Put your dukes up, pseudo-intellectuals, I'm giving two-to-one odds that my latest literary choice will knock you out.
It's an amazing story - impending war, the gritty world of professional boxing, the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Hitler's esclating war on the Jews and racism in America [–] all wrapped up in one fascinating package: "Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and A World on the Brink" by former New York Times reporter David Margolick.
The names of Louis, the black American, and Schmeling, the white German, may not mean much to people today. But both strode the world like a collossus between 1936 and 1938, when their two fights were proxies for the impending battles between German leader Adolf Hitler and President Franklin Roosevelt in World War II.
Schmeling won the first fight, inflicting a surprisingly thorough beating on the previously undefeated Louis, dubbed the "Brown Bomber" for his thunderous punching power. Louis won the second, a one-round knockout in which he pounded his opponent into mush in a little more than two minutes.
Behind the two men's images were flesh-and-blood human beings, both likeable and decent, functioning in a political and sports environment that was not of their making or their liking.
America in the 1930s was a place where black citizens endured second-class citizenship, and a black heavyweight champion was a new and, for some people, unthinkable prospect. Then again, boxing was a major sport, fans loved punchers, and Louis, a rising contender from Detroit, hit like a freight train.
On the other side of the ocean was Schmeling, a veteran fighter with a formidable reputation for toughness and skill. With Hitler's rise to power, Schmeling was, somewhat unfairly, given the title of the Nazis' Great Ayran Hope, although he certainly made his accommodations with the powers that prevailed in Germany.
Ironically, Schmeling had a Jewish manager, a fact that meant little to Americans or Germans. Even more ironic, New York City was the world mecca of boxing and Jewish managers, promoters, fighters and fans dominated the sport, a reality that Nazi leaders ruefully accepted
This great story is about much more than just sports. For white Americans and Jews around the world, the Louis-Schmeling fights were a chance to give der Fuhrer the one-two. For black Americans, they offered triumph and respectability. For Hitler, they represented a demonstration of German superiority on a worldwide stage. For the world, they foreshadowed the greater, more costly and more bloody battle to come.
Previous recommendations from Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club:
[–] "Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission" by Hampton Sides.
[–] "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris.
[–] "A Night to Remember" by Walter Lord.
[–] "April 1865: The Month That Saved America" by Jay Winik.
[–] "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" by Laura Hillenbrand.
[–] "Lindbergh" by A. Scott Berg.
[–] "The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963" by Laurence Leamer.
[– ] "The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case" by Sam Roberts.
[–] "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy" by Jane Leavy.
[– ] "Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions" by Ben Mezrich.
[–] "Harry & Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Post-War World" by Steve Neal.
[–] "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis.
[–] "Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone" by Martin Dugard.
[–] "In Harms Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors" by Doug Stanton.
[–] "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34." by Bryan Burrough.
[–] "Flags of our Fathers," by James Bradley.
[–] "Cary Grant: A Biography" by Marc Elliot.
[–] "Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager" by Buzz Bissinger.
[–] "Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York" by Kenneth Ackerman.
[–] "They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967" by David Maraniss.
[–] "Flashman" (a novel) by George MacDonald Fraser.