Boxing: A Cultural History, By Kasia Boddy

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The Independent Culture

A triumph of research in an unexpected field, Boddy's lucid study starts with the Greek gagster Lucilius ("Your head, Apollophanes, has become a sieve") before moving briskly on to the boxing obsessions of Byron, who created a pugilistic scrapbook on a folding screen, and Dickens, who inserted punch-ups in works from Pickwick to Edwin Drood.

The best painter of the noble art was the New Yorker George Bellows, whose 1909 work "Stag at Sharkey's" anticipates Francis Bacon's violent studies.

Journalistic pugilism is represented by the inspired work of A.J.Leibling and Norman Mailer: "Ali... was tender with punches, laid them on as delicately as you would put a postage stamp on an envelope."

Impressively comprehensive, Boddy's study of the culture inspired by knuckle-ups is a knock out.