Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ladies & gentlemen! The best boxing novels ever !!!

Robert Flanagan has published the novel Maggot (Warners) and story collections Naked to Naked Goes (Scribner) and Loving Power, (Bottom Dog), and has work anthologized in The Norton Book of American Short Stories, Best Ohio Fiction and Bar Stories. Also a poet, he is the author of Reply to an Eviction Notice: Selected Poems (Bottom Dog).

Flanagan was born in Toledo, Ohio, and worked as a dishwasher, night watchman and janitor there. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve, and graduated from the Universities of Toledo and Chicago.

A lifelong boxing fan, he sparred in enough gyms to earn two detached retinas. At present, he is completing a novel, Champions, about boxers and comics. He compiled the following list of Best Boxing Novels for the Book Serf:

1. The Harder They Fall, Budd Schulberg
In this fictional portrayal of the shameful history of Primo Carnera the mob fabricates a heavyweight challenger, Toro Molinos, and then sacrifices him in a title match to clean up on bets. A novel justifiably praised by playwright Arthur Miller and former heavyweight champ Gene Tunney.

2. Fat City, Leonard Gardner
A grim and gritty portrayal of the losers in the world of boxing. Boxer Billy Tully is the squared circle’s everyman, a perpetual adolescent hooked on self-punishment and fantasies of fame and success. The writing is on the mark, painful and relentless.

3. The Professional, W.C. Heinz
An accurate, flatly-told, Hemingway (“Fifty Grand”) style tale of a fighter heading into a big fight, it captures the tedium of training, the obsession with money, the denial of limitations and the decline of a dream into a job.

4. My Father’s Fighter, Ronald K. Fried
When his father dies, Vincent Rosen, a mid-30s English teacher at an exclusive high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan inherits a hypochondriac light heavyweight named “Big” Mickey Davis and worlds collide. Beneath the dark comedy and social satire lurks a clear-eyed but not hard-hearted requiem for the light-heavyweight soul.

5. The Circle Home, Edward Hoagland
Down and out fighter Denny Kelly pursues illusory prizefighting fame in Boston and New York but finally has the sense to pack it in and come home. Heavy on atmosphere, similar to Fat City in plot but quite different in setting. Hoagland is a fine writer.

Honorable Mention:

The Devil’s Stocking, Nelson Algren
His last novel, based on the life of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, follows boxer Ruby Calhoun in his ring, legal and prison battles. Not as solid as his earlier work, the novel still has power. As Hemingway put it: Algren “is a man you should not read if you cannot take a punch.”

Questionable Status:

Cashel Byron’s Profession, George Bernard Shaw
Although playwright/novelist Shaw was a major writer and a man who acquitted himself well in the ring, this novel seems a long slog through a swamp of language. Maybe its perennial appearance on best boxing fiction lists comes from a need to add a great man of letters to the roster, or from laziness in not rereading it. For my money Major Barbara KO’s Cashel Byron any day of the week.
For more information: To learn more about Robert Flanagan and to read excerpts or to buy his books, visit

Next week: Best Short Stories About Boxing


  1. I really liked Will Reece's "The Magic Man" - a great fiction/magic/boxing triumph story. A really interesting take on the boxer's story and a great read. The only place I can find it right now is on as a downloadable book. Here's a link for anyone interested -

  2. So Long, Hector Bebb and both of FX Toole's books belong here.