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A review of The Sweet Science by A.J. Liebling, one of the greatest boxing books ever written.


The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling brings together a collection of boxing essays that go far beyond the confines of the sport; rather than a bunch of works on boxing, they also serve as a glimpse into 1950s America. If you’re looking for a book on your favourite sport, you can’t do much better than pick up the boxing book that Sports Illustrated named The Best American Sports Book of All Time.

For those who don’t know, Abbott Joseph Liebling was a journalist who spent a mammoth portion of his career writing for The New Yorker. Liebling had three passions that many men share; boxing, horse racing and food. Over his forty year career Liebling transferred his three loves into words, writing books on boxing, food, war journalism and he even wrote some autobiographies. In 1995, the Boxing Writers Association of America created the A. J. Liebling award in honour of the respected journalist.

I’ve told you this about Liebling so you can appreciate the authority he gives to a book on boxing. For most of his adult years, he lived and breathed boxing, and that shows in The Sweet Science. This book uses a great writing style to show you what it is like to be a boxing fan. You see through Liebling's eyes as he watches the boxers in the ring, and you share his disappointment when a fight falls short of expectations. What The Sweet Science is great for is an appreciation of boxing at the time. We all know what boxing is like now, and our memories can stretch back decades before that, but our memories are unreliable. What is written in The Sweet Science will never be altered by the times.

Now, I’m not saying Liebling’s thoughts on boxing are without bias; if that were true, this book would be dull. No, it is Liebling’s singular view on the sport of boxing that makes this book a great read, and something I go back to again and again.

Lots of boxing books focus on a particular fighter, or wax lyrical on a particular fight, describing it in blow by blow detail. That isn’t what The Sweet Science is about. This boxing book takes you deeper; it tells you what a pain it could be getting to the venue, as well as what spectators talked about in their seats. If I had to liken it to another sports book, I’d have to say Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, the book about an obsessive Arsenal fan. Liebling’s boxing obsession doesn’t quite reach these heights, but he gives us a great insight into the sport.

The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling is one of the best boxing books you will ever read.

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