This is an ambitious portrait of an American legend. Ray Robinson was not just a prizefighter. He was an extraordinary fighter. Someone once said: “There was Ray Robinson. And then there were the top 10.” He was certainly the greatest prizefighter I ever saw. But Wil Haygood has written more than a simple chronicle of a sports career. He wants to place Robinson as a central figure in the rise of urban African-Americans in the 20th century. At the peak of his success, in the 1940s and ’50s, Robinson epitomized the tough grace and style and confidence of an entire generation. He would display those qualities all over the United States and Europe. Haygood chooses to tell this tale, in part, as a kind of prose ballad. In lyrical language, he traces the life of Robinson from his birth in Detroit in 1921 as Walker Smith Jr. to his truest home, in Harlem, on the great glittering island of Manhattan, to California, where he died in 1989.
more from Pete Hamill at the NYT here.