On Muhammad Ali and a Knockout Biography

Jonathan Eig is the author of five books, including biographies of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and most recently, Muhammad Ali. All three of them were New York Times bestsellers, and Ken Burns—yes, that Ken Burns—has described Jonathan as a “master storyteller.”

He and host Ted Fox met up at a diner called Stella’s, one of Jonathan’s favorite spots in Chicago, to talk about Ali: A Life, which Jonathan published with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017. In addition to winning the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing, the book was named biography of the year by the British newspaper The Times, one of the 10 best non-fiction books of the year by The Wall Street Journal, and one of The New York Times’ notable books of the year. It was also a finalist for an NAACP Image Award and received a whole host of other honors too numerous to list. If nothing else, just know that Joyce Carol Oates—yes, that Joyce Carol Oates—called it “an epic of a biography.”

Jonathan and Ted covered both Ali the boxer and Ali the icon, discussing everything from his trash-talking and what made him such a great fighter to his relationship with the Nation of Islam and what he’s meant in and to the broader culture since bursting onto the scene in the 1960s. They also spent some time on the process of researching and writing the book, including the painful parts, as well as what Jonathan asked Muhammad Ali when he finally got the chance.

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March 19, 2020

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