Mailer's words as powerful as boxer subjects

A great book is a great book, no matter the subject. So why do sports books often get such a bad name? Sports editor Hayden Meikle - who answers his own question by acknowledging the sports book market has more dross than most - names the 12 sports books you simply must read.


The Fight
Norman Mailer


Published: 1975

Sport: Boxing.

Sample: ''There is always a shock in seeing him again. Not live as in television but standing before you, looking his best. Then the World's Greatest Athlete is in danger of being our most beautiful man and the vocabulary of Camp is doomed to appear. Women draw an audible breath. Men look down. They are reminded again of their lack of worth. If Ali never opened his mouth to quiver the jellies of public opinion, he would still inspire love and hate. For he is the Prince of Heaven - so says the silence around his body when he is luminous.''

The setting: Kinshasa, Zaire.

The protagonists: Norman Mailer. Oh, and those two blokes who had a scrap in 1974. Ali, was it? Foreman?Why it is brilliant: ALI, BOMA YE. ALI, BOMA YE. Still gives me chills. And, for every word that reminds you of the size of Mailer's ego, he offers 10 that are pure poetry. Just read that sample passage again and tell me you don't want to read this book straight away.

Don't just take my word for it: "'If ever a fighter had been able to demonstrate that boxing was a 20th-century art, it must be Ali,' says Norm, and his achievement in this masterly book is of a similar order, demonstrating that writing about sport can also be a 20th-century art.''

- Geoff Dyer (New Statesman).

The aftermath: Mailer returned to writing novels and hoeing into political causes. He died in 2007. Ali has reached the age of 70 despite Parkinson's. Foreman came out of retirement in 1994 and, aged 45, regained the world heavyweight championship. He then made a LOT of money selling a grill.


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