cover of book

John L. Sullivan and His America
by Michael T. Isenberg
University of Illinois Press, 1988
Cloth: 978-0-252-01381-2 | Paper: 978-0-252-06434-0
Library of Congress Classification GV1132.S95I84 1988
Dewey Decimal Classification 796.830924


The "Great John L." reigned supreme as world heavyweight champion from his victory over Paddy Ryan in 1882 until James J. Corbett knocked him out in 1892. A drunkard, a wastrel, an adulterer, a wife beater, and a bully, Sullivan still became American's first national sports hero and represented the hopes and aspirations of millions of people. 

Michael Isenberg traces Sullivan's eventful life from his humble beginnings in Boston to the height of his immense popularity. The boxer moved as easily in the world of reputable workingmen as he did in the shadowlands on the margins of the sport while his success played a major role in transforming boxing into a profitable and ultimately legitimate business. Tapping previously unexplored archival material--including the notorious National Police Gazette and the other sporting papers of the day--Isenberg tells us why presidents, princes, and turn-of-the-century Americans accepted Sullivan as a hero, even as others vilified him for his drunken and belligerent behavior.

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