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On Vox: Book Review 5: Cinderella Man by Jeremy Schaap

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I bought this book in the summer of 2005 while taking a sports history class that was heavy on the history of pugilism. My professor even wanted to hold a class discussion on the movie, but it was between theater and DVD, so that never happened, but I bought the book thinking he might discuss it anyway. He didn't and as a result I just finished the book last night. Cinderella Man by Jeremy Schaap is one of many books on the story of James J. Braddock, and not the one on which the movie, which I still haven't seen, was based. I first read an excerpt in Sports Illustrated when the book was released and was intrigued despite that the girly sports fan in me sees no point to boxing. However, when set against the backdrop of Depression-era America, the appeal becomes more obvious. Boxing was cheap and easy and the only way out for a high school dropout such as Braddock. His upbringing is skillfully revealed along with that of his ultimate competitor, Max Baer. The two were polar opposites in every way and Schaap details this well. The book is evenly divided between Braddock and Baer as their careers progress and finally collide with the heavyweight title on the line. Schaap describes boxing's place in sports at the time in a way that football would presently be depicted. A night when the heavyweight title was being contested was equal to the Super Bowl. This was the atmosphere described perfectly in the chapters on the final bout when the biographies of the fighters became known to the public and the Irishman was pitted against the Jew. While that may not have been the entire truth, as Baer wasn't really Jewish, here Schaap presents another storyline. The place of Max Schmeling, from Germany, is crucial to boxing in this time and is detailed by Schaap. Though not a Nazi, in fact a Jewish sympathizer, Schmeling's bouts were used to explain the racial makeup of boxing's capital, New York City. This intriguing addition makes this version of Cinderella Man about boxing in the 1930's, not just the Braddock/Baer fight, and thus an intriguing read for a historian. However, I still need to see the movie.

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