxing world. That these two men, separated by thousands of miles, ethnicity and generations, will become the vehicle for one another's redemption is inevitable, but Toole's unsentimental prose and knack for creating tragic characters (whose sufferings, in turn, lead to plausible triumphs) overcome the ready-made plot. Cooley's thesis, that prize fighting, for all its apparent brutality, is a sport that rewards wisdom, skill and (at times) fair play informs Toole's writing; the result is a stunning cap to a short but brilliant writing career. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved