Cover image for Ali : a life
Ali : a life
Physical Description:
xv, 623 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Preface: Miami, 1964 -- Cassius Marcellus Clay -- The loudest child -- The bicycle -- "Every day was heaven" -- The prophet -- "I'm just young and don't give a damn" -- America's hero -- Dreamer -- "Twentieth-century exuberance" -- "It's show business" -- Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee -- The ugly bear -- "So what's wrong with the Muslims?" -- Becoming Muhammad Ali -- Choice -- "Girl, will you marry me?" -- Assassination -- Phantom punch -- True love -- A holy war -- No quarrel -- "What's my name?" -- "Against the furies" -- Exile -- Faith -- Martyr -- Song and dance and prayer -- The greatest book of all time -- Stand by me -- Comeback -- "The world is watching you" -- A different fighter -- The five-million-dollar match -- Ali v. Frazier -- Freedom -- Trickeration -- A fight to the finish -- Heart of darkness -- Fighter's heaven -- "Ali boma ye!" -- Rumble in the jungle -- Moving on up -- Impulses -- Ali-Frazier III -- Getting old -- "They may not let me quit" -- "Do you remember Muhammad Ali?" -- Staggered -- Crown Prince -- Old -- Humpty Dumpty -- The last hurrah -- Too many punches -- "He's human, like us" -- A torch -- The long, black Cadillac -- Postscript.
Reading Level:
1090 L Lexile
Personal Subject:
"Based on more than 500 interviews, including Muhammad Ali's closest associates, and enhanced by access to thousands of pages of newly released FBI records, this is a thrilling story of a man who became one of the great figures of the twentieth century."--


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 ALI 1 1
Book 921 ALI 1 1
Book 921 ALI 1 1
Book 921 ALI 1 2
Book 921 ALI 1 1

On Order



Winner of the 2018 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing
Winner of The Times Sports Biography of the Year

"Stunning . . . Eig's brilliant, exhaustive book is the biography the champ deserves."

The definitive biography of an American icon, from a New York Times best-selling author with unique access to Ali's inner circle

He was the wittiest, the prettiest, the strongest, the bravest, and, of course, the greatest (as he told us himself). Muhammad Ali was one of the twentieth century's most fantastic figures and arguably the most famous man on the planet.

But until now, he has never been the subject of a complete, unauthorized biography. Jonathan Eig, hailed by Ken Burns as one of America's master storytellers, radically reshapes our understanding of the complicated man who was Ali. Eig had access to all the key people in Ali's life, including his three surviving wives and his managers. He conducted more than 500 interviews and uncovered thousands of pages of previously unreleased FBI and Justice Department files, as well dozens of hours of newly discovered audiotaped interviews from the 1960s. Collectively, they tell Ali's story like never before--the story of a man who was flawed and uncertain and brave beyond belief.

"I am America," he once declared. "I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me--black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me."

He was born Cassius Clay in racially segregated Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a sign painter and a housekeeper. He went on to become a heavyweight boxer with a dazzling mix of power and speed, a warrior for racial pride, a comedian, a preacher, a poet, a draft resister, an actor, and a lover. Millions hated him when he changed his religion, changed his name, and refused to fight in the Vietnam War. He fought his way back, winning hearts, but at great cost. Like so many boxers, hestayed too long.

Jonathan Eig's Ali reveals Ali in the complexity he deserves, shedding important new light on his politics, religion, personal life, and neurological condition. Ali is a story about America, about race, about a brutal sport, and about a courageous man who shook up the world.

Author Notes

JONATHAN EIG is the critically acclaimed, best-selling author of numerous books including Luckiest Man and Opening Day . He is a contributing writer to the Wall Street Journal and is currently working with Ken Burns to develop a four-part documentary on Ali.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Of the many books on Ali recently published, this evenhanded account will likely be one of the most read. Eig (Luckiest Man) opens with Ali's 1964 fight with Sonny Liston, which would propel a fast-punching and even faster-talking young African-American into the spotlight of a revolutionary era. Rather than focus on boxing highlights, however, Eig broadens his account to include the Clay family heritage, the changing culture of the times, and the long physical decline that silenced the Louisville Lip even as he became a beloved international figure. Eig has produced a thorough overview of a complex person, but he is no boxing authority and his descriptions of bouts and technique are merely adequate. He also offers a rather thin argument that Ali was suffering from pugilistic dementia as early as age 28 (Eig's central exhibit is that Ali spoke more slowly during his comeback). Of course, Ali transcended his profession. Eig industriously traces how a brash kid evolved into a countercultural hero and, in his later years, became a trembling, muted icon. Sharp quotations and expert pacing make the 600-plus pages light on their feet but ultimately Eig's studied equanimity never quite captures exactly why Muhammad Ali was indeed "the Greatest." (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Man, it's going to be great to be great. So said Cassius Clay (he had yet to become Muhammad Ali) shortly after winning the heavyweight championship at the Rome Olympics in 1960. In this first full-scale biography of Ali since the fighter's death, in 2016, Eig shows that, finally, after separating myth from reality, after sorting out a lifetime of contradictions, and after detailing the Champ's too-long goodbye from the ring, it really was great being great for the man who called himself the Greatest. Eig's exhaustively researched account is the first unauthorized biography of Ali, but it joins an already sagging shelf of writing on the fighter who galvanized the antiwar movement when he refused to join the U.S. Army at the height of the Vietnam era. David Remnick's King of the World (1998) remains the best sociocultural analysis of how the gestalt of a nation in the 1960s happened to land on the brown shoulders of a cocky young man from Louisville, but Eig takes the story much further, providing fascinating details on Ali's childhood and, later, on his career as a boxer, both the well-documented triumphs but also the gradual diminution of his skills, which led to the embarrassing last fights and, eventually, to the brain damage and Parkinson's that defined Ali's later years. (Eig even provides a running count of all the punches Ali took in his career, a toll that increased exponentially toward the end.) And yet, after his unsparing recounting of Ali's bad decisions and moments of cruelty to loved ones and opponents, Eig finds enduring humanity in Ali's lighting of the Olympic torch shortly before his death and in his many acts of spontaneous kindness, noting that somehow he had always remained warm and genuine, a man of sincere feeling and wit. A fine biography of one of the twentieth-century's defining figures. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Alive or dead, Ali makes headlines, and this biography will start tongues wagging all over again.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2017 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

ALI: A Life, by Jonathan Eig. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30.) The first full biography of Ali since his death last year, Eig's richly researched, sympathetic yet unsparing portrait of a controversial figure for whom the personal and the political dramatically fused could not come at a more appropriate time. FRANCE IS A FEAST: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child, by Alex Prud'homme and Katie Pratt. (Thames & Hudson, $35.) Paul Child was an accomplished photographer, as this handsome selection of images from the Childs' life in post-World War II France makes plain. RUTHLESS RIVER: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon's Relentless Madre de Dios, by Holly FitzGerald. (Vintage, paper, $16.) A riveting account of a "dream honeymoon" in South America gone very wrong, starting with a plane crash and ending with a near-death experience deep in the jungle. Stranded 26 days, the author and her husband somehow retain hope and affection. THE TASTE OF EMPIRE: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World, by Lizzie Collingham. (Basic Books, $32.) Through the clever re-creation of 20 meals, consumed over the centuries and in various locales, a social historian illuminates the influence of apparently mundane habits. STICKY FINGERS: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, by Joe Hagan. (Knopf, $29.95.) Hagan paints the rogue's life of the Rolling Stone co-founder with a brush made of stinging nettles, making excellent use of the extensive interviews and archival materials Wenner gave him. IMPROVEMENT, by Joan Silber. (Counterpoint, $26.) Disparate lives in disparate places intersect in this novel, which revolves around a single mother whose boyfriend enlists her in a scheme to smuggle cigarettes across state lines. With consummate skill, Silber reveals surprising connections between characters in contemporary New York and 1970s Turkey. LEONARDO DA VINCI, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster, $35.) Isaacson, the biographer of innovators and inventors, turns to the original genius, the Renaissance man whose artistic and mechanical talents still invoke awe, in a book tracing the connections between Leonardo's art and his contemplation of nature. AMERICAN WOLF: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West, by Nate Blakeslee. (Crown, $28.) The story of one wolf's struggle to survive in the majestic Yellowstone National Park offers an ambitious look through the eyes of an endangered animal. THE GIRL WHO SAVED CHRISTMAS, by Matt Haig. Illustrated by Chris Mould. (Knopf, $17.99. Ages 7 and up.) If Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens cooked up a Christmas tale, it might resemble this spry story of Victorian London (with cameos by Dickens himself). The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Kirkus Review

Muhammad Ali (1942-2016), the recently departed, self-styled greatest, gets an appropriately outsizedand first-ratebiography.Ali, who began boxing as a professional nearly 60 years ago, was not exposed to much in the way of literature early on; he complained that his own supposed autobiography "made me look like a fool" and added that, after all, he'd "never read a book in my life." However, as Wall Street Journal contributor Eig (The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, 2014, etc.) makes clear, Ali was possessed of a certain kind of poetic genius on top of a gift for self-appreciation to which layers of legend would be added. As an instance of that mythologizing, it is certain that when facing the draft in 1966, Ali said, "I ain't got no quarrel with the Viet Cong"but the more commonly quoted rejoinder, "No Viet Cong ever called me nigger," was added on, something that African-American protestors had said of the Vietnam War before Ali's number came up. In charting Ali's life, which was marked by plenty of personal difficulty but by a relatively comfortable upbringing, Eig observes that he seldom shied from controversy but, though reviled by some for becoming a Black Muslim and for some of his well-aired public statements, was also widely recognized for his talent. The opponent he beat in his first professional fight as an 18-year-old Cassius Clay, a West Virginia police chief, said, "He's a very good boxer for a kid; best I've met for a boy just starting out." Other opponents would have similarly high regard, though not without talking a lot of smack. Eig does a fine job of covering all the bases, and though the book is occasionally overwritten, it's only out of enthusiasm for his undeniably great subject, about whom the author is now working with Ken Burns to develop a documentary. An exemplary life of an exemplary man who, despite a few missteps, deserves to be remembered long into the future. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

In his latest work, Eig (The Birth of the Pill), an unabashed admirer of heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (1942-2016), takes on the challenge of separating man from myth. This biography touches on and fleshes out legendary tales relating to Ali: the stolen bicycle that led to him to a boxing gym, the Olympic medal he supposedly hurled into the Ohio River, and his statement in opposition of the Vietnam War. Eig skillfully utilizes resources unavailable to previous authors, allowing him to present other aspects of Ali, including his rift with Nation of Islam mentor Malcolm X, his verbal and physical torment of his opponents in the ring, and his extramarital affairs. As a boxer, Ali was a combination of power and grace. Eig, who is working with Ken Burns to develop a documentary on his subject, equals this combination with his blend of research and storytelling. VERDICT A must-read for Ali fans, followers of the sweet science in general, and those curious about the maelstrom of events that shaped a generation. [See Prepub, Alert, 3/27/17.]-Jim Burns, formerly with Jacksonville P.L., FL © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Preface: Miami, 1964p. ix
Part I
1 Cassius Marcellus Clayp. 3
2 The Loudest Childp. 7
3 The Bicyclep. 20
4 "Every Day Was Heaven"p. 29
5 The Prophetp. 44
6 "I'm Just Young and Don't Give a Damn"p. 53
7 America's Herop. 60
8 Dreamerp. 68
9 "Twentieth-Century Exuberance"p. 86
10 "It's Show Business"p. 96
11 Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Beep. 113
12 The Ugly Bearp. 128
13 "So What's Wrong with the Muslims?"p. 133
14 Becoming Muhammad Alip. 152
15 Choicep. 164
16 "Girl, Will You Marry Me?"p. 170
17 Assassinationp. 179
18 Phantom Punchp. 187
19 True Lovep. 193
20 A Holy Warp. 202
21 No Quarrelp. 211
22 "What's My Name?"p. 220
23 "Against the Furies"p. 228
Part II
24 Exilep. 237
25 Faithp. 242
26 Martyrp. 252
27 Song and Dance and Prayerp. 266
28 The Greatest Book of All Timep. 275
29 Stand by Mep. 279
30 Comebackp. 285
31 "The World Is Watching You"p. 297
32 A Different Fighterp. 299
33 The Five-Million-Dollar Matchp. 306
34 Ali v. Frazierp. 313
35 Freedomp. 321
36 Trickerationp. 335
Part III
37 A Fight to the Finishp. 351
38 Heart of Darknessp. 361
39 Fighter's Heavenp. 370
40 "Ali Boma Ye!"p. 380
41 Rumble in the Junglep. 392
42 Moving on Upp. 403
43 Impulsesp. 415
44 Ali-Frazier IIIp. 425
45 Getting Oldp. 431
46 "They May Not Let Me Quit"p. 435
47 "Do You Remember Muhammad Ali?"p. 446
48 Staggeredp. 453
49 Crown Princep. 459
50 Oldp. 466
51 Humpty Dumptyp. 475
52 The Last Hurrahp. 490
53 Too Many Punchesp. 499
54 "He's Human, Like Us"p. 509
55 A Torchp. 520
56 The Long, Black Cadillacp. 526
Postscriptp. 538
Acknowledgmentsp. 540
Notesp. 543
Appendix: Career Recordp. 605
Indexp. 608