Joe Louis


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Hard Times Man

Randy Roberts

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The definitive biography of one of the twentieth century’s greatest sports figures

Joe Louis defended his heavyweight boxing title an astonishing twenty-five times and reigned as world champion for more than eleven years. He got more column inches of newspaper coverage in the 1930s than FDR did. His racially and politically charged defeat of Max Schmeling in 1938 made Louis a national hero. But as important as his record is what he meant to African-Americans: at a time when the boxing ring was the only venue where black and white could meet on equal terms, Louis embodied all their hopes for dignity and equality.

Through meticulous research and first-hand interviews, acclaimed historian and biographer Randy Roberts presents Louis, and his impact on sport and country, in a way never before accomplished. Roberts reveals an athlete who carefully managed his public image, and whose relationships with both the black and white communities—including his relationships with mobsters—were far more complex than the simplistic accounts of heroism and victimization that have dominated previous biographies.

Richly researched and utterly captivating, this extraordinary biography presents the full range of Joe Louis’s power in and out of the boxing ring.

Randy Roberts is Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University. His previous books include biographies of Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, and John Wayne (all nominated for Pulitzer Prizes); a history of American sports since 1945; and books on Charles Lindbergh, the Mike Tyson trial, and the Vietnam War. He lives in Lafayette, Indiana.

"Roberts is a fine match with his subject. He supports with powerful evidence his contention that Louis's impact was enormous and profound."—Bill Littlefield, Boston Globe

"Well-researched, intelligent, and insightful. . . . [Roberts is] able to capture the drama, brutality, and pathos of Louis's epic battles."—Glenn Altschuler, Philadelphia Inquirer

"[This] new biography by Randy Roberts restores Louis to his proper place in the pantheon, both as an athlete and as a cultural icon."—Allen St. John, Dallas Morning News

“As sleek and powerful as Louis in his prime, Roberts’s biography strips away the hagiography and victimology to portray the great champion as a vibrant player in the heart of the American century.”—Robert Lipsyte, New York Times contributor

"Randy Roberts has written the definitive biography of the most famous African American in the first half of the twentieth century.  With literary flair, Joe Louis: Hard Times Man captures the meaning of this folk hero, paints a vivid picture of the boxing world, and delivers countless historical insights."—Aram Goudsouzian, author of King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution

"Roberts takes you ringside as one of the greatest practitioners of 'the Sweet Science' makes history, but he doesn't stop there. He explains the race relations and international politics of the 1930's that, along with his hard punches and no-nonsense style, made Joe Louis immortal."—Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL)

"Boxing has the greatest literary tradition of any sport.  Joe Louis: Hard Times Man is the latest in a line of wonderful books by Randy Roberts that break new ground and contribute admirably to this tradition."—Thomas Hauser, author of Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times

“Roberts reconstructs Joe Louis’s life in an engrossing, insightful narrative. The prose is energetic, at times rising to the lyrical.”Bruce Schulman, Boston University

“A sympathetic, moving life of the Brown Bomber by veteran cultural historian and biographer Roberts. . . . All legendary athletes should hope for treatment by such capable, compassionate hands.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Well researched and well written, Roberts’s study will appeal both to boxing fans and scholars of American social and cultural history. Like its subject, this book is a champion.”— Library Journal, starred review

"At a time when boxing is in the doldrums, it is hard for Americans to fathom the magnitude of this fighter's importance. Randy Roberts's Joe Louis should jog our collective memory. The author of superb studies of the boxers Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey, Mr. Roberts spins a graceful and reliable narrative of Louis's life. The author also gets into the ring with the question: Why did Joe Louis matter so much to so many?"—Wall Street Journal

"A biography to be savored. . . . Roberts' narrative of the pugilist and the man is gripping. . . . He captures the spirit of the age, when boxing on radio fed the national imagination. . . . Roberts recovers a great story and makes it sing for him."—Andrew Burstein, Baton Rouge Advocate

"It's a thrilling account of an extraordinary life, one that needed to be retold to a generation tow hom Joe Louis is no more than an occasional face on ESPN Classic. There was a giant in those days, and Roberts has reclaimed him for us."—Allen Barra, St. Petersburg Times

"It's a thrilling account of an extraordinary life."—Allen Barra, Newsday

"No other American sports figure of the century performed with such grace under unimaginable pressure. Roberts has reclaimed this giant for us."—Allen Barra, Lansing State Journal

"Well-researched, intelligent, and insightful, Joe Louis, is not a definitive biography. Roberts' style is breezy, with occasionally hyperbolic gusts."—Glenn C. Altschuler,

"a book about what Louis signified…. [a] wonderfully lucid exposition of Louis’s times."—Chris Maume, Belfast Telegraph

"[A] gripping life and times"—Chris Maume, The Independent

"a wide-ranging and convincing explanation of [Joe Louis’s] popularity and significance"—Nick Pitt, The Sunday Times

"[An] exciting account of the great champ's life. . . . [The book] isn't so much a biography as a cultural history of its subject's life and times. . . . It's a thrilling account of an extraordinary life, one that needed to be retold to a generation to whom Joe Louis is no more than an occasional face on ESPN Classic. He was a giant in those days, and Randy Roberts has reclaimed him for us."—Allen Barra, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Louis's story ghad been told by sportwriters and historians many times, but Roberts is a fine match with his subject. He suppports with powerful evidence his contention that Louis's impact was enormous and profound. His explorations of the shameful social conditions and smug hyporcrisy poisoning the landscape over which Louis loomed for a time are incisive and convincing."—Bill Littlefield, New York Post

"Roberts has written a thoroughly researched, engaging book on African American heavyweight boxer Joe Louis. . . . This excellent book has much to say about race, nationalism, and identity."—A. Ejikeme, CHOICE

“…readable and thought-provoking.”—John Exshaw, Boxing Monthly

"Roberts's book is a thoroughly researched beginner's guide to boxing as well as an introductory course in 20th century politics that contains, at the heart of it, a stoic enigma of a fighter who wasn't afraid to go toe-to-toe with the world."—Lance Hicks, Bama Escapes

"[In this] concise, judicious biography, . . . Roberts vividly re-creates a bygone time when boxing enjoyed enormous popularity. . . . Roberts is superb at conveying the excitement that surrounded Louis' exploits."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

Named a Best Book of 2010 in the categories of Biography and Non-fiction--Kirkus Reviews

Runner-up for the 2010 Los Angeles Book Festival in Biography/Autobiography

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the Sports and Recreation category.
ISBN: 9780300177633
Publication Date: February 14, 2012
328 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
16 b/w illus.