cover image Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers

Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith. Basic, $29.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-465-07970-4

In this provocative history, sports historians Roberts and Smith examine the relationship between two central figures of the 1960s: Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The day after Cassius Clay’s unlikely upset of Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title, he shook up the world one more time by pledging allegiance to the Nation of Islam. In the eyes of America, Clay’s transformation into Muhammad Ali was blamed on the man who had stood at his side over the previous months: the notorious NOI minister Malcolm X. The truth, as Roberts and Smith make pellucid, was far more complex. Ali spurned Malcolm for the Nation, and Ali’s meteoric rise makes a disturbing contrast to the persecution and murder of his former mentor and friend. Roberts and Smith map the relationship between the troubled icons in painstaking detail and debunk long-held assumptions about their break. At the same time, they too easily assign motivations and opinions to both men that, while intriguing, seem largely speculative. Malcolm may indeed have seen Ali as his path to reaching a larger audience, but it’s hard to believe that the activist was as naive about the boxer as the authors make him out to be. Nevertheless, Roberts and Smith bring a fresh perspective to the story in the civil rights movement, and capture the ferment of the broader era. Christy Fletcher, Fletcher and Co. (Feb.)