Book Review: Bouts of Mania
It has to be one of the great contradictions of sport: the fact that a pursuit prone to such physical brutality as professional boxing has spawned such beautiful prose in various books down through the years.
To the naked eye, watching from afar via the comfort of the sitting room, the ring looks like such an unforgiving place, the ultimate test of courage and strength for any individual.
However, there is more to boxing than meets the eye, and some of the best books on sport I have read bear testimony to that, none more so than Norman Mailer's 'The Fight' which is my all-time favourite.
I was drawn to another gem courtesy of a short recommendation in the 'Sunday Times' recently. And, thanks to the ever-friendly staff of The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street, I was able to place an order and within a matter of days I was settling down to enjoy Richard Hoffer's absorbing paperback: 'Bouts Of Mania - Ali, Frazier, Foreman and an America on the Ropes'.
This story revolves around an era when the pursuit of the world heavyweight title elevated boxing to new heights all over the world.
From the spring of 1971 to the autumn of 1975, three men vigorously pursued the accolade of being the supreme fighter on the planet during a turbulent time for Americans.
The war in Vietnam had caused deep division and sparked a great deal of civil unrest, and the Watergate scandal and eventual downfall of President Richard Nixon only added to the sense of despair.
It was against this backdrop that Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman locked horns, with the formidable trio involved in five bouts in total which captured the imagination of the sporting public, not just in America but all over the world.
The fact that the Philippines and Zaire were among the countries selected to host some of these fights only added to the sense of intrigue, anticipation and general wonderment.
'The Fight of the Century', 'The Rumble in the Jungle' and 'The Thrilla in Manila' should all resonate with anybody possessing even a rudimentary knowledge of boxing and the history of the early to mid seventies.
These momentous bouts have all been written about extensively in the past, so what sets this particular book apart? Quite simply, it's the quality of the writing as Hoffer is clearly a master of his art.
In a tight and tidy 250 pages, he paints a fascinating and absorbing picture of the personalities involved in arguably boxing's greatest-ever era, not only the protagonists in the ring but also the many colourful characters like Bundini Brown and Don King who added to the razamatazz in their own inimitable fashion.
Hoffer is not your bog standard sports journalist covering matches and making sure his notebook is clear before moving on to the next fixture; as a writer for the famous 'Sports Illustrated' magazine, his assignments are more likely to be 5,000 word pieces on a particular topic with a deadline of one month to deliver.
He is a man accustomed to having precious time to think about each and every word he puts his name to, and that comes across quite clearly in this fine book.
You don't have to be a huge boxing fan to appreciate this offering; if you admire exceptional writing, regardless of the subject matter, then this book is highly recommended.
Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.