Bouts of Mania by Richard Hoffer

Bouts of Mania by Richard Hoffer.jpg

Perhaps the first thing to be said about this brief but highly entertaining book is that one needn't have any more than a passing interest in boxing in order to enjoy it. This is not a book about boxing, or even really about sport. Rather, this is pop cultural journalism in the exuberant vein of Tom Wolfe at his best. In lively prose tinged with ironic humour, Sports Illustrated journalist Richard Hoffer playfully dissects a tumultuous period in American history (a period that saw continued debate over US involvement in Vietnam, as well as the scandal of the Watergate tapes, and the Kent State shootings, among other events).

Covering the five titanic bouts fought between Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman between the years 1971 and 1975, Hoffer documents the political and cultural upheaval that would affect both sides of America's racial and economic divide. And what better subject than boxing to unite all of these perspectives - a sport that can see a character such as Joe Frazier rise from dirt-poor beginnings amongst a share-cropper family to ultimately take part in some of the most lucrative and widely-viewed cultural events in world history?

Through clear-eyed but affectionate portrayals of its larger than life protagonists (of course the star is Muhammad Ali), Hoffer thrills and informs us in equal measure. Highly recommended.

- Dan