The Cinderella Man, by Michael DeLisa

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The Independent Culture

Few boxing fans will be unaware of the story of James J Braddock, native of New York's notorious Hell's Kitchen and Depression-era everyman, who fought as a promising, if unremarkable, blown-up heavyweight.

Possessed of a clubbing right and a fighter's brain, Braddock's career seemed terminated by a shattered hand and a series of defeats to average opposition. He returned to the docks and railway yards, claiming Home Relief to support his family during the Depression and boxing all-comers on nationwide tours for little or no money.

Finally rewarded with a title shot against Max Baer, Braddock delivered one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. His win proved that even the little man can achieve his dreams.

If this all sounds like a Hollywood plot then it is no surprise that the author, the boxing historian Michael DeLisa, is also the chief consultant in Ron Howard's biopic, also titled Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe.

And herein lies the problem. So obsessed is the author with delivering a Hollywood-style narrative, that the book has all the depth of a Don King soliloquy. DeLisa barely touches on the era's social and political situation, failing to put Braddock's achievements in anything but the most superficial context.

While he peppers his text with interesting nuggets - the J in Braddock's name was the invention of his verbose promoter Joe Gould, to position him in the rank of his more illustrious predecessors, James J Corbett, James J Jefferies and James J Tunney - he clearly had the superficiality of the silver screen in mind throughout. Braddock's youth is covered in five pages, fights and fighters come and go in paragraphs, and peripheral figures - mobsters, actresses, trainers and promoters - are scattered without context.

While DeLisa is clearly passionate about Braddock's story The Cinderella Man does not do the boxer, the reader or the author justice.

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