Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Everything I Consume: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

I was surprised when I picked up this book because singer Jack Johnson has always seemed pretty white to me. But it turns out there was another Jack Johnson who was black and heavyweight champion of the world back when people cared who was the world heavyweight champion. He had a very interesting life. Besides being heavyweight champion he participated in and won the true Fight of the Century, married or claimed to be married to many women ("this is the third time Mr. Johnson has come to England, each time with a different Mrs. Johnson" an English newspaper wrote) and went on the lam in Europe after a ridiculous criminal conviction. He was the most hated man in America for several years but seemed to be a pretty nice guy.

This was a good biography if a bit newspaper-like and name heavy. There are so many fighters and so many women mentioned! At first it's hard to keep track of all the fighters and managers in Johnson's life and then it's hard to keep track of the women. At the height of Johnson's wealth and fame he seemed to have a rotating three woman harem. The racism of the time is awesome. What's become the most offensive word in America is repeated in casual conversation and printed in newspapers over and over again. I even learned some new ones like "Sengambian". Amazingly, white boxers could refuse to fight black boxers on principle and it was totally acceptable and even admired. Despite this Johnson often trained with and was friends with white fighters.

On a stylistic note this book uses the most footnotes of any book I've ever read. Almost every page had at least one fotnote and many had two or three. So I recommend this book unless you hate footnotes or are a racist.

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