Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

Ali: A Life

Ali: A Life is an epic biography about the life of Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of all-time. The book was named the winner of the 2018 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing and The Times Sports Biography of the Year.

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. The area was very segregated at the time and he dealt with racism throughout his youth. He once refused a drink of water because of the color of his skin which is something that stuck with him long after that day.

Young Clay would turn to boxing and made his amateur debut in 1954 where he won his first fight by split decision. Clay would go on to win six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, an Amateur Athletic Union national title, and the Light Heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He ended his amateur career with 100 wins and 5 losses.

He would make his pro debut in 1960 and become known for his taunting style, inspired by the professional wrestler Gorgeous George. By 1963, he would challenge Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight title. After winning the match by TKO, he would utter one of his most famous lines when he said “I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”

After the Liston fight, Clay changed his name to Cassius X, and then later to Muhammad Ali upon converting to Islam and affiliating with the Nation of Islam.

Ali’s life changed in 1966 when he was reclassified by the Louisville draft board as 1-A from 1-Y, and he indicated that he would refuse to serve in the Army if drafted. This lead to Ali being stripped of his title, his boxing license suspended, and a conviction of of draft evasion that carried a sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. This resulted in Ali’s exile from boxing and he did not fight from 1967 to 1970 as his case was appealed.

After a few smaller fights, Ali was named the top contender and faced Joe Frazier in 1971 in the “Fight of the Century”. It was a huge event The fight would end up being Ali’s first professional loss. Ali would later win the rematch.

Ali would then go on to face George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle”, one of the most famous fights of all-time. The fight was watched by a record estimated television audience of 1 billion viewers across the world.

He would then go on to face Joe Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila”, the tie-breaking third match of their series. Ali would manage the win in the third round by TKO.

Ali: A Life goes in-depth on all of this and more. Eig interviewed more than 500 people and had access to previously unreleased FBI and Justice Department files and audiotaped interviews from the 1960s for the writing of this book. The book is about more than Muhammad Ali, it’s a book about America, about race, and the brutal sport that made Ali a legend.

Jonathan Eig Sports Books

Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season (2007) Shop at Amazon
Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig (2010) Shop at Amazon
Ali: A Life (2017) Shop at Amazon

Jonathan Eig Non-Fiction Books

Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangter (2010) Shop at Amazon
The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution (2015) Shop at Amazon

Muhammad Ali Boxing Career

Titles and Honors:

  • 3-time WBA heavyweight champion
  • 2-time WBC heavyweight champion
  • 3-time NABF heavyweight champion
  • 2- time National Golden Gloves champion
  • 6-time Kentucky Golden Gloves champion
  • 2-time AAU champion
  • Gold Medal winning Olympic light heavyweight champion
  • 6-time The Ring Fighter of the Year
  • 6-time The Ring Fight of the Year

About the Author

Jonathan Eig is a master storyteller who has written for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in his career. He is the author of multiple books including Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season.

Eig has appeared in documentaries by Ken Burns and he is a consulting producer on Ken Burns’ Muhammad Ali documentary.

Other Books You May Like

The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali: A fascinating memoir by the man himself. This book is edited by Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Toni Morrison and tells the story of Ali’s life from his perspective.

The Fight by Norman Mailer: The “Rumble in the Jungle” is one of Ali’s most legendary fights and this is one of the best books written on it. The book is a masterpiece of literature as it draws heavily on the symbolism of this legendary fight.

Ali: A Life Podcasts

Chasing Ali by Jonathan Eig: A podcast about what it was like for Jonathan Eig as he spent five years chasing Ali to write this book.

Black History is American History – Muhammad Ali: Ali was so much more than a boxer and this podcast delves deep into his role as a conscientious objector and his place in the culture.