Within the pages of The Ali Files, from the pen of the prolific Norman Giller, there is a gift for boxing fans young and old. Particularly those for whom Muhammad Ali is an experience afforded by the proxy of film or television interview or those of us desensitised to his brilliance by time and the ensuing mythologising and marketing of his story.
In The Ali Files, Giller has returned Muhammad to his rightful home. The ring. The place where the story began and where his legend was hewn. It serves to refresh us all, including the great man himself.
Cleverly, Giller constructs the book fight by fight and creates a distinctive narrative by recounting the ebb and flow of each of Ali’s professional bouts and uses quotes secured post-fight from both Ali and his opponent.
This offers a tremendous tone and currency to the recounting of his career and avoids the cliché and romanticism of other accounts and the infection of hindsight associated with personal or biographical memoir.
It has that sense of truth about it and the book is ever more entertaining and insightful for Giller’s simple but inspired choice of perspective. While the many additions to Ali’s fighting story; his conversion to Islam, his refusal to be conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War, are there of course but only in their influence on his boxing career. They don’t distract the reader. The impact is easier to measure, and perhaps more tellingly so, in the fight weights and purses Giller diligently adorns each chapter (one per fight) with.
Within the description of each fight it is possible to ‘feel’ the evolution of the style Ali employed, his ‘two-tone’ fighting personality of entertainer and savage are clearly defined. For all of the social and political impact Ali had, or is claimed to have had, in the millions of words written about him – Giller makes a strong case that the greatest window on Ali’s personality is to be found when he was fighting.
Of additional interest is Giller’s notes on each of the opponents Ali faced and how their particular story ended or continues to unfold. A somber and chilling epitaph to the courage of the men in Ali’s generation, often left blighted by Dementia and far removed from the apparent wealth of their youth – Giller offers each equal summary and reveals several new insights, many of which I’d not read before.
Despite the weight of those often forlorn outcomes the book is enriched by their presence and they deepen the significance of this entertaining entrant into the crowded marketplace of Ali accounts. Few will strike as refreshing a chord as The Ali Files, or be written by as assured and authoritative a storyteller as Giller, someone who spent many hours with the man as his ‘go-to’ European Public Relations agent, and I would heartily advocate picking up a copy.