Cover image for A flame of pure fire : Jack Dempsey and the roaring '20s
A flame of pure fire : Jack Dempsey and the roaring '20s
Kahn, Roger.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt Brace & Co., [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 474 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GV1132.D4 K35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GV1132.D4 K35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
GV1132.D4 K35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
GV1132.D4 K35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
GV1132.D4 K35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
GV1132.D4 K35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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Jack Dempsey was perfectly suited to the time in which he fought, the time when the United States first felt the throb of its own overwhelming power. For eight years and two months after World War I, Dempsey, with his fierce good looks and matchless dedication to the kill, was heavyweight champion of the world. A Flame of Pure Fire is the extraordinary story of a man and a country growing to maturity in a blaze of strength and exuberance that nearly burned them to ash. Hobo, roughneck, fighter, lover, millionaire, movie star, and, finally, a gentleman of rare generosity and sincerity, Dempsey embodied an America grappling with the confusing demands of preeminence. Dempsey lived a life that touched every part of the American experience in the first half of the twentieth century. Roger Kahn, one of our preeminent writers about the human side of sport, has found in Dempsey a subject that matches his own manifold talents. A friend of Dempsey's and an insightful observer of the ways in which sport can measure a society's evolution, Kahn reaches a new and exciting stage in his acclaimed career with this book. In the story of a man John Lardner called "a flame of pure fire, at last a hero," Roger Kahn finds the heart of America.

Author Notes

Renowned as the author of the award-winning bestseller The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn is the author of sixteen books whose subjects range from baseball to political activism, and was one of the first sportswriters to write honestly about race relations in baseball. He has been on the staffs of the New York Herald Tribune, Sports Illustrated, and Newsweek. His work has won five Best Magazine Story prizes and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Born in Brooklyn, he now lives in Croton, New York.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The 1920s were the dawn of the era of celebrity in the U.S., and sports figures were among the first to be lionized. Boxer Jack Dempsey was one of America's four great sports celebrities in the twenties along with Knute Rockne, Red Grange, and Babe Ruth. Dempsey demolished a Goliath named Jess Willard for the heavyweight title in 1919 and held it until he was beaten by Gene Tunney in 1926. His reign at the top was relatively brief, but the country's fascination with--and affection for--Dempsey remained unabated for the rest of his life. He was a common man who learned to box in saloons, back alleys, and camp fights--the prototypical Rocky. Kahn, the celebrated author of The Boys of Summer (1972), knew Dempsey from the champ's days as a successful New York restaurateur in the sixties when Kahn was a young reporter. In a prophetic anecdote, Dempsey thought Kahn would make a good coauthor on his biography, but he'd already promised the job to a fellow named Hemingway. Kahn's admiration for Dempsey is obvious, and although his research is extensive, this is less an exercise in scholarship than in what Kahn refers to as "unbridled romanticism." Kahn's portrait of Dempsey is detailed and rife with humor and period detail. It's that detail that provides the context in which readers can observe Dempsey slugging it out in mining camps, coping with often scurrilous promoters (some things never change), and eventually coming to rest on the top of the world. Expect significant demand for this beautifully written portrait. --Wes Lukowsky

Publisher's Weekly Review

"He was the wild and raucous champion of the wild and raucous 1920s," writes Kahn (The Boys of Summer, etc.) of the legendary heavyweight William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey. This "hobo, roughneck, brawler, fighter, slacker, lover, millionaire, gentleman" provides Kahn a vehicle for chronicling the jazz age itself. Dempsey emerged out of the still-wild West, having fought in mining towns throughout Utah and Colorado, lean and hungry for success as his country stood on the precipice of unprecedented wealth and power. His transformation from rural tough, the "Manassa Mauler," into the preeminent athlete in the world marked the arrival of sport as big business in a prosperous new America. When he won the heavyweight championship in 1919, Dempsey did it in front of 20,000 people. Less than eight years later, he drew a crowd of 120,000 for his first bout with Gene Tunney (which he lost), still the largest ever in boxing, and made a fortune. In graceful and fluid prose, Kahn presents the con men, gangsters, prostitutes and starlets who inhabited the turbulent, Prohibition-era story of Jack Dempsey. The larger-than-life storytellers of the ageÄlegendary sportswriters like Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner and Damon RunyonÄfeature prominently. Kahn delivers a performance of which any of those whiskey-swilling, rakish scribes would have been proud. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Top sports writer Kahn (The Boys of Summer) steps into the ring with heavyweight champ Dempsey. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. xi
Book 1 The Thorns of Glory
1 When All the Seas Ran Dryp. 3
2 The Rocky Road to Toledo, Ohiop. 29
3 A Strange and Violent Heat Wavep. 49
4 The Left Hook from Olympusp. 69
5 The Champion and the Whorep. 100
Book 2 Loser and Still Ghampion
6 Pilgrimagep. 171
7 Preliminariesp. 198
8 The Battle of the Centuryp. 223
9 Strange Interludep. 270
10 The Champ's Best Fightp. 320
11 Disorder and Sorrowp. 351
12 Loser and Still Championp. 402
Epiloguep. 427
Acknowledgmentsp. 445
Bibliographyp. 451
Indexp. 457