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The Greatest - Muhammad Ali - John Cunliffe

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Genre: Junior Books / Author: John Cunliffe / Paperback / Reading Level: Ages 9-12 / 192 Pages / Book is published 2000-06-16 by Scholastic

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      15.05.2011 15:20
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      The Greatest - Muhammad Ali was written by John Cunliffe and published in 2000. This is a relatively lightweight trawl through the life and times of boxing's most beloved icon and aimed at younger readers as an introduction to the great man. Despite the fact that more adult boxing obsessives who have blustered through the likes of Thomas Hauser's Muhammad Ali: His Life & Times and David Remnick's King of the World will not learn anything new here, it's still quite good fun and contains a generous helping of pleasant black & white photographs. The book has two main objectives. (1) To cover Ali's boxing career and enable the reader to learn why he is so highly regarded and famous in the sport and (2) to convey who Ali was outside the ring, why he was so controversial in the sixties, Vietnam, and being stripped of his heavyweight championship etc. The latter objective is not easy at times without becoming too heavy or deluging the target audience with a surfeit of facts and political observations but, generally, a decent enough balance is struck and the book never becomes too bogged down in the labyrinth tumult of Ali's life when he was a young champion and courted controversy by changing his name and joining the somewhat mysterious and feared Nation of Islam - a group that openly preached black separation from white people.

      Although the material can't help but feel familiar to readers like me I did enjoy reading about the origin of the Ali legend again here. Ali grew up in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1950s, an era when black people were not even allowed to sit at the front of a bus and couldn't even go in most restaurants to get served. It's pretty amazing really to think that this state of affairs existed in the United States for so long. Ali did not grow up in the stereotypical poverty stricken troubled house of many great boxers but his family were not rich. His father painted signs for a living and worked odd jobs but there was always food on the table and his mother Odessa was by all accounts one of the kindest women that ever lived and remained close to her son for her whole life. When Ali was 12 years old and still called Cassius Clay, the book enjoyably explains, he left his bicycle outside a gym and returned later to find it had been stolen. Ali walked into the gym crying where a Policeman named Joe Martin, who taught boys to box in his spare time, spotted him and asked him what was wrong. Ali explained what had happened and said he was going to give the thief a good whupping when he got hold of him. An amused Martin told Ali that he had better learn how to box before he tried whupping anyone and the rest is history.

      The text here relating to Ali's boxing career is slightly better than I had expected on the whole and never feels too cursory (although obviously this cannot approach the analytical density of weightier volumes where the subtext of a feint or passage during a round can be expounded upon like Gordon Brown giving an endless speech about broadband internet access for pensioners in rural communities). I like some of the background details which add a little more scope and context to the pugilistic exploits of our legendary hero. When Ali challenged the apparently invincible Sonny Liston for the title in the early sixties he was given about the same odds to win that Elton John would get in a game of tennis with Roger Federer. As Don King would say, slim and none and slim has just left town with an overnight suitcase and a pair of large sunglasses. There isn't much more you can say about these fights that is not already at large but I really liked the way the author put in some background sketches to flesh out the Ali/Liston relationship. Liston feared no man and everyone feared him. But Ali dogged him with obstreperous antics, even, the author explains, turning up at Liston's house shouting with placards that tagged him the 'Big Ugly Bear'. Liston began to think that Ali was completely crazy and tiny seeds of doubt were planted in his mind.

      The author walks the Civil Rights, Nation of Islam, Vietnam, tightrope without becoming too dense or dry. The basic facts are related with emphasis on why Ali did what he did and how history has shown that he was no traitor or coward but essentially right to make a stand. Many white Senators kept their sons out of the Vietnam war so it was rather hypocritical for them to go after Ali when he refused the draft for humanitarian reasons. The range of pictures here are always quite enjoyable with a smattering of decent Ali/Frazier ones. Every great boxer needs a great arch rival and Ali had a few in his time but none more so than Frazier, their names inextricably linked together now in the annuals of boxing history. They fought an epic trilogy of bouts from 1971 to 1975 and their encounters at press conferences and in television studios were no less entertaining. Frazier is bitter at Ali to this day for the insults he endured and how Ali tried to make him some establishment figure (a pretty ridiculous notion as Frazier grew up in rural poverty and later worked in a meat packing factory in Philadelphia) who didn't represent black people as he did. The book conveys the frisson between the two men and the knotty nature of their relationship in an even handed way that while never comprehensive never feels too perfunctory either.

      I liked the fact that this covers the whole of Al's career and takes up and beyond the point where he famously lit the torch at the Atlanta Olympics. Despite his failing health and the controversies of the past, Ali survived to become a beloved figure in American society and has always strived to be a force for good on his travels. It's quite nice to have some info and pictures on Ali's life after boxing for readers here. In many ways, the Ali legend grew once he had finally hung his gloves up because boxing realised there would never be anyone like him again. The Greatest - Muhammad Ali is a shade under 200 pages long and can (at the time of writing) be purchased for around a fiver. This is by no means an essential addition to the boxing bookshelf but those who find they can never resist books about Muhammad Ali will modestly enjoy flipping through this and adding it to the collection. This is fairly undemanding but nicely done all the same.

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        18.04.2001 00:34
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        This opinion is about the boxer rather than the book, as I could not find the category that it was supposed top be in. However, I feel so strongly about this that I felt it deserves a place on dooyoo somewhere. While watching a documentary on this man, born on January 17, 1942, it became quite apparent to me that there will never be another Muhammad Ali. He definitely is one of a kind. His ability to call the round in which he would defeat his opponent was uncanny. He is a man who is dedicated to fighting for his rights, and standing up for whatever he believes in. This fact is proven whether fighting in a boxing arena or in a political one. Muhammad would rather go to jail, before he’d agree to fight in any man’s army. I applaud his non-violent stance on this matter. Ali became the Heavy Weight Champion of the World when he knocked out the unbeatable Sonny Liston on Febuary 25, 1964. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali days later, proclaiming himself a Muslim.Some of Muhammad Ali’s more famous fights includes the Ali-Frazier matches, the Thriller in Manila, the Rumble in the Jungle and others. When I think of Muhammad Ali, I always match him up with the humorous antics shared with the late great commentator, Howard Cosell. Their interchanges are priceless! One of his famous quotes is ’’floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee’’...yes, to me that is my memory of Ali. What makes Muhammad Ali The Greatest? In my humble opinion, he is a man with direction, who knew what he wanted and went out to get it. Without a doubt, if you looked up the word ’champ’ in the dictionary, you would surely find a picture of Muhammad Ali!!

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          11.11.2000 16:49
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          I have just read Mohammad Ali's book. Mohammed Ali ‘ The Greatest- My Own Story’ is a must read for all those who claim to be fans of the Great fighter. It is a moving book, which pin points the ups and downs of his life. Titled ‘My Own Story’ this is definitely his own story, his story about his struggles, his boxing life which brought him fame and made him the Greatest. He describes his home life, what made him become a boxer and a good one at that, his role models, I could describe to you each part of the book as it all has significance but I won’t. I will however re-write is one of his poems that will give you a clear picture of his life. This is page 170 from his book The Greatest –My Own Story: There was once a man called Cassius Clay He fought for a title and came a long way He became a Muslim, changed his name, As Muhammad Ali, he grew proud of his fame. The trouble began when he refused to fight The Vietnamese who happened to be non- white The boxing commissioner tried to destroy his fame, By taking his title and filling it with shame, The black people were mad because he was treated as bad, They thought he was the greatest fighter they ever had, So Muhammad went from place to place Preaching the war was a racial disgrace. When the war was over they let him fight, And he tried to win with all his might, First he lost, but he did not stop, Until he was back on top, Now here is the latest, Ali is the greatest! This is an excellent book well written, the great fights are in here, it gives you an in-depth picture and shows you not only was he a great fighter but also a great man, who stood up against injustice when everyone just stood by. Nobody will ever take his crown, he will remain great.

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        • Product Details

          Muhammad Ali tells his own story.