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'The Tao of Muhammad Ali'

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December 04, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI

From whispered moments to a lingering look from the tired man's eyes, Davis Miller's newly published "The Tao of Muhammad Ali" fulfills his own boast: Nobody has ever written so purely about Ali before.

We know Ali lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta, mask-faced and teetering because of his Parkinson's syndrome. We know that the ailing Ali is a man who seems to be both a symbol for and is greater than our times.

But, though he is far from hidden, as he moves from airport to airport--silently, with shaking hands--who can say what Ali thinks and feels these days? Does he feel connected to this era? Does he care?

Out of the silence, by fate into Ali's life and into print, comes Miller, and this intimate, rambling, fascinating book, which Miller calls "a nonfiction novel."

Ali is alive and more well than you would think, Miller discovers through various encounters, and still a part of everything that made him powerful, passionate and meaningful beyond the ring.

Miller can be brave because of his childhood love of Ali. He can endure his father's death because of Ali's words. He can succeed as a writer because Ali is there for him, still shuffling.

"I ask him why, unlike the old days, everyone, everywhere, seems to love him," Miller writes. " 'Because I'm baadd,' he clowns, then he holds up his shaking left hand, spreads its fingers, and says, 'It's because of this. I'm more human now. It's the God in people that connects them to me.' "

Though he is apparently stunned by the continued friendship Ali bestows on this scrawny young white man, Miller is arrogant enough to know he has written a book that is a low-key revelation, like a long letter from an apostle.

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