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Ali (2017) takes you through the the life of Muhammad Ali, a man whose complex story reveals him to be much more than just one of history’s greatest heavyweight boxers. Author Jonathan Eig takes readers through the humble beginnings of a young Cassius Clay, his transformation into Muhammad Ali and the many triumphs and scandals that followed.

  • Sports fans
  • Students of history
  • Readers who love an inspirational biography

Jonathan Eig is an author and journalist from New York City who has written several acclaimed and best-selling books. The fascinating subjects of his biographies include the legendary baseball players Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, and the infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone.

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Ali

A Life

By Jonathan Eig
  • Read in 18 minutes
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  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig
Synopsis

Ali (2017) takes you through the the life of Muhammad Ali, a man whose complex story reveals him to be much more than just one of history’s greatest heavyweight boxers. Author Jonathan Eig takes readers through the humble beginnings of a young Cassius Clay, his transformation into Muhammad Ali and the many triumphs and scandals that followed.

Key idea 1 of 11

Muhammad Ali had a troubled family tree.

To understand who Muhammed Ali was and what motivated him in his life, it’s important to learn about his family background.

Like many other African-Americans, Ali’s family tree included slaves and slave owners.

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, a name that can be traced back to his great-grandfather, John Henry Clay, a slave whose own name came from his owner, the Kentucky politician, Henry Clay.

Despite being a slave owner, Henry Clay was a close colleague of Abraham Lincoln, and held similar antislavery views. Clay was also a founder of the American Colonization Society, which proposed freeing slaves and shipping them back to Africa.

At some unknown date, Muhammad Ali’s great-grandfather, John Henry Clay, was emancipated and obtained a small amount of property where he grew his family. But in the years following emancipation, the lives of black Americans were anything but easy.

In particular, trouble followed Muhammad Ali’s grandfather, Herman Heaton Clay. As the story goes, around the year 1900, a 24-year-old Clay stole a quarter from an acquaintance by the name of Charles Dickey. Later, a friend of Dickey’s approached Herman with a heavy cane and demanded he settle his debt. Not only did Clay refuse to repay the quarter, he shot Dickey’s friend with a pistol.

For this, Herman Clay spent six years in jail. When he got out, he married Muhammad Ali’s grandmother, Edith Greathouse – but more trouble was on the way.

Herman and Edith’s first child, Everett Clay, was sent to prison for murdering his wife with a razor. But their second son, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., made a living as a painter of billboards and signs, and eventually became the father of Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., who was born in January 1942, and would go on to lead a fascinating life as Muhammad Ali.

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