This is a review of the new US edition of Jacobs Beach published by Hamilcar. The original book was published in 2010. Some online reviews of earlier versions refer to factual errors but it appears to me that any of these have been resolved in this new US edition.
For me, King of the World by David Remnick first illuminated the shady world of gangsters and crime that lay under the surface of professional boxing. Since reading Remnick’s masterpiece and Nick Tosches Night Train, I’ve always been fascinated by the underbelly of professional boxing’s past and felt that a true history of the fight game can only be one which considers this underbelly in depth.
Jacob’s Beach sets out to tell the story of the behind-the-scenes powers in boxing in the USA (and effectively the world) from the 1930’s onwards. It covers boxing’s golden era when top fighters were global figures and title fights commanded universal public attention.
The book centres around Madison Square Garden and the powers that controlled that fabled arena. Jacob’s Beach refers to a famous strip of pavement across the road from Madison Square Garden, the home of a legendary ticket tout named Mike Jacobs. However, the real villain of the piece is Frankie Carbo, a mobster who dominated professional boxing for years. The level of corruption is still shocking to see in black-and-white, from fixed fights to blacklisted managers and the right connections being far more important than right hooks.
If Carbo is the main villain, the book’s hero is the unlikely figure of US Senator and failed Presidential candidate Estes Kefauver. The Senator’s attempts to shine a light on corruption through public hearings was the first serious dent on the mobs ability to operate in the shadows. Ultimately, mob influence would fade as the spotlight on their activities grew brighter.
Mitchell holds no punches throughout the book with scathing comments on a whole range of characters. He is particularly scornful of the boxing writers who were on the take and wrote stories to suit their mob paymasters. Mitchell also seek to skewer a few myths, in particular the Hollywood narrative of James ‘Cinderella Man’ Braddock.
Mitchell, perhaps unconsciously, appears to mimic the stylised writing of the legendary golden era boxing writers (of whom the book is sometimes scathing). At times it reads like sections of the book were written in a previous era, with a punchy and colorful style, but they are written well and always an interesting read. The book zooms in and out on various characters and I found I naturally consumed it in bitesize chunks.