Dear Mike Tyson: So the imprisoned heavyweight champ has become a heavyweight reader. Voltaire, Tolstoy, Mao Tse-tung, he's devoured them all. What an amazing talent for fiction Tyson has, the boxing writer tells him

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Indy Lifestyle Online
What is all this? I open up Esquire and I can't believe it. I find you discussing the collected works of Machiavelli, Voltaire, Dumas, Mao Tse-tung, Marx, Tolstoy, and Hemingway - and that's just in a few consecutive paragraphs of Pete Hamill's 5,000-worder that consists mainly of quotes from you. Candide? 'Loved it,' you say casually.

Pardon me, Mike, but I think you would find that even among the high-brow hacks on the Independent, few had ploughed through that lot in their entire cloistered lives; and you've only been inside for under two years. Are you kidding us?

Don't get me wrong. I was there at the trial and I don't subscribe to the theory of 'you can take a man out of the ghetto but you can't take the ghetto out of the man' with which your critics crowed when you went down.

I know that if certain people, who were the most spiteful when you were convicted, had paid more attention to your obvious problems instead of seeing only the fantastic lure of 'having' the youngest ever heavyweight champ, you might have been saved. I am your defender.

At a push I will even, on reflection, give you the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge your speed-reading skills. But my heart sinks when I read of you saying, 'In the end, that's how you decide what kind of man I was. Not by how many men I knocked out. But by the way I took care of my kids.'

This cliched role-model stuff is not you, Mike. If people are telling you to say this, they misread the essence of your appeal and the reason why thousands of people are walking around America in 'Free Mike Tyson' T-shirts. You were a man aspiring to be good but wrestling publicly with bad intentions, not least in your job. Even if you have left badness behind, do not become pious or, no matter how much you read, you will lose your intelligence and charisma.

At first, reading Esquire, I thought there might be some hidden plea-bargaining PR agenda by your overpaid lawyers. Certainly Pete seems to have been Emily-Barr-ed (an English term you are probably not familiar with, but with your voracious reading, who knows?). Pete is seduced into embracing you not just metaphorically but actually, concluding: 'We embrace awkwardly. Tyson looks as if he wants to freeze the moment, freeze time itself . . . 'Take care,' number 922335 says.'

But then I read through cuttings of your other prison interviews and saw that in each one you had created similar ready-made 'angles' - almost wholly contradictory - with equal apparent sincerity. And I had an image of you in your cell after each piece came out, laughing your head off.

My advice to you, Mike, is to cut down on the reading, and step up the writing. There is definitely a novel in you. Excellent money. And I can give cast-iron assurances that it will get great reviews.

(Photograph omitted)