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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A knockout
Jack Johnson was one of the most charismatic figures of twentieth century America. In 1909, at a time when the colour bar ran marrow-deep through every aspect of America's national identity, he achieved a feat that remains incredible to this day - he became the first black man to win the world heavyweight title. Clever, articulate and blessed with possibly the best boxing...
Published on 23 Jun 2007 by jbezzo

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointing
Having just read Roger Khan's biography of Jack Dempsey and "Tunney" by Jack Cavanaugh, two tremendously well written books, I was really looking forward to reading about Jack Johnson, and was sorely disappointed.
This biography reads like one long newspaper account of Johnson's life. There are too many overlong footnotes (almost one on every page), which...
Published 13 months ago by Mountain Man


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A knockout, 23 Jun 2007
By 
jbezzo "jbezzo" (Cumbria) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
Jack Johnson was one of the most charismatic figures of twentieth century America. In 1909, at a time when the colour bar ran marrow-deep through every aspect of America's national identity, he achieved a feat that remains incredible to this day - he became the first black man to win the world heavyweight title. Clever, articulate and blessed with possibly the best boxing skills the division had ever seen, he lived his live the way he wanted to; and not within the parameters set for him by racist convention. He consorted with white women, drove fast cars and revelled in the fact that the title of world champion - preserve of white America (even our own Bob Fitsimmons - statistically Britain's first heavyweight champion had to become an American citizen before being allowed to relieve Jim Corbett of the crown) was worn around the waist of a black man. In doing so he inspired hatred and admiration in equal measure, even black America was divided; some rejoiced in his success, others felt his behaviour was detrimental to America's fragile race relations. Geoffrey Ward's book is an exhaustively researched portrait of Johnson. Eventually hounded into exile and later imprisoned on inflated charges, his rise and fall is covered with great detail and sensitivity. This is an excellent book for sports fans and social historians alike. Highly recommended
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A meticulously researched, thrilling read, 11 Sep 2008
By 
R. Gardham (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
The finest sports books are those that venture beyond the sport or sportsmen that are being written about, and to say Geoffrey C Ward does that would be something of an understatement, exploring the racism that ran rampant throughout not just the US, but the rest of the world, at the turn of the last century.

When the great heavyweights are discussed, to this day Johnson's name tends to be omitted as people talk of Louis, Ali and Tyson. But while those three were undeniably incredible fighters, they didn't have to go through half of what Jack Johnson endured in his struggle to prove he was the best heavyweight of the early 20th century. The jaw-dropping racism both within the US and within the sport of boxing makes an uncomfortable setting, but as Graeme Kent says in his book along a similar theme - Great White Hopes (a very good follow-up read to this book) - in so far as letting black people compete, boxing was way ahead of most other sports, a thought to make the reader shudder.

Johnson's winning and retaining of the world title is detailed with such precision by Ward - attention to detail rivalled only by David Frith's excellent Bodyline Autopsy - that you can't help but feel you've actually watched his fights, particularly the famous Reno bout against Jim Jeffries, which is recreated blow by blow. As Johnson becomes more famous (not to mention richer) his behaviour becomes more and more offensive to those who wish to see a white man regain the heavyweight belt. It is in describing Johnson at this time where Ward excels. He never asks the reader to excuse Johnson's often unpleasant behavior, but he does put this behaviour into context, skilfully demonstrating that Johnson was more sinned against than sinner.

For one reason or another, boxing seems to be blessed with several excellent writers - from Nat Fleischer through AJ Leibling to Donald McRae - and I can pay Ward no greater compliment to say that he can more than hold his own in such exhalted company with this outstanding book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Racism+prodigious spending = disaster, 2 Dec 2007
By 
Caterkiller (Darlington, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
Before reading this I had never heard of Jack Johnson. As far as I was concerned the era of black heavyweights began with Joe Louis. Johnson was what might be called "a character"; in the modern era this would be endearing but in the 1910's this was dangerous for any black person. Any vaguely arrogant comment by Johnson was magnified and misrepresented whereas his white opponents and their managers could get away with using language even Goebells would have balked it. When push came to shove though, Johnson was head and shoulders above any other fighter at the time and was therefore avoided by his white opponents who argued the case that mixed race bouts should not be allowed (the real reason being that they would probably lose). Johnson sowed the seeds of his own destruction, however. A spendthrift (he famously spent the prize money from one of his bouts in under 48 hours) and a proclivity for white women of ill-repute unleashed a tidal-wave of racist victimisation which led to jail and his own impoverishment.
It is difficult to think of a modern day sports icon with a story like this, only the self-destructive Tyson and Gascoigne come close. Get this book and immerse yourself in the life of a true American legend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing tale of an amazing man, 28 Oct 2009
By 
J. Duducu (Ruislip) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
Most people have heard of Joe Lewis, Mohammed Ali and Mike Tyson however the very first black heavyweight champion of the world isn't that well known. Putting it simply Jack Johnson was born 100 years too early. His lifestyle nowadays would be something akin to a famous rapper and quite frankly most of his antics put in a modern context are fairly tame compared to many modern celebrities.

However in the 1900's being an independently minded black man who slept with and married white women pretty much made him the most hated black man in the world. It is perhaps the horrifying level of racism that stops Jack Johnson's story being better known. To put it bluntly if you're white and reading this book you will end up feeling very guilty indeed as the papers write endless column inches on how evil he is and the US courts show that they are by no means colour blind either.

The irony however is for Johnson he never saw his fights as black versus white but merely the fact that as the best boxer of his generation he had a right to have a shot for the title. He was a remarkable man completely out of step with his time, obviously an awesome boxer but also eloquent with a passion for reading, history and music- he was in many ways a more rounded personality than Ali.

It doesn't quite get the full marks for me as while the book is very well researched at times the writer is determined to show you all of his research which bogs down too many stories with a flood of facts and foot notes. A willingness to relinquish some of the data to allow the story to breath a little more would have improved the book.

Overall though read this with a certain slack jawed amazement it's a story that demands as wide an audience as possible.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling book - Not just for fight fans, 21 Jun 2007
By 
M. Smith - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
Boxing certainly isn't short of great literature but this book still ranks as one of the best books about the sport. The book has been painstakingly researched, but the plethora of facts doesn't obscure the excellent easy-to-read writing. This book is not just for fight fans - it is also a compelling record of late 19th/early 20th century US social history and of the appalling racism of that period.

The trials, tribulations and hounding of Jack Johnson set the standard for those that followed. As I read the book I saw the stories Joe Louis, Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali et al. Was Jack Johnson his own worst enemy? Like Muhammad Ali 50 years later his central "crime" was that he wasn't what white America wanted him to be. The book tells how when, during his persecution during the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali saw a play about Jack he saw himself. Before I read this book I thought Muhammad Ali my greatest Heavyweight champ. Now I am not so sure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting look into American history., 8 May 2007
This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
Unforgivable Blackness is more than just a biography of the first black world heavyweight champion it is also an interesting insight into turn of the century America and racial predjudice. Although at times it goes off at a tangent it is a very enjoyable read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars fairness, 13 July 2014
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This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
good read
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unforgivable Blackness, 24 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
Well written and researched, the author paints a frightening picture of life for Black people at this time.well worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Boxing trailblazer, 13 Jan 2014
This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
Boxing has many great books written about it, and this is up there with the best. Jack Johnson isn't as well known as some later black American heavyweights - Joe Louis , Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson chief among them - but he had to overcome great difficulties to become the first black American heavyweight World Champion. The colour bar that he broke through was substantial - the overt racism and threats that he faced was staggering, but he continued to plug away, despite many of his white opponents simply refusing to fight against a black man. The reader is left feeling frustrated and saddened when the Jim Crow society is described.

Johnson won the title in 1908 and successfully defended it against Jim Jeffries, the champion who had ducked Johnson's challenges most in the past, in 1910. To overcome the hostile opposition, Johnson needed arrogance and supreme self-belief. However, that was ultimately his undoing, and Ward does not duck from describing how Johnson failed to keep his life on the straight and narrow. His womanising with whites led to fierce criticism, ultimately from both whites and blacks, and caused constant harassment that led to a prison term. This is a great biography of a real trailblazer in boxing.
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4.0 out of 5 stars good read, 12 Jan 2014
By 
Mrs. K. L. Cornish (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (Paperback)
Got this for my husband as he loves to read everything, he found this Informative on its subject matter, and a brilliant read,
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Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson by Geoffrey Ward (Paperback - 5 Jan 2006)
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