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05 December 2004

Soul of a Butterfly

This morning I read a book review for a biography/autobiography of Muhammad Ali from the Times Online Books mailing list. Sometimes, a really good review is almost as good as the book itself. This review was excellent, and is the sort of thing I aspire to in my book reviews. Reviews of books that the reviewer didn't enjoy are rarely good, only when the reviewer is good with corrosive sarcasm and the book is bad enough in a big enough way to deserve it. But a good review of a good book gives you a taste of why that book is so good, gives you a taste of the book itself and gives you a little more besides.

Take love, for example: and the book is all about love. For Ali, it seems essential that he loves vast numbers of people, and is loved back by them. I was there in Atlanta when he lit the Olympic flame, and I felt the oceans of love washing towards him from America and the world. I have been at prize-fights where the very name Ali gets a bigger cheer than either contestant. Ali: the world’s most beloved sportsman; perhaps the world’s most beloved human.
Which is odd when you remember that he spent years as a hate-magnet. Quite deliberately: he modelled his free-wheeling braggart monologues on a wrestler named Gorgeous George, reasoning that the more people who wanted to see his ass whupped, the more tickets he would sell. He was always an actor, an illusionist, a man who adores conjuring tricks. He still does them; though now, as a devout Muslim who will never deceive, he afterwards insists on showing you how it was done.

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