by BRUCE BERGLUND for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on APRIL 30, 2016:
Is there a figure in sports more admired and beloved than Muhammad Ali? Widely revered not only as one of boxing’s greatest champions but also as one of the rare athletes to speak out on political issues, Ali holds a place at the pinnacle of sports heroes.
In their new book Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (Basic Books, 2016), historians Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith take the bold step of viewing Muhammad Ali not as hero but as human. Randy and Johnny focus on the young contender Cassius Clay as he trains in Miami, rises through the heavyweight ranks, and hones his persona as an athlete and celebrity. At the heart of the book is the boxer’s friendship with Malcolm X and their respective ties to Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. The two subjects are extraordinary figures in the history of the 1960s, and they have been subjects of several books. As Randy and Johnny explain in the interview, they offer a fresh perspective by taking a meticulous approach to sources old and new, even plotting out — day by day — where Clay and Malcolm were and what they did in the years leading up to February 1964, when Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title, and February 1965, when Malcolm was assassinated. This fresh perspective yields a picture of Clay/Ali somewhat at odds with the reverential view commonly held today. It is a picture of a young man still finding his place in the world, before he became its king.
LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH RANDY ROBERTS AND JOHNNY SMITH
In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN is a part), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE.