The Greatest: Muhummad Ali

Myers, Walter Dean. The Greatest: Muhummad Ali. Scholastic, 2001. 172 pp. Lexile 1030.

Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, has been called the greatest athlete of the twentieth century.  Renowned YA writer Walter Dean Myers clearly admires Ali as an athlete and as a political activist.  This compelling biography emphasizes the public man and his sport, with little about his personal life.  Sports fans will appreciate the level of detail throughout about Ali’s boxing.  Myers also thoroughly addresses Ali’s famous conversion to Islam and refusal to fight in Vietnam, discussing the largely negative reaction of sportswriters and fans but also the inspiration at the time to young black men such as Myers himself. As he says in his introduction, “Heroes that looked anything like me were hard to come by when I was a kid growing up in Harlem.”  With a black-and-white photograph in almost every chapter and a timeline of fights at the end, this will be an appealing choice for a biography or history unit, or pleasure reading.

Reading Std #7:  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, visually and quantitatively, and in words.  Students who like boxing may be interested in viewing the Oscar-nominated documentary, "When We Were Kings," about the heavyweight championship fight in Zaire--now the Democratic Republic of the Congo--between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, which took place in 1974, after Ali had an earlier championship title taken away when he refused to serve in the military.  (Some students may find the boxing footage disturbing.)  Have students compare the tone of the movie and its attitude towards Ali with that of the Myers biography.