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The Devil and Sonny Liston 

Harvey Frommer's Sports Book Review

by Harvey Frommer

Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge          

Liston Book Packs a Knockout Punch

The 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).

It is a stunner of a book!

"The 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."

Off 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 drug overdose.

Tosches 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."

Dark, 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.

We 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 Sonny Liston.

"The 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.

It is also a work of art that belongs on your your bookshelf.

Book 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.

"Baseball 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.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

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.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .

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Harvey 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. 

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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