For followers of 20th-Century pugilists such as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Marvin Hagler and Mike Tyson, Miami University Prof. Elliott J. Gorn offers a look at such 19th-Century battlers as James (Deaf) Burke, Abraham Vanderzee, Jack Slack and Sam O'Rourke.
He weaves a portrait of early 1800s urban America--to prize fighting's roots in its ethnic communities, to showdowns between neighborhood champions. Boxing, Gorn found, began as an urban working-class phenomenon, when Americans suffered from appalling job-related mortality, when half of New York City's children died before age 6. In the era's maleness, Gorn concludes, boxing made bloodshed "comprehensible." Urban working-class men were inspired by a boxer "facing danger with courage . . . (returning) violence rather than passively accepting it."
Gorn begins his readable history with the early 1800s American black, ex-slave Tom Molineaux, and ends it with the last bare-knuckle champion, John L. Sullivan.