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My Life and Battles [Paperback]

Jack Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

31 July 2009
Jack Johnson (1878 - 1946) was the first black American heavyweight boxing champion of the world and became an iconic figure in the history and race and sport in America. "My Life and Battles" is the translation of Johnson's memoir that was only ever published in French, and which has never before been translated into English, and is virtually an unknown work to boxing fans today. It describes Johnson's colorful life both inside and outside the ring up to and including his famous defeat of Jim Jeffries in Reno, Nevada on July 4th, 1910. He goes on to comment explicitly on race and 'the color line' in boxing and American society in ways that would not have been allowed had the publication been originally destined for the American reading public.

Product details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc; illustrated edition edition (31 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597972673
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597972673
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 385,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Of all American boxers, there has been no one like Jack Johnson. Surely this extraordinary man is the most eloquent of all, and, with Archie Moore, the most intelligent. Chris Rivers is to be commended for so capably translating this remarkable document.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A genuine piece of history 27 April 2011
How many boxers write interesting autobiographies? How many black men got anything published in 1911? So the fact that Jack Johnson the first black heavy weight champion of the world was able to produce such a fine piece of sporting and social history (that was originally syndicated in a French newspaper) is impressive.

Occasionally people say you can hear the writer talking directly to you through the text. I usually disagree but with this book there's no mistaking the style of a confident, eloquent and strong man at the peak of his game acting like the true showman he was. It is factually wrong in a few places (as explained in the appendix) and appropriate for its time it's far more about achievements and anecdotes than a heartfelt exploration of the dark recesses of his own psyche (nobody was writing like that in the 1900's). It is therefore part hagiography but you really don't mind as you have such a charismatic companion on your journey from his early days, through his victory of becoming world champion up to his key clash with Jeffries in Reno.

What is interesting is the way Johnson doesn't dwell on race or talk about the huge race hatred he had to deal with in anything other than the occasional passing comments. A must read for anyone interested in boxing, history of Afro-Americans and the social history of the early 20th century.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kind Of Like The Gallic Wars 14 Dec 2011
By Joe Keenan - Published on
You're probably thinking....what? But hold on, memoirs and autobiography are self-serving propaganda to a large extent. Do you really believe that "All of Gaul is divided into three parts" as Caesar contended? Or is this more likely a over generalization employed to move the story (which is all about Himself and Himselfs greatness) along? I go with the over generalization myself. This is not to say there's not good history in The Gallic Wars, just that it may be informed by a self serving perspective.

Likewise this memoir, written in France after Johnson fled the US of A one step ahead of The Feds (for Mann Act violations) it might be naive to expect the author to relate his life with professional detachment. Needless to say, Johnson doesn't. This doesn't really matter as serious biographies exist. Regarding this book, it must be said that Johnson is a master storyteller, he has a lot of stories to tell, and that he does a grand job telling them; from the color line (never really bothered him as he followed it himself, after fighting 140# Sam Langford he ducked him as he grew into a heavy), his fight with Stanley Ketchel, seasickness, kangaroo hunting, his fight with Jeffries, and more, all great stories wonderfully told.

The forward is by Geoffrey C. Ward author of Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson regarded by many as the definitive work on Johnson (if you want a straight work it would be Ward's book). The Preface is by the editor/translator Christopher Rivers, he is to be congratulated for rescuing such a marvelous book from the dust bin of history. In spite of all my equivocations regarding memoirs in general and this book in particular, it must be said it is an extremely well written book, as comes through in this book Johnson was a very bright man, his writing is often droll and almost always amusing.

Just keep in mind as you peruse the book that fighters are often creative with their past, sometimes they remember things that never happened. Sometimes they remember what happened different from everyone else. It would also do to remember that pro boxing and pro wrestling have a lot in common. Baby faces, heels, trash talk, scaming smartmarks; appearances may be deceiving.

Controversy may be stage setting. Consider the color line, 100 years ago there were more boxing gyms and boxers in America then there are now, with a population of 300 million. The color line allowed for more fights/championships; kind of like all the alphabet organizations now. Most people don't know boxing is the activity trained but, PRIZEFIGHTING is the thing they do. It's all about money. Great fighters often avoided tough contenders (Mayweather for example) so to make easier money. A loss could have profound economic repercussions. But I digress, this is a very good book, would make a great movie. Buy the book but remember, it's PRIZEFIGHTING.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great book 24 Nov 2013
By mistermaxxx08 - Published on
powerful book which is eye opening and very detailed. a Black Heavyweight Champion whose real battle was dating Marrying White Women in a day and time which wasn't trying to see and hear it so openly. and this was within the last 100 years which shows it wasn't that long ago the ugly side of this reality and close minded ways and views. Jack Johnson was a Great and important Champion.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little light, but darn entertaining 21 Jan 2014
By Bill Edwards - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Three stars. Disclaimer: This is a fine autobiography before the time of modern biographies. There are factual errors, boasting, etc and Jack makes himself look good. The key takeaway that makes it still a recommended reading is that he wrote this in FRENCH! And it was published in the papers in Paris. The depth of Jack Johnson's vision is a little shallow at times but he was clearly a very intelligent, passionate and articulate man... rare for the time and even rarer for the first black heavyweight champ.
4.0 out of 5 stars An Inimitable Fighter! 24 Mar 2014
By left lane willy - Published on
Verified Purchase
Jack Johnson was one of a kind. He was quite probably the best heavyweight fighter this country has produced, especially given the different style of fighting at that time (forty-five round fights?). His autobiography/memoir gives a view of his life as he saw it. In some places it's a little short on reality, but long on Jack Johnson's point of view. It completes after he defeats Jim Jeffries; It does not describe his later years, nor does it extend to the time that he lost his championship to Jess Willard. It also does not include his "trial" under the Mann Act or his flight from "justice", nor his year in jail.
It is translated from the French.
It is a colorful and entertaining recounting of his early life and early fights into the time of his championship. It will be of interest to anyone who wishes to "listen" to this flamboyent original, one-of-a-kind heavyweight champion
5.0 out of 5 stars NICE BOOK 1 Feb 2013
By JAMES A MILLER - Published on
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