3 Great Books About Boxing

By Elizabeth Hannigan , last updated February 5, 2012

For being one of the most primal, violent sports mankind engages in, there certainly are a lot of books about boxing. Maybe it's because boxing is so animalistic that writers are drawn to it; because it is so dangerous, boxing has a kind of drama and romance that other sports just can't compete with. Then again, the history of boxing is also chock full of many of the most colorful characters in sports. From Raging Bull Jack La Motta to American hero Joe Lewis to political firecracker Muhammad Ali to crazy man-turned-pigeon racer Mike Tyson, boxing seems to attract more larger than life figures than most other athletic pursuits. Whether you are interested in boxing in a concrete or abstract way, any of these books should feed your fascination.

The Sweet Science by A.J. Liebling

If you actually are a boxer and you want to read a fantastic collection of essays, read A.J. Liebling's The Sweet Science. The Sweet Science is a collection of essays Liebling wrote as a sports writer for The New Yorker during the 1950s. The book captures not only the most minute details of the sport, but also paints a picture of boxing during its heyday in the United States. Liebling was an expert on the history of boxing and these essays follow household names like Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano through training sessions, into matches, and even into bars. Liebling often describes specific matches down to the minutest detail, so those very familiar with the sport will enjoy this book most.

Rope Burns by F.X. Toole

These days, you might find a copy of Rope Burns, later retitled Million Dollar Baby: Stories From the Corner. Rope Burns was originally written by boxing trainer and cutman Jerry Boyd under the pen name F.X. Toole back in 2000. The book is a fantastic collection of fictional short stories that are all based upon Boyd's real experiences in the ring. These stories aren't simple retellings of historical occurrences, though, but instead insightful and literary glances into more abstract themes such as disappointment and aging. In 2004, the stories from Rope Burns were adapted into Million Dollar Baby, a film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood that won four Academy Awards including Best Picture.

At the Fights, edited by George Kimball and John Schulian

If you want a mammoth tome that offers every type of writing about boxing from historical accounts to biographies to technical manual to fiction, you should pick up George Kimball and John Schulian's collection of American writing on boxing, At the Fights. At the Fights is over 500 pages long and has excerpts from all of the most famous books on boxing, including writing by Toole and Liebling, as well as essays by Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, Jack London, and Jimmy Cannon. You'll also find reprints of famous and historical news pieces on boxing from sports journalists who were at the matches they describe, like Red Smith or Richard Wright. At the Fights even has some autobiographical snippets from boxers like Gene Tunney. If you only want to pick up one book on boxing, this would be the best choice.

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