With King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero, Pulitzer prizewinning writer David Remnick provides a biography of Mohammed Ali nee Cassius Clay. However he does more than that. Remnick also shows how many of the personal changes in Ali mirror American societal changes from the 1960s and 1970s.

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Remnick begins with young Cassius Clay, the Negro boxer known “for [running] his mouth” after winning the Light Heavyweight Gold Medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics (p. 26). By the book’s end Mohammed Ali has traveled the world, both literally and figuratively. Ali’s alliance with Malcolm X and Islam at times alienated him from leaders in the Black right movement such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson, but he fought his own battles and his fighting style.

While “floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee” Ali helped bring change not only in sports, but race relations, social issues, and the war in Vietnam (p. xiii). At the height of his career Mohammed Ali was, in many senses, “king of the World” (p. xii, throughout).

King of the World provides an intriguing account of transformation of the brash talking Cassius Clay who traded in his slave name to the 1960s icon Remnick claims Ali to be. Like many of the 1960s icons Ali suffers from loss of health (he has Parkinson’s), and of wealth. Forced by circumstances to sign autographs to provide his livelihood, Ali is still the Champion. Ali is still the man who “proved [he] could be a new kind of black man” (p. xiii, xvi). Both boxing fans and students of 1960s social history should read this books.

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