cover image Last on His Feet: Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century

Last on His Feet: Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century

Youssef Daoudi and Adrian Matejka. Liveright, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-63149-558-8

A desert boxing match becomes an epic, a tragic symbol, and a thunderous encapsulation of America’s bloody racial history in this passionately told graphic history from Daoudi (Monk!) and Matejka (The Big Smoke) about America’s first Black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson (1878–1946). The book is framed around Johnson’s 1910 Reno, Nev., prizefight against Jim “the Great White Hope” Jeffries. Between rounds, the narrative leaps backward and forward in time. A man who loved the high life and flashed enough gold teeth “to buy an automobile,” Johnson attracted racist bile not just for beating white men in the ring but also for marrying white women. The fury directed his way scorches the page in Daoudi’s harshly etched lines. In Johnson’s post-fighting years, he was harried into exile and beat his wife Etta Duryea before her 1912 suicide. Through highs and lows, he’s portrayed in all his complexity, with emphasis on his braggadocio (“I am so strong I could plant my feet and keep Father Time from moving forward”) and his canny knack as a performer (“Understand Shakespeare. Man’s behavior is in the great poet’s words”). This is a big brawl of a book that, like the greatest boxing matches, finds the poetry in the violence. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Feb.)