cover image POUND FOR POUND: The Biography of Sugar Ray Robinson

POUND FOR POUND: The Biography of Sugar Ray Robinson

Herb Boyd, Ray Robinson, with Ray Robinson II. . Amistad, $24.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018876-4

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.)