Or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Muhammad Ali”
What sets Walter Dean Meyer’s biography The Greatest apart from your average sports biography is that his subject is not your average sportsman. Muhammed Ali is the greatest of many things — throwing lightening fast punches while dancing and calling his opponents ugly in the most creative ways. (“Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.”) Not only did he transform the game, Ali transformed the face of television. In many ways, this biography reads like a history of mass media, or a how-to guide on becoming an immortal celebrity.
Check out this quote. On being nicknamed “The Greatest” Muhammed Ali said: “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round.” Talk about confidence! I wonder if he really did pick the rounds.
Today Muhammed Ali is regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time. He was considered by some as the most recognized face on earth as he lit the Olympic torch during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in 1996. In 1999, Sports Illustrated and the BBC even hailed Ali as “Sportsman of the Century.” However, during his prime in the ’60s and ’70s, the media wondered who the heck this guy was. Never before had the world seen such an arrogant, opinionated, loud-mouthed, controversial athlete on television. In addition to opposing the Vietnam War long before dissent was politically correct, he’d also say cocky phrases like this one (my fave):
“There’s not a man alive who can whup me. I’m too fast. I’m too smart. I’m too pretty. I should be a postage stamp. That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked.”
Prior to Ali, athletes were spoken for by their publicists and representatives, and rarely did they ever talk about anything except for their game. But the three-time World Heavyweight Champion put an end to that, and milked TV and mass media for all he could.
The Greatest is an exceptionally fast-paced story of the biggest personality to hit American culture in recent history. The greatest part about The Greatest (I had to say it at some point) is that you only need to be remotely interested in boxing, American history, and the idea of celebrity to pick up the book. Meyers’ mad storytelling skills will take care of the rest. He provides the historical context to convince you that Ali is worth caring about, and describes how he revolutionized pop culture. I was transformed into a Muhammed Ali fan-girl overnight.
Not convinced? If you have an hour and a half, watch the documentary When We Were Kings. (Although the movie is about two guys — Ali and George Foreman — preparing to punch each other in the face, the movie is rated PG.) He has the presence of mind of someone who rhymes constantly, without missing a beat. Ali’ll capture your curiosity in an instant.
— Cindy, Scholastic.com Editor