My Life and Battles
By Jack Johnson
by Christopher Rivers
September 2007, 152pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-99964-3
$64, £48, 56€, A87
eBook Available: 978-0-275-99965-0
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Jack Johnson, the first African American heavy-weight champion of the world, is a seminal and iconic figure in the history of race and sport in America.

African American historian Gerald Early refers to Jack Johnson (1878-1946), the first African American heavyweight champion of the world, as the first African American pop culture icon. Johnson is a seminal and iconic figure in the history of race and sport in America. This manuscript is the translation of a memoir by Johnson that was published in French, has never before been translated, and is virtually unknown. Originally published as a series of articles in 1911 and then in revised form as a book in 1914, it covers Johnson’s colorful life and battles, both inside and outside the ring, up until and including his famous defeat of Jim Jeffries in Reno, on July 4, 1910.

In addition to the fights themselves, the memoir recounts, among many other things, Johnson’s brief and amusing career as a local politician in Galveston, Texas; his experience hunting kangaroos in Australia; and his epic bouts of seasickness. It includes portraits of some of the most famous boxers of the 1900-1915 era—such truly legendary figures as Joe Choynski, Jim Jeffries, Sam McVey, Bob Fitzsimons, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, and Stanley Ketchel. Johnson comments explicitly on race and the color line in boxing and in American society at large in ways that he probably would not have in a publication destined for an American reading public. The text constitutes genuinely new, previously unavailable material and will be of great interest for the many readers intrigued by Jack Johnson. In addition to providing information about Johnson’s life, it is a fascinating exercise in self-mythologizing that provides substantial insights into how Johnson perceived himself and wished to be perceived by others. Johnson’s personal voice comes through clearly-brash, clever, theatrical, and invariably charming. The memoir makes it easy to see how and why Johnson served as an important role model for Muhammad Ali and why so many have compared the two.

Reviews

"Those interested in boxing history, particularly as it pertains to African Americans, have been treated to a spate of recent books on the social history of the ring. Most center on a major figure--Joe Louis, Tiger Flowers, Battling Siki, Jack Johnson--and the conflicted history of race relations in the US. These books are now joined by a bibliographic curiosity, an autobiography by Johnson (1878-1946) first published in French (surely with the help of a French collaborator working from Johnson's written or dictated words) as Mes Combats (1914). Rivers translated that book as well as articles that appeared in 1911, creating this amalgam autobiography. In a foreword, Geoffrey Ward (Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, CH, Mar'05, 42-4096) praises the book as a portrait of Johnson as he ... wished to be portrayed ... : intelligent, proud, extremely gifted, in control, and at the top of his game. Though it should be used with caution, this is a fresh source on Johnson, despite the errors, inconsistencies, and exaggerations of the as-told-to genre. It includes a chronology, photographs, an advertisement for the original work, and endnotes that take up flaws in the original. Recommended. Researchers; discerning fans."—Choice, March 1, 2008

"An interesting slice of boxing history."—SecondsOut.com, May 19, 2008

"Johnson was the first African American sports icon, under his own methods and on his own terms. His autobiography, an amalgam formed from a series of autobiographical articles for the magazine La vie au grand air in 1911, reveals his finesse in handling his opponents, in and out of the ring, and the mythology necessary to his public identity. His skills included a rare ability to balance self-deprecating humor and supreme self-confidence, and Rivers....captures that balance in this skillful and engaging translation."—SciTech Book News, February 1, 2008

"Christopher Rivers gives a revealing look at Jack Johnson when he was at the top of his profession. It is Jack Johnson as Jack Johnson wanted the world to see him--proud, humorous, defiant, and not too concerned with literal truth, or why he should scrape and bow to the mundane world of facts. He was, after all, his own creation."—Randy Roberts, Professor of History, Purdue University, Author of Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes

"Of all American boxers, there has been no one like Jack Johnson. Surely this extraordinary man is the most eloquent of all, and, with Archie Moore, the most intelligent. Chris Rivers is to be commended for so capably translating this remarkable document."—Joyce Carol Oates, Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, Princeton University
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