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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 3 July 2008
I picked up this book because I immensely enjoyed the Flashman-novels by George MacDonald Fraser, not because I'm a lover of (let alone expert in) the Noble Art of Self-Defence. But even then, I can only say that "The Black Ajax" had me transfixed from page one to the very end.

Although it's basically a tragic story of wasted talent and opportunity (Tom Molineaux - the Black Ajax referred to in the title - has a huge talent for boxing, but unfortunately also for drinking and philandering), it also had me laughing out loud (in public places, mind you!). George MacDonald Fraser is (or was rather) an extremely gifted storyteller, and in this particular instance he tells the story of Tom Molineaux in the voice of a dozen or so eye-witnesses to Tom's exploits. The way Fraser succeeds in giving each witness his very own particular 'voice is quite simply uncanny! Brilliant!
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on 10 November 2011
I've been a fan of the Flashman books for a long time and this was the first non-Flashman book by McD-F I'd tried. I'm so glad I did. This books epitomises two of his great strengths - to write a narrative that thunders from page to page with no obvious formula or cliches, and his genius for rooting out forgotten stories that grip and resonate.

And this is a great story - a black American slave (Molineaux)gains his freedom through his skill in boxing, and as a free man decides to come to England, the home of bare knuckle boxing, to fight the world champion, Tom Cribb. Molineaux is naive, though; for a black man in the 19th Century that task was never going to be as simple as that. It's a tragic, awful story that has strong echoes for me of Mike Tyson's journey from the ghetto to fame then to disgrace and ruin. Did anyone else draw that parallel? Was that the conscious intention of the author? It's possible given the date of publication. Tyson was partly (largely?) to blame for his own downfall and Molineaux less so, but both he and Molineaux were at first patronised by 'polite' society who wanted to admire their genius yet neither wanted to understand where they came from and what drove them in the ring, nor to accept them as equals.

Anyway, maybe I'm wrong, but just enjoy this book. Makes you so angry to think that this story is based on the truth, yet as pure fiction this absolutely transfixes and excites. It is wonderfully written. The use of racist language by the characters makes for uncomfortable reading (as it often does in Flashman) but is absolutely essential - how else would elitist, snobbish racists talk about the only black boxer in Britain? How else can we understand what he was fighting?
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on 16 February 2009
we grew up knowing that tom molyneux as a great great great grandfather of mine and so it was fascinating to read about the life and times of someone who had such an impact on world boxing and black british history and yet is relatively unknown in this country connor molyneux-greenfield
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on 23 November 2015
It has been a while since I have read any George MacDonald Fraser books. The Candlemass Road was a bit of a disappointment (from him, from other authors it would have been 'great'). Black Ajax is a welcome reminder of what a spell binding historical novelist he was. The style of this particular book, multiple witness accounts in chapters by themselves often falls flat. Here it works like a dream, and lets the author indulge in countless instances of human commentry, prejudice and gossip. A fantastic, sympathetic, and entertaining novel. If you are not afraid of being entertained, read it
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on 6 March 2016
I picked this up as a big fan of GMF's Flashman books and mostly indifferent to the history of boxing, indeed boxing full-stop. However, the wonderful narrative of the flawed central character, Tom Molineaux, is a work of brilliance.

As a vehicle for GMF's writing talents I think it might be his finest work. There can't be many writers capable of switching between so many and varied voices as the story proceeds from one first-hand account to another.

Gripping, poignant and at times shocking, and always informative.
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on 1 July 2013
When you read the actual history of the character of Black Ajax and the way in which bare-knuckle fighting took place in days past, you realise how close to factual history the book is. There is "Flashman" of course who enters the fray as he does in Fraser's books as the opportunist he always is, but other characters are probably very like the actual characters of the time. A really interesting read, the language is a delight even when you have to read a sentence twice to get the gist of it.
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on 11 November 2013
Black Ajax is a very witty and honest biography of a famous Black pugilist shipped over from America, to win prize fights for his owner(sponsor); his power, courage, novelty, grace and stamina had the naughty Ladies of London Society at his feet in his heyday. GMF is the most brilliant painter of a time, place and the characters in it. It is funny and sad in equal measure - isn't that life? He had his chance, but his weaknesses were taken advantage of.
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on 22 April 2016
After throughly enjoying McDonald Fraser's Flashman novels , I didn't think this book would be as enjoyable, I was wrong the authors writing is truly wonderful,peppering this novel based on true events and historical personalities, with laugh out loud humour , historical narrative and heartbreaking pathos.Mcdonald Fraser deserves to be recognised as one of the English speaking worlds best writers.
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on 4 March 2016
Superb book. I have read all of the Flashman books and in my opinion this is nearly as good as the best of them. Harry's dad is even expertly woven into the storyline.
If you like the Flashmsn series I'm sure you will equally like this- a must read.
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on 30 May 2014
As a boxing fan, George MacDonald Fraser has created a masterpiece. The narrative is brillant, the historical connations in relations to race and, the humour, makes me wonder why this book hasn't received more airwaves in the past.
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