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Blood Brothers
Cover of Blood Brothers
Blood Brothers
The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X
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The first book to bring to life the influential friendship between Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali


In 1962, no one believed that the obnoxious Cassius Clay would ever become the heavyweight champion of the world. But Malcolm X saw the potential in Clay, not just for boxing greatness, but as a means of spreading the Nation of Islam's radical message. Malcolm secretly molded Clay into Muhammad Ali—a patriotic boxing star in public, and a radical reformer behind the scenes. Soon, however, their friendship would sour, with disastrous and far-reaching consequences.


Based on previously untapped sources, Blood Brothers is the first book to offer an in-depth portrait of this complex bond. An extraordinary narrative of love, betrayal, and violence, this story is a window into the lives of two of our greatest national icons, and the tumultuous period in American history that they helped to shape.

The first book to bring to life the influential friendship between Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali


In 1962, no one believed that the obnoxious Cassius Clay would ever become the heavyweight champion of the world. But Malcolm X saw the potential in Clay, not just for boxing greatness, but as a means of spreading the Nation of Islam's radical message. Malcolm secretly molded Clay into Muhammad Ali—a patriotic boxing star in public, and a radical reformer behind the scenes. Soon, however, their friendship would sour, with disastrous and far-reaching consequences.


Based on previously untapped sources, Blood Brothers is the first book to offer an in-depth portrait of this complex bond. An extraordinary narrative of love, betrayal, and violence, this story is a window into the lives of two of our greatest national icons, and the tumultuous period in American history that they helped to shape.

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About the Author-
  • Randy Roberts is a distinguished professor of history at Purdue University. An award-winning author, he has written biographies of iconic athletes and celebrities, including Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Bear Bryant, and John Wayne. Roberts lives in Lafayette, Indiana.
    Johnny Smith is an assistant professor of American history at Georgia Tech. He is the author of The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty that Changed College Basketball. Smith lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 21, 2015
    In this provocative history, sports historians Roberts and Smith examine the relationship between two central figures of the 1960s: Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The day after Cassius Clay’s unlikely upset of Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title, he shook up the world one more time by pledging allegiance to the Nation of Islam. In the eyes of America, Clay’s transformation into Muhammad Ali was blamed on the man who had stood at his side over the previous months: the notorious NOI minister Malcolm X. The truth, as Roberts and Smith make pellucid, was far more complex. Ali spurned Malcolm for the Nation, and Ali’s meteoric rise makes a disturbing contrast to the persecution and murder of his former mentor and friend. Roberts and Smith map the relationship between the troubled icons in painstaking detail and debunk long-held assumptions about their break. At the same time, they too easily assign motivations and opinions to both men that, while intriguing, seem largely speculative. Malcolm may indeed have seen Ali as his path to reaching a larger audience, but it’s hard to believe that the activist was as naive about the boxer as the authors make him out to be. Nevertheless, Roberts and Smith bring a fresh perspective to the story in the civil rights movement, and capture the ferment of the broader era. Christy Fletcher, Fletcher and Co.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from December 15, 2015
    How Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and then an enemy of his mentor and friend Malcolm X. These two titanic lives intersected for less than two years, with huge consequences for each man. Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam's most visible minister and spokesman, confirmed the young Clay's deep suspicions about the white man and wooed him for the Nation. Malcolm's incendiary rhetoric astonished Clay, who believed God protected him. How else could Malcolm be so bold and remain alive? In the run-up to Clay's historic upset of champion Sonny Liston, Malcolm filled the young boxer with confidence, privately advised him, supplied him with a business adviser, and shared many meals and moments of intimate family time. Malcolm loved Clay and quickly understood his potential cultural impact and the glittering youth's value as a propaganda tool for the sclerotic Nation. When Clay denounced his "slave name" and was anointed as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm understood he'd lost an intense power struggle with the Nation's leader, Elijah Muhammad, and that it was only a matter of time before he'd be killed. Roberts (History/Purdue Univ.; A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game that Rallied a Nation at War, 2011, etc.) and Smith (American History/Georgia Tech; The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty that Changed College Basketball, 2013, etc.) minutely examine the construction and tortured dissolution of this friendship, highlighting the influence of their fathers on their sensitive sons and the varying masks they adopted to navigate their worlds of prizefighting and politics. Backdropping the authors' main tale are incisive looks at Ali's showmanship, his almost single-handed resurrection of boxing, and the befuddlement of sportswriters confronted with his conversion. They sharply detail Malcolm's growing disillusionment with Elijah, his heartbreak at the loss of Ali's allegiance, and the ugly dynamic within the Nation that left the defiant minister murdered. A page-turning tale from the 1960s about politics and sports and two proud, extraordinary men whose legacies endure.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from January 1, 2016

    Shortly before becoming heavyweight champion of the world in 1964, Cassius Clay Jr. (b. 1942) became involved with the black supremacist sect, the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X (1925-65), a fiery though thoughtful minister within the sect, formed a symbiotic relationship with Clay. Malcolm helped Clay develop as a worldwide figure, and having Clay as a protege served the ambitious Malcolm. Over time, Clay, who changed his name to Muhammad Ali, had to choose between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad, the aging and less charismatic leader of the Nation of Islam. Coauthors Roberts (history, Purdue Univ.) and Smith (history, Georgia Tech Univ.) argue that in losing Ali, Malcolm lost the centerpiece of his ascendance and then his protective cover; within months Malcolm was assassinated by his former cohorts. VERDICT This book offers a significant contribution to serious studies of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and the Nation of Islam.--Jim Burns, formerly with Jacksonville P.L.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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