I'm liberal. So, to read a book about a cultural icon that I enjoy by a self-described conservative and to thoroughly enjoy reading it (and recommending it, no less) is something of an accomplishment in my humble opinion of author, Jack Cashill.
This book is rich storytelling. This book is essentially two interwoven intentions. The first, is about the rise and the less complimentary moments in the life of Muhammad Ali. The second is an academic critique of America's tendency toward racializing politics. (And, Cashill in this book is guilt as hell of commiting some of the same truancies to decency as his liberal counterparts!)
Cashill does a wonderful job of describing both the boxing landscape that a young, Cassius Clay would inherit, but also the personal biographies of several fighters before and around Clay's time. Most notably, the late Floyd Patterson, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier.
Throughout this tome, Cashill quite frequently reveals that Clay/Ali was a product of both the environment and colorful personalities that avail themselves to this (as Cashill described) perpetually naiive, impressionable human being.
Aside from the more visable figures in Ali's life: Clay Sr., Elijah Muhammad and, later, Don King, Ali was also guilty of major indiscretions that served only his immediate goals. This we'd come to learn would have serious repercussions as Cashill gleefully points out to us, absent-minded star-struck followers.
What does one make of Ali turning his back on friend/ confidante (and perhaps his purest friendship) with Malcolm X and his family as the Nation of Islam/ Elijah Muhammad & co., exacted bloody revenge on "their" enemies? Or, about his alleged disavowal of Betty Shabazz and her children afterwards? How about Ali's vitriolic comments to/about Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson, Joe Louis and Ernie Terrell in the Media and on college campuses? It was shocking to read that his comments went far beyond pre-fight hype, but to a place of slander and humiliation.
These are just a few of the questions raised by Cashill in this largely unflattering view of Ali. Cashill doesn't stop there. Perhaps, revealing great depths of personal despair, Cashill is also guilty of slander and humiliation as he all but places the blame for all the culturally-moral failings of the "liberal media elite" to the intentions of Ken Burns, Mike Marquesee and Ali confidante/ authorize biographer, Thomas Hauser. It is the likes of these, according to Cashill, who're the real culprits for our (Ali fans) inability to judge to whole person and victims of idol-worshipping.
To make matters worse for Cashill, Cashill has the unmitigated audacity to use unsupported personal experiences, throughout this book, to state that racism and the racially-motivated laws and crimes were historical exaggerations. Amazing.
I, for one, think that this close examination is of great importance because it presents an often overlooked side to a very public figure. And as such, provides an indispensable psychological tool in an effort to gleam ethical lessons from a truly fascinating life. On the whole, I would suggest that the goal of anyone reading this book would be to measure Ali's successes with his shortcomings, remembering where he came from and what he possessed, intellectually.
This book can provide to an informed mind an understanding into the complexities of this human soul in its fullest and most explicit expression.