This is A. J. Lieblings fascinating (and very episodical) account of America’s golden age of boxing. It does not only deal with the careers of legendary fighters like Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano or Sugar Ray Robinson (amongst others), but it includes the people behind and next to those iconic boxers as well. I was probably pretty biased towards this book right from the very beginning, because after dreaming about it for years, I finally found the time (and the balls) to start boxing myself and regardless of all the initial insecurity, frustration, the never-ending soreness of muscles and every punch in the face I got since then, I still love every minute and every round of sparring!
I never thought it possible to write about boxing like this – graceful, incredibly poetic, insightful and humorous. AJ Lieblings sharp analyses show his enthusiasm – I would even go as far as calling it his love – for the sport and everyone involved in it. His understanding of fine pugilism itself helps him to find amazing metaphors, thus creating a poetic mixture of boxing and literature, filled with underlying (pretty sophisticated) jokes that will hit your jaw with a straight right as soon as you drop your guard for a second.
But The Sweet Science is also a celebration of nostalgia. By rendering an era before TV and commercial success started to ruin sports in general and drag it down to the publicity spectacle most of it is today, Liebling demonstrates what it meant to personally go to an event, to be there, being completely present in the moment and to not only observe what is going on around you, but to actively engage and interact with your environment.
There are indeed some downsides to this as well. First and foremost its outdatedness, by which I especially mean the television bashing and the slight, but persistent racism (he really tries hard to not only mention every fighters skin colour, but to also give you a very good idea of the exact shade of it). Also he is mainly focusing on the heavyweight division (as always), although he is mentioning some noteworthy light and welterweights as well.
Overall I think that AJL succeeded in capturing the often overlooked beauty of boxing while at the same time elevating the craftsmanship of sportswriting to a whole new level. If you think like my mum (who still hates the idea of me putting on gloves) and consider boxing as being just another level of brawling, a dumb sport for brutal nincompoops who frantically swing at each other, I can only beg you to read this enthusiastic and lively account and let yourself be convinced of the sweet, sweet science that boxing truly is.