The Sweet Science

The Sweet Science



The Pequod Review:

The Sweet Science is a collection of boxing articles written by A.J. Liebling for The New Yorker between 1951-56. This is a book that often shows up on the lists of All-Time Best Sports Books, but I found the writing too pretentious and full of obtrusively intellectual cultural references. Here is Liebling describing the boxer Rocky Marciano: “Wrapped in a heavy blue bathrobe and with a blue monk’s cowl pulled over his head, [Marciano] climbed the steps to the ring with the cumbrous agility of a medieval executioner ascending the scaffold.” His opponent Archie Moore “looked like an old Japanese print I have of a ‘Shogun Engaged in Strategic Contemplation in the Midst of War.’” Just before the fight, Liebling observes “Mr. Moore’s eyebrows rising like storm clouds over the Sea of Azov. He may have felt, for the moment, like Don Giovanni when the Commendatore’s statue grabbed him — startled because he thought he had killed the guy already — or like Ahab when he saw the Whale take down Fedallah, harpoons and all.” I am reminded of Dennis Miller and not in a good way.

Behind the prose though is some exceptional reporting, especially on people and places outside the ring — the locker rooms, the training gyms, and the journalists, spectators, taxi drivers, and arena vendors. Liebling also captures the fading glory of the sport, with TV-driven declines just beginning, as well as the beauty and spectacle of some of the era’s best matches. And the title comes from one of his classic lines: “The sweet science, like an old rap or the memory of love, follows its victims everywhere.”