Book details

Blood Brothers

The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X

By Randy Roberts, By Johnny Smith

  • ISBN13: 9780465079704
  • Pub Date: 02/02/2016 | Price: $28.99 / $37.50 CAN
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Trim: 6.38 x 9.50 Inches | 392 Pages
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About the Book

In 1962, boxing writers and fans considered Cassius Clay an obnoxious self-promoter, and few believed that he would become the heavyweight champion of the world. But Malcolm X, the most famous minister in the Nation of Islam-a sect many white Americans deemed a hate cult-saw the potential in Clay, not just for boxing greatness, but as a means of spreading the Nation's message. The two became fast friends, keeping their interactions secret from the press for fear of jeopardizing Clay's career. Clay began living a double life-a patriotic "good Negro" 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, from Malcolm's personal papers to FBI records, Blood Brothers is the first book to offer an in-depth portrait of this complex bond. Acclaimed historians Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith reconstruct the worlds that shaped Malcolm and Clay, from the boxing arenas and mosques, to postwar New York and civil rights-era Miami. In an impressively detailed account, they reveal how Malcolm molded Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali, helping him become an international symbol of black pride and black independence. Yet when Malcolm was barred from the Nation for criticizing the philandering of its leader, Elijah Muhammad, Ali turned his back on Malcolm-a choice that tragically contributed to the latter's assassination in February 1965.

Malcolm's death marked the end of a critical phase of the civil rights movement, but the legacy of his friendship with Ali has endured. We inhabit a new era where the roles of entertainer and activist, of sports and politics, are more entwined than ever before. Blood Brothers is the story of how Ali redefined what it means to be a black athlete in America-after Malcolm first enlightened him. An extraordinary narrative of love and deep affection, as well as deceit, betrayal, and violence, this story is a window into the public and private lives of two of our greatest national icons, and the tumultuous period in American history that they helped to shape.

About the Author

Randy Roberts is distinguished professor of history at Purdue University. An award-winning author, he focuses on the intersection of popular and political culture, and has written or co-written biographies of such iconic athletes and celebrities as Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Bear Bryant, Oscar Robertson, John Wayne and Muhammad Ali, as well as books on the Vietnam War, the Alamo, the 1973-1974 college basketball season, and West Point football during World War II. A Season in the Sun is the second book he has written with Johnny Smith. Roberts lives in Lafayette, Indiana.

Johnny Smith
is the Julius C. "Bud" Shaw Professor in Sports, Society, and Technology and an Assistant Professor of History at Georgia Tech. He is the co-author of Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (with Randy Roberts) and the author of The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty That Changed College Basketball. Smith lives in Atlanta, Georgia.


Winner of the 2017 North American Society for Sport History Book Award

Wall Street Journal, David Margolick:
"[An] absorbing and provocative new book... An engrossing and important book."

New York Times
Book Review:

"A rigorously
researched book that gracefully pivots between the world of the ring and
the racial politics of the early '60s."

Washington Post:
"Earnest and...smartly constructed."

Review, James Rosen:

researched and tautly written, Blood Brothers marks a
milestone in the biographical literature of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali,
an invaluable addition to our understanding of America in the 1960s. In
all it touches the far-flung but interconnected worlds of
race, religion, politics, sports, cities, organized crime, and the news
media...this sober and detailed book, a dual biography that
alternates between protagonists like a suspense novel, renders profound
service. The authors unearth reams of new evidence, shine light on
long-overlooked episodes, and hack away at the barnacles of mythology,
thereby giving us the finest portrait yet of the doomed relationship
that transformed Cassius Clay into Muhammad

"Though their individual
lives have been explored through previous books and movies, Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and
Malcolm X
delves into the close kinship these men shared, and
the reasons it ultimately fell apart."

Library Journal:
"This book offers a significant contribution to serious studies of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and the Nation of Islam."

New York Post:
The authors give us a thorough examination of the relationship between the two icons in the context of the black experience and the turbulent 1960s. White America blamed Malcolm for Cassius Clay's transformation to Muhammad Ali, but the truth is more complicated, involving the split between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam. We're brought back to the champ's early boxing days and see how the brash Ali whom America came to know developed."

City Journal:
"The broad outlines of the Ali/Malcolm drama are well known, but Roberts and Smith emphasize how crucial each was to the other's destiny: Ali's as a global figure of black pride and Malcolm's as a martyred black visionary. They provide more exhaustive detail than previously available, aided by newly released FBI files and personal papers. And they infuse the tale with sharp insights and an impending sense of tragedy...Blood Brothers reminds us of a time when an heroic image of Ali would have seemed as unlikely as the idea that Cassius Clay could beat Sonny Liston, or that a big-budget Hollywood film would someday venerate the life of Malcolm X."

Publishers Weekly:
[A] provocative
history...Roberts and Smith map the relationship between the troubled
icons in painstaking detail and debunk long-held assumptions about
their break...Roberts and Smith bring a fresh perspective to the story
in the civil rights movement, and capture the ferment of the broader


and Smith] 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

The Times:
"Thanks to Randy
Roberts and Johnny Smith's enthralling narrative we now have a
better understanding of how a complex relationship was born, and how it

Boston Globe, Allen Barra:
A unique hybrid of race,
politics, and sports; it is easy to read yet gives rise to sober
reflection. It fills a gap in our understanding of one of the most
fascinating relationships in American


Roberts and Smith have written the first book examining the complex bond
between the two men, who met in 1962 as the young Louisville boxer
Cassius Clay was making a name for

"Roberts and Smith portray
both of these courageous and controversial, inspired and inspiring men
with fresh, stinging clarity, and extend our perception of the
interconnectivity of race, religion, sports, and media during this
violent and transformative era, which is so very germane

Los Angeles Times:
"Armed with
redacted FBI files and rare archival material, the historians challenge
standard accounts of the friendship and use their revision to illuminate
the moment when the civil rights era, anti-colonial struggles and the
baby boomers' coming of age coalesced to reshape the world in ways that
still resonate...In convincing detail, Blood
traces Ali's rise to international celebrity while
Malcolm was stalked and harassed by the Fruit of
Islam, the paramilitary group that enforced obedience to the

Dallas Morning

"In the most detailed account
to date of this fascinating bond, professors of history Randy Roberts
(Purdue) and Johnny Smith (Georgia Tech) unveil a story few Americans
know, arguing that Ali and Malcolm were much more than mere
acquaintances; their symbiotic relationship, with Ali as pupil and
Malcolm as mentor, was deeply important to each man. From
beginning to end, Blood Brothers is a story of


is shedding light on the secret friendship between
boxing great Muhammad Ali and civil rights leader Malcolm

"In earlier works, Randy
Roberts and Johnny Smith have used their skills as professional
historians to pierce the veil of myth, hero worship, and hype that mars
so much sports journalism. In this illuminating joint effort, Blood Brothers tells the story of a strange
friendship marked by initial affection, cold manipulation, and ultimate
estrangement. They show that Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, so brave and
assertive in their public lives, shared another bond stronger than
friendship: fear of assassination by their spiritual mentor, Elijah
-Howell Raines, former executive editor of the New York

"There's brilliant
history in this crackling story of two men whose tragic brotherhood
changed America. Absorbing and essential
-Robert Lipsyte, former
sports columnist for the New York

"Well researched and spritely written, Blood Brothers is, by far, the most complete and detailed account of the friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, and how black nationalist politics profoundly changed how black athletes saw big-time sports in America. Blood Brothers fills in important gaps for those who know the story and provides a gripping, informative history for those who do not."
-Gerald Early, editor of the Muhammad Ali Reader and author of A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports