Champion Joe Louis: A Biography

Chris Mead, Author
Chris Mead, Author Robson Books $14 (0p) ISBN 978-0-86051-848-8
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Joe Louis (1914-1981), probably the greatest boxer of all time, was the Michael Jordan of sports when sports were affiliated more closely with American national identity than with the New York Stock Exchange. Although his celebrity status was largely the work of the media and of gangster managers, Louis received public attention unheralded for a black man at that time. His iconic shaping was defined by the only other black heavyweight champion before him, Jack Johnson. Louis was modest and compassionate where Johnson was ostentatious and prone to alcohol-induced violence (Johnson spent many years in exile after his 1913 conviction under the Mann Act for transporting a white woman across state lines for immoral purposes). After proving himself the best fighter in the world, Louis was conditionally allowed the status of celebrity and star symbol. Even so, the subtitle is somewhat deceiving in that Mead's research demonstrates that Louis faced the animosity of white writers and the general public throughout his career. Paradoxically, what propelled Louis to the status of American hero was nationalism: the fact that he beat Max Schmeling, the sporting world's symbol of Nazi Germany, in a second try on June 22, 1938. Given all the wanton carelessness of athletes, coaches and others in past seasons, this book is a timely look at the concept of fandom in America at a time when the stakes were much higher and contract prices much lower. (Sept.)
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