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Serenity: A Boxing Memoir 1st edition by Wiley, Ralph (1989)

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  • Henry Holt & Co; 1 edition (1709)
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Review Text

  • By Reviewer on January 8, 2017

    Ralph Wiley wrote for "Sports Illustrated" and could also be caught doing commentary and interviews for various boxing documentaries (usually aired on HBO). This is my first experience with his writing. I sought out this book on the advice of a "Ring Magazine" article that proclaimed this the best book ever written on the sweet science. I'm not yet ready to call this book the best, since I haven't read every book on boxing (though I intend to). That said, "Serenity" is as near to perfect as one could hope, and ranks up there with McRae's "Dark Trade" as a flat-out masterpiece.Wiley's focus is on the 80s. when the book was written. At this time there was a golden age in the lower weight classes, with Leonard, Hagler, Duran, and Hearns vying for ultimate supremacy. Mike Tyson wasn't vying for anything; he was mowing down all comers in his path. Wiley leavens his insights on the sport of boxing with details from his life, and chapters on the historical forefathers of the fighters whose lives and legacies he chronicles. There is some great writing on the original "Sugar", Ray Robinson, as well as unexpectedly illuminating ruminations on Ali and Holmes. That Wiley understood how underrated Holmes was in the late 80s is just one example of his uncommon insight (it seems like general reevaluation of the "Easton Assassin" didn't begin in earnest until the early 2000s, which puts Wiley more than a solid decade ahead of the rest of the punditry).As with the best books on the sport, Wiley makes it all very personal and riveting, and even manages to frame his chapter on Tyson as a letter to his son. He also sees the parallels between boxing and writing that have been cliche since Hemingway made them, but he does what all great writers do and breathes new life into what was considered well-covered ground. It's a shame the man is dead, although at least I have a large backlog of his writing now to trawl through. Rest in Peace, Ralph Wiley. Highest Recommendation.

  • By Jakeymon on August 3, 2004

    I was a great fan of Ralph Wiley's regular columns on ESPN's Page 2, and when he passed on (earlier this summer) I decided that it was well past time to get one of his books and see how he did in a longer form. I'm glad I did. Wiley wrote a vivid description of the art and science of boxing; with every page offering insights that are provocative, disturbing, and important. It's as much about Wiley as it is about Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Ali, and Tyson. That's not a problem as Wiley was an articulate, interesting, and experienced Black man. Wiley relates that when he was a copyboy for the Oakland Trib, he would type "RALPH WILEY IS THE GREATEST SPORTSWRITER OF ALL TIME, BAR NONE" on the old IBM Selectric from time to time. It's a shame that so few sports fans seem to know him these days, especially now that he's gone. This great little book, which destroys boxing as completely as boxing seems to destroy its greatest talents, is quite an argument for Wiley's place in the pantheon of the greatest sports writers of all time. If you enjoyed Wiley's columns, or his writing in SI, or his work on other subjects, OR if you have a passing interest in, or disgust over, or passion for boxing, you will enjoy this book. If you enjoy reading about one man's developing views on an activity that he at first approached with veneration and eventually came to see as horrific, you will enjoy this book. If you read Bill Simmons' columns, you will enjoy this book. It's such shame that we don't have Wiley with us any more; and I'll miss him, but now that he's gone on maybe he's met Joe Louis at the gates and had that talk with him. We can only hope so.

  • By Smoten on December 26, 2002

    Intellectuals have long had a fascination with boxing, an athletic contest reduced to its very essence-two semi-naked men trying to kill each other for the enjoyment of a crowd. That's about as stark as it gets. A long and varied list of literary heavyweights have fallen under boxing's spell-Hemingway, Mailer, Oates, Earley, etc., etc., etc. Ralph Wiley belongs up there with the best of them. The ideas he expresses in "Serenity" are meaty and delivered in a style that is both clear and artistic. Mr. Wiley can flat-out write and my goodness does he have an eye for detail and an ear for dialogue. His descriptions of knockout blows are downright poetic; one fighter "... went out like a broken light bulb"; another was struck so hard that the blow "... sent his eyes into the top of his head like snapped windowshades". The sights and sounds and smells of the gym all ring true in "Serenity", from the lowliest trainer ("...with a trainwreck of a yellowing smile") to the beatific Ali.Mr. Wiley defines serenity as "...the inner peace which comes from doing something well enough to understand it". Boxers, per Wiley, can only acheive pugilistic serenity after they understand that pain, and maybe death, are part of the equation. Pain can not be avoided, no matter how skilled the fighter. So why do so many of them continue on, or return for more once they retire, even (or, perhaps, especially) the successful ones? Larry Holmes, one of the best, (whose latest comeback, at age 50, was against a 300 pound sideshow attraction named "Butterbean") is quoted that a fighter has "... gotta enjoy the ones you take just like the ones you give". Sugar Ray Leonard, like Holmes a wealthy man, made more comebacks than Marley's ghost and risked permanent blindness in the process. Bobby Chacon, another champion, "...smiles at the sight of his own blood". The title of a Gerald Earley essay-"I Only Like It Better When The Pain Comes"-is a direct quote from an early '80's crowd-pleasing Philadelphia middleweight Frank "The Animal" Fletcher. (Aside-Frank "The Animal" once fought James "Hard Rock" Green in a brutal, blood-gushing bout, a great nickname bout, where Mr. Fletcher's mother spurred her son on by leading the crowd in chants of "AN-I-MAL, AN-I-MAL, AN-I-MAL".) Do these otherwise intelligent men actually enjoy getting hit? Hardly. Mr. Wiley has delved deeply into the psyches of men who fight for pay searching for motive, for purpose, and he has succeeded. This is good stuff. "Serenity", like Evander Holyfield, is the Real Deal.

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