Books: The Devil And Sonny Liston

By Nick Tosches

As strange a choice for a biography as the thuggish, illiterate, pre-Ali heavyweight champion might be, that's not nearly so strange as Tosches' technique: a gumbo of archival minutiae, back-alley hearsay, self-serving memory and rank speculation, all underscored with periodic outbursts of prose so embarrassingly purple it could shame a grape. Most provocative theory: that Liston's two fights with the young Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali were fixed by the Nation of Islam. Most convincing characterization: the drowning-in-slime, Mob-controlled world of big-time boxing circa 1960. Most vexing question: why anyone would commit a sentence like this one, typical in every way but its...

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