The Boxing Kings is the story of the heavyweight championship in the days when it was a defining American institution.

Almost all the heavyweight champions of the twentieth century were Americans. They number among the most memorable figures in our popular culture: John L. Sullivan, the brawling and boozing Irishman who made the title a commercial property; Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, whose fearless individuality made him a marked man; Jack Dempsey, a titan of the Roaring Twenties and its Golden Age of sports; Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, whose contributions to racial tolerance transcended even his greatness in the ring; Rocky Marciano, the Italian shoemaker’s son who never tasted defeat; Muhammad Ali, who revolutionized sports with his showmanship and political passion; and Mike Tyson, the hard-punching student of boxing history who became the last great figure in the lineage.

Jack and Etta Duryea Johnson

Joe Louis, Army promotion

The Boxing Kings charts how America changed as the title shifted from one claimant to another and how each major champion developed a symbolic connection with his times. It describes a national saga rich in drama, inspiration, and pathos, opening a window on the larger history of the country in the twentieth century.     Read excerpt →

Dempsey v. Carpentier, 1921

Norman Mailer once quipped that the heavyweight champion is like the big toe of God. For almost a century, the heavyweight title was the most vaunted prize in sports. Paul Beston’s comprehensive history brings the reader inside the ropes of battles that compelled the interest of just about everyone. At the same time, he deftly delves into backstage questions: What was Max Schmeling’s relation to the Nazis? What role did Joe Louis play in the fight for civil rights? A perfect one-two combination, ‘The Boxing Kings’ is rigorously researched and lyrically written, a book that both devoted and casual fans will savor.
— Gordon Marino, Professor of Philosophy, St. Olaf College; veteran boxing trainer and award-winning boxing writer

James J. Corbett

With the cool, unbiased eye of a referee, the knowledge of a historian, and the wit of a skeptic, Beston belongs in the company of distinguished chroniclers of the Sweet Science.
— Stefan Kanfer, author, 'Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart'
The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring
‘The Boxing Kings’ is another reminder of why boxing is the undisputed center of the sports storytelling world.
— Jim Lampley, HBO boxing commentator

Muhammad Ali and President Carter

It’s truly refreshing to read a paean to the great days of heavyweight boxing from someone who knows and loves the sport.
— Andrew Klavan, author, 'True Crime' and 'Don’t Say a Word'

John L. Sullivan

‘The Boxing Kings’ is a book to read while we wait for the next Great American Hope in the distinguished line of Sullivan, Johnson, Dempsey, Louis, Marciano, Ali, and Tyson. Here is how the heavyweight division once was in all its red, white, and blue splendor.
— Randy Roberts, award-winning author of books on Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali

Gene Tunney and Vice President John Nance Garner

As you read about John L Sullivan, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey and others, you may find, if you’re like me, that you’re imagining yourself ringside, right in the middle of boxing history.
— Michael Woods, editor, and host, "TalkBox" podcast from Everlast

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