This is a scintillating book and is a must for those born in or who feel close to whatever it was that came to be called the Sixties. In this sense it would be a great book to send to Lord Tebbit of Bigotry for a present. It'll also do nicely for those, like Norm, who might want a digestible summary of the life and times of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. It will also make you want to pick up Martin Duberman's biography of Paul Robseon, stick on Bob Dylan and much more. In Marqusse's book, Ali is a sliver thread running through the turbulent, often murderous decade. It contains a striking and genuinely moving evocation of Ali in all his manifestations and through all his ages - made all the more poignant by the knowledge of how the game eventaully laid him to waste. We read about the white context for black life and sport, the rumbling earthquake that was Ali as he converts to Islam, his involvement with the Nation of Islam, the draft fiasco, the raising of black consciousness and Ali's role as reluctant ambasssador. The book concludes by following Ali's career to its tawdry end. In many ways it's at its strongest here as it charts the Frazier fights, the rumble in the jungle (a reminder that so much of today's sport is mere pantomime - and not just boxing), the defeat by Larry Holmes and on into retirement. There is a moving vignette with reporters from the Times of India and Marqusse's finally puts his restraint to one side to attack the iniquity and slavery of modern sportdom. CLR James described Ali as the "future in the present". In this wonderful book, Marqusse brings us back to the future - ringside with the greatest and his shining humanity.
By using Ali as the leading man in his story, Mike Marqusee is immediately able to reach all of humanity in an instant. And, by countering with Malcolm X, he injects the seriousness of his message and the time that is the subject of his analysis. Ali is "The Greatest" symbol of resistance against Governmental and Societal oppression in modern times. But, he was not alone. Marqusee tells of Dylan, Sam Cooke, Dr. King, Jack Johnson, DuBois, Lumumba, Garvey, the Black Panthers, etc., etc. All of them fought personal battles against the injustices of their time. "Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties " tells their stories, too. This book is a treasure. It tells the tale of the Sixties with a clear and soulful voice. It should be an inspiration to the youth of today. "Fight the Power!" John
This is yet another excellent book on The Greatest, and one that deserves more coverage than has been given in the press. Marqusee uses three sixties icons - Ali, Dylan and Malcolm X - to illustrate the confusion and unrest that occurred during this tumultuous decade and he has suceeded in producing a thoughtful and insightful interpretative biography. To Marqusee, Malcolm X exerted a tremendous influence on the young Ali, more so than even the Champ admitted and it is this focus that gives Redemption Song much of its verve. The section where Malcolm, expelled from the Nation of Islam, became a pariah to one of his close friends and heroes is particularly heartbreaking and relatively critical of Ali, which is a rarity in writing on the man. Marqusee also encourages the reader to link the story of Dylan's flight from politics to existentialism to Ali's increasing politicisation, which is another tremendous achievement. In addition, there are pieces on the importance of the African independence movements and how they affected Ali's world view, and a wary coda that establishes Ali's central role in the rise of Don King. All in all, an excellent work.
Life has changed since the sixties and so has Mohammed Ali. Gone is the boxer whose puns and punches dazzled the world; in its place lies a man shell shocked, steadily ruined by the sport to which he owed his fame. Though Ali was undoubtedly a tremendous fighter, his influence, as Marquesee is at pains to point out, was far from confined to the ring. Through his opposition to the Vietnam War and involvement in the Nation of Islam Ali was to become a countercultural hero, spurned by the very forces that were later to canonise him, banned from boxing just as he reached his peak. Printed by Verso this is a book with obvious political baggage, yet it is also surprisingly thoughtful, bringing a fresh perspective to a subject which has already been covered extensively. Ali was great because he managed to project in his actions something that transcended his profession. Here we see that other aspect of the man placed firmly at the centre, demonstrating that his enduring legacy was as much a product of his times as it was of his talent.
This is a fascinating book - looking at Ali in a historical, social and political context. It is not a typical sporting biography - there is very little focus on boxing. This is not even a typical biography - Ali is the central character but there are many digressions - Malcolm X (and Elijah Mohammed), Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Bob Dylan and Don King feature heavily. The real focus is on the social & political upheaval of the sixties. This is also a reclamation project. The Ali who is now an almost universal hero is not the Ali that inspires Mike Marqusee. Marqusee loves the Ali who said "I will not be what you want me to be", the fascinating, flawed man - one of the most controversial, divisive but important men of the 1960s. The man who transcended his nationality and embraced the world, which in turn embraced him back. He wants to remind us what an extraordinary man he was. I think that he succeeds admirably. This is not a hagiography - it is prepared to look Ali's flaws and contradictions directly in the eye. However, the book is fundamentally very sympathetic to Ali and the whole black power movement of the 1960s, particularly Malcolm X. This is not a problem, as Marqusee's politics never get in the way of the book. Recommended