Crispin Jackson

Striking Blows For Freedom

The Greatest Fight of Our Generation: Louis vs Schmeling

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Oxford University Press 320pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Beyond Glory: Max Schmeling vs Joe Louis, and a World on the Brink

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Bloomsbury 432pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

The defeat of heavyweight boxer Joe Louis by Max Schmeling in 1936 was one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. It was also an unfortunate one. Louis was young, black, apparently clean-living and possessed of a God-given ability to knock out opponents with either hand. He was widely expected to win the world title and so end the racial segregation that still blighted the sport. Though affable and generally liked in the US, the much older Schmeling had one irredeemable fault: he was German, and his twelfth-round knockout of Louis was inevitably seized upon by the Nazis as proof of their racist theories. ‘The last round is quite wonderful,’ Goebbels noted in his diary after watching the film of the fight. ‘He really knocks out the nigger.’

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