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on 18 June 2001
A superb snapshot of a particular time and place; this is written in typical Norman Mailer style -allowing the reader amazing insight at times and a very personal, distanced view at others. Ali comes across as the great figure his reputation implies -even Mailer is humbly respectful in his presence. I would suggest reading David Remnick's equally impressive 'King of the world' first, as Remnick's book charts the 'back story' of how the heavyweight belt passed from Floyd Patterson to Sonny Liston and finally Ali. Then finish by watching the Oscar-winning documentary 'When we were Kings' -which of course, features Norman Mailer himself (Ideally, get the DVD, which features the entire Rumble In The Jungle fight as a bonus).
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on 25 March 2016
This is a great little book from a great little writer about a great big boxing event. It is a short book, even with some pointless waffle at the end, but it gives a different insight into the crowning moment of the most important sports man, or woman, in history. The Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 when an "ageing" Muhammed Ali foolishly, some said, challenged the most fearsome fighter in boxing history to a showdown in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the DR Congo). The book describes events and emotions from the build up in the training camps through to the fight aftermath, in Mailer's distinctive voice. You will already know the story but Mailer tells it well, with some brilliant boxing insight.
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on 14 August 1999
Anyone who has witnessed this greatest of fights and knows something of the build-up to this epic encounter will revel in this book. I found Mailers style as hard as Foremans head in the first few chapters, but stick at it, the rewards are there as the tension grows. Mailers description of the mood of each camp is the real gem, gradually building up to a titanic conclusion. Im not really a boxing fan, but I am fasinated by the whole Rumble in the Jungle saga. Read it before watching the fight.
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on 14 September 2009
This book documents a rightly revered moment in boxing history. Mailer's blow-by-blow account of the fight itself is exhilarating and works as a great companion piece for all eight rounds of the original TV footage. But the showdown between Ali and Foreman doesn't arrive until the very end of the narrative. Almost everything up to that point is a protracted, high-brow love letter from Mailer to himself.

I found this hard to forgive. The question needs to be asked: who was Mailer writing this for? The genuine boxing fans? If so, he alienates them totally with vast literary pretentions. Was he aiming it at middle-class America, hoping to shed some civilised light on what many denounce as a barbaric sport? He fails on that count by expecting prior boxing knowledge from his audience. Was he simply writing it for his journalist cronies, who he name-checks assiduously (George Plimpton, Hunter Thompson, etc) during their all-expenses-paid jolly in Kinshasa's casinos, restaurants and bars?

Or was he just writing it for himself? There's a mammoth amount of ego on display. Speaking about his own exploits in the third person, putting himself in the shoes of Joseph Conrad, inferring that he had a personal part to play in Ali's good luck and success... it's an ugly style of writing - conceited, pompous and vain.

Maybe he felt he had to match the giant egos of two Heavyweight Champions. Personally, I think it was the wrong approach to his subject. There's far too much Norman Mailer crowding for attention on these pages... like he's standing in the seat in front of you, spoiling your view of the fight.
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on 14 March 2002
One of the greatest sportsmen of our world, and this was possibly one of the greatest moments of his sporting career. This book is not just about a fight but about Africa, the nature of men, race and racism and superhuman achievement.
Mailer is completely honest throughout the book, and sometimes what he says, particularly about race, can be a little shocking. But the author is being honest with us about what he thinks, and his thoughts are interesting and thought-provoking.
The image of Ali, bouncing off the ropes for the first 6 rounds despite promising the world he was going to dance is vividly painted. The description of Foreman's training on the heavy bag, which he hit so hard he left dent in it, is close to mind when in the later chapters ali is absorbing those same punches.
The book also deals with the author's own celebrity, and makes this a very personal account of a great moment.
I left this book with one overpowering feeling - i wish i had been there.
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on 19 February 2016
Norman Mailer isn't as good a writer as he thinks (even Hemingway, his hero, isn't that great) and inevitably there is a lot of padding in this, the longest Big Fight despatch ever. Pretty much every Westerner present in Zaire for 'the Rumble in the Jungle' comes in for a digression. Then, when he comes to the actual fight, he runs up against the fact (which also hampered Hemingway) that in these cases a picture is far better than a thousand words.

But the bigger problem is that sport isn't art; if you try to explain one in terms of the other, you can end up looking like you don't understand either. When nights like this happen they can seem like a big deal - and maybe they are, though their significance in the grand scheme of things is so infinitesimally small. But you can't tell it, you can only experience it; you can communicate only a small fraction of what it felt like to you. Mailer takes his own excitement and objectifies it as Muhammed Ali's genius. Was he a genius? Was he a political hero, or even martyr, as someone else said? Or simply a boxer with talent, but also a big ego and a flair for self-promotion, who knew how to ride his luck? The fact that Mailer compares this fight, approvingly, to a book that was merely Joyce's 'prentice piece, makes you wonder whether he has an adequate yardstick by which to measure.

All the same, this book is just about worthwhile for its portraits of the fighters in their quieter moments; Ali particularly seeming far more interesting and sympathetic away from the cameras.
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on 12 November 2007
The Fight is a vivid account of the 1974 world heavyweight boxing match in Zaire, billed as The Rumble in the Jungle, between George Foreman and Mohammad Ali. Mailer writes about Africa with more than a nod to Joseph Conrad, and writes about boxing with all the sweep and authority that Hemingway showed on bullfighting, but this book is about more than boxing. Mailer, a white Jew from New York, confronts his prejudices about blacks and about Africa, and while this seems less than remarkable now, it is easy to forget that mild racism was not only normal then among English-speaking whites, but was in fact the received wisdom of the time. This book was therefore a work of some courage and risk for a writer of Norman Mailer's stature.

The use of the third person to describe the author is strange at first, and it seems possible that Mailer's ego might overshadow even the monstrous ego of Ali. But what emerges is more sensitive than that. Ali is portrayed as an aging prodigy tortured by doubt and surrounded by a retinue of oddballs, and Mailer succeeds in first isolating and then overcoming his buried prejudice and superstition.

This is a powerful and at times moving book, and I would recommend it to all, including those who are uninterested or even repelled by the sport of boxing.
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on 4 November 2004
This is a classic piece of sports writing and goes way beyond 'the fight' and into the atmosphere of all the pre hype. It covers one of the most important sporting (shock) events ever to have taken place..."The Rumble in the Jungle" and you get a real sense of this in Mailer's enthusiam. If you're an Ali fan, you should've read it by now....if you're not a fan, you'll still love the detail described in this book. It's one of those books that people remember reading years later. It's a shame that Penquin got the year of the fight wrong in their synopsis...and I've told them!. Rumble in the Jungle was October 1974, not 1975....(which was the "Trilla in Manila", now there's another story!)
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on 29 September 2014
I have been planning to try a Norman Mailer book for quite a while and I thought this might be interesting. It wasn't and the conclusion is never, ever again. Within pages I was skim-reading and by about page 30 I gave up. Not sure what I thought about Ali, but I did reckon I had read enough about Mailer, despite his coy way of indirectly mentioning himself. There were potential flashes of insight about Ali, and Kinshasa but no real interest on the part of the author whose focus never really drifted from himself in the pages that I got through. I decided, life was too short to spend struggling through this book!
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on 14 August 2010
Although Mailer's 3rd person treatment of himself is clearly the product of an explosive and gluttonous ego, it does, in parts, allow him to also speak about himself with more honesty and insight than the fragile nature of self-opinion often allows.

So although many reviewers are giving him a hard time for this it should be remembered that any type of writing which challenges the norm and provides a novel way of storytelling must have some inherent value. Even if you don't particularly warm to it - although personally I found it interesting and unobtrusive - then at least it will have provided a break from the 'traditional' way of narration.

As this was essentially a sports book I didn't want to devote to much time to the more philosophical sections which are interspersed throughout the story. Because of my lack of effort I can't fairly criticize these sections; I found them to be vague and unengaging but quite possibly with a bit more concentration their value would have been revealed.

Philosophy aside the book was skillfully crafted with some unique and intelligent use of language. Although this was my first Mailer book, his idiosyncracies reminded me of Amis (Martin) in their salience compared to many authors. Mailer give some great insights into boxing life which are only available to someone who enjoyed such proximity to the two fighters; however the book also seems to spend a little too long in building up to the fight. In the three days it took to read the book, two were spent reaching October 30th, whilst only one was spent consuming the actual fight. The prelude was not unenjoyable but certainly more inconsistent that the final third was.

Having watched footage of the fight itself, I was struck by how Mailer managed to expand and excite the action where to an eye naive to boxing like mine couldn't tease such appreciation from it, at certain points I found the prose more interesting than the footage! I also noticed that Mailer seemed to struggle to suppress a slight bias for Ali in his fight descriptions. It is a boon of the internet that it is easy to follow the fight whilst reading about it.

Anyway; to be recommended.
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