cover image The Complete Muhammad Ali

The Complete Muhammad Ali

Ishmael Reed. Baraka Books (IPG, dist.), $29.95 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-77186-040-6

Despite its title, this book is neither a biography nor complete. Instead, it's Ali as seen through the eyes of diverse people, many of whom have not been included in other books on Ali. Reed, a novelist, playwright, poet and academic, writes that he treats Ali "not only as a boxer but as a phenomenon, a human mirror for the sixties, as a cautionary tale for the seventies." But as Reed, who too often turns the spotlight on himself, showcases his knowledge of African-American culture, the book goes on unorganized, maddening tangents about the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, only sometimes relating back to Ali, and even then it might be about Ali's shady business associations or politics, not his boxing. There's little pattern to the subjects interviewed over more than a decade %E2%80%94 Ali's second wife, jazz musicians, a mysterious "Informant X;" by the end, the reader feels buried in scattered detail. If readers are looking for boxing, the book is a big swing and a miss, but if they are seeking enlightenment about Ali in the fabric of history, then it's at least a body blow but one better suited for academia than for fans. (July)