🥊’Muhammad Ali: Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness’ by Dave Hannigan (2022)

What more can be written about Muhammad Ali? Ali’s life has been documented time and again by great writers and filmmakers. However, one area that has always remained somewhat obscure is the period between the end of his boxing career and the moment in Atlanta when, fragile and shaking, he lit the Olympic flame reminding the world of his incomparable courage.

Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness documents Ali’s public life during these 15 years in compelling detail. Hannigan presents a vast number of incidents and anecdotes captured at the time or remembered by the participants. The volume of research is impressive with countless local, national and international reports quoted and long forgotten small events highlighted. It’s these local, low-key events which tell us so much about Ali because even the most routine appearance was made significant and memorable simply by Ali’s presence and charisma.

A few common threads emerge in the book – friends taking financial advantage of Ali’s name, Ali going above and beyond to make an event special, strangers being invited into his inner sanctum and remembering it for the rest of their lives, people breaking down when seeing his limitations and, above all, Ali making people laugh and smile.

The stories individually range from funny to sad and from the mundane to the remarkable. Taken together they provide fascinating insight into Ali’s unique fame, his charisma, and his declining health. What emerges is a portrait of a man who, already an icon, was deeply aware of the impact of his presence on others. Ali knew that any interaction with him was a memorable experience. He was motivated to continue to live a very public life – to use his unique fame for some greater purpose, even if at times that purpose was unclear, undefinable, or unachievable. For these reason, despite his declining health, he refused to hide away and continued to live a very public life even while all of the very things he was famous for – his speed, his speech, his sharpness – deserted him.

I really loved this book. Each individual story works as an interesting insight but the combination of so many together is powerful, fascinating, funny and heartbreaking. It’s a brilliant addition to the ever growing library of books on Ali.

Hannigan has written two previous books on Ali. The Big Fight examines his fight in Dublin against Al ‘Blue’ Lewis and wonderfully captures his impact and aura during his prime. Drama in the Bahamas recounts Ali’s heartbreaking final fight against Trevor Burbank in the Bahamas and captures the tragedy of the last years of his boxing career. Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness is another wonderful book which captures a very different, yet just as compelling, phase of Ali’s life.

Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness is published by Pitch Publishing on 20 June 2022.

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