Devil and Sonny Liston
Harvey Frommer's Sports Book Review
Book Packs a Knockout Punch
man who was anti-Muhammad Ali, the man who had the scowling face and the
burly body - that in essence was the way many looked upon and
characterized Sonny Liston. Now we have "The
Devil and Sonny Liston" by Nick Tosches (Little Brown and
Company, $24.95, 266 pages).
is a stunner of a book!
corpse was rolled over and lay face down on the metal slab," is how
this moving account begins. "It was then that the coroner saw them:
the copper-colored whipping welts, old and faint, like one might imagine
to have been those of a driven slave."
that chilling start, Tosches takes the reader through Liston's birth on a
modern plantation to a fight career whose every step was controlled by
mobsters to the mysteries surrounding Liston's death in Las Vegas from a
was born in Newark, New Jersey and schooled in his father's bar. He is the
author of well-received biographies of several personalities including
Dean Martin. But in "The Devil and Sonny Liston", he delivers a
tale in his phrase that is "one of the darkest books I wrote; I mean
the darkness of Sonny's soul."
it is. Through the white hot prose of Tosches and his research involving
police files, fight tapes, Congressional investigation reports and
interviews with those who knew his subject well - we get close, perhaps
too close to Liston - a man who reportedly hit harder than any other man
alive. We are there in the early 1960s as Liston - thug, illiterate and
criminal - becomes heavyweight champion of the world much to the distaste
of many Americans.
are also there as Liston loses to Cassius Clay in 1964 and to
Clay-turned-Muhammad Ali in 1965 - fights that Liston threw to swell the
pockets with cash of backers who bet against him knowing what had been
arranged. We are there in all the ugly moments with all the sleazy,
underworld characters and the scores of hanger-ons around the fight game.
In many ways, it can be said that the author Tosches puts us through his
compelling prose into a time machine specially designed to reveal more of
Devil and Sonny Liston” is about a certain time and place in American
culture and sports; it’s a page-turner, an eye-opener, a knockout punch
of a book.
is also a work of art that belongs on your your bookshelf.
Ends: "Total Stanley Cup" by Dan Diamond (Total Sports
Illustrated, $12.95, 218 pages) is an official publication of the NHL.
This splendid informational work contains all kinds of data on the Cup's
history and mystique.
and Other Matters in 1941" by Robert W. Creamer (Bison Books,
University of Nebraska Press, $17.95, 330 pages) is a re-issue of work
that was originally published in 1991 that focuses on the momentous events
that took place in the national pastime in 1941. Among them are Joe
DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, the .406 batting average of Ted
Williams, the Dodgers-Cardinals pennant battle and so on. If baseball
history told well excites you - this is the book for you.
# # #
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth
College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage
in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
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