Roger Kahn on boxing? It just doesn't sound right.

Kahn is better known for writing about baseball. His book on the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and 1950s, The Boys of Summer, is still considered to be one of the finest pieces of literature ever written about the game. His new book on boxer Jack Dempsey and his reign as the world's heavyweight champion proves, however, that Kahn is worth reading under any circumstances. The 1920s are sometimes called the first Golden Age of Sport, and Dempsey was one of the period's main heroes. World War I had ended, and as leisure time increased, Americans focused more attention on spectator sports. Dempsey ranked alongside Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, and Bobby Jones as headliners of the decade.

According to Kahn, boxing exploded in the public consciousness while Dempsey was champion. Twenty-thousand fans looked on as Dempsey took the title from Jess Willard in 1919. His last championship bout, the famous Long Count fight against Gene Tunney, was witnessed by an estimated 125,000 and followed by millions of others. Along the way, Dempsey defended his title a few times, divorced one woman, married another, starred in some movie serials, and was an attraction wherever he went.

This biography is a little more personal than one might expect. Kahn interviewed Dempsey several times when the ex-champ was holding court as a restaurant owner in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. Flame recounts some of these stories. Dempsey obviously made a big impression, as Kahn suggests that Dempsey is the greatest heavyweight of all time. And while that's not the majority position in that never-ending debate, Kahn does a good job convincing the reader that Dempsey is a deserving contender. He makes an even better case that Dempsey is a figure of historical importance.

A friend of Kahn's once told him a few years ago, I think too much has been written about Babe Ruth and not enough about Jack Dempsey. Kahn does a nice job of closing that gap. ¦ Budd Bailey is a hockey reporter and editor for the Buffalo News, and a contributor to The Sporting News.

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