Barney Ross: The Life of a Jewish Fighter

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"Born Dov-Ber Rasofsky to Eastern European immigrant parents, Barney Ross grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood and witnessed his father's murder, his mother's nervous breakdown, and the dispatching of his three younger siblings to an orphanage, all before he turned fourteen. To make enough money to reunite the family, Ross became a petty thief, a gambler, a messenger boy for Al Capone, and, eventually, an amateur boxer. Turning professional at nineteen, he would capture the lightweight, junior welterweight, and welterweight titles over the
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Barney Ross: The Life of a Jewish Fighter

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Overview

"Born Dov-Ber Rasofsky to Eastern European immigrant parents, Barney Ross grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood and witnessed his father's murder, his mother's nervous breakdown, and the dispatching of his three younger siblings to an orphanage, all before he turned fourteen. To make enough money to reunite the family, Ross became a petty thief, a gambler, a messenger boy for Al Capone, and, eventually, an amateur boxer. Turning professional at nineteen, he would capture the lightweight, junior welterweight, and welterweight titles over the course of a ten-year career." Ross began his career as the scrappy "Jew kid," ended it as an American sports icon, and went on to become a hero during World War II, earning a Silver Star for his heroic actions at Guadalcanal. While recovering from war wounds and malaria he became addicted to morphine, but with fierce effort he ultimately kicked his habit and then campaigned fervently against drug abuse. And the fighter who brought his father's religious books to training camp also retained powerful ties to the world from which he came. Ross worked for the creation of a Jewish state, running guns to Palestine and offering to lead a brigade of Jewish American war veterans.
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Editorial Reviews

Bert Randolph Sugar
Quibbles aside, this is an excellent story of a man and his times. And proof positive that time does not relinquish its hold over men or monuments. In a sport devoted to fashioning halos for its superstars, Ross wore a special nimbus, and this book properly fits him for that. The sport of boxing could surely use another Barney Ross today.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A powerful account of the career of "one of the two greatest Jewish boxers of the twentieth century," this third volume in Schocken's Jewish Encounters series delivers a short but fascinating account of life in Chicago's Maxwell Street ghetto in the 1920s and '30s: "a riotous dream of Jewish gunmen and bookmakers, fighting furriers and smashed-nose boxers." Barney Ross (1909-1967) was the son of Eastern European immigrants; his father was killed in a robbery just before Ross's 14th birthday. The teenage Ross started boxing to earn money to free his siblings from an orphanage and went on to earn three world championship titles. Century (Street Kingdom) evokes the atmosphere of Ross's youth in a notorious neighborhood, as well as his later professional battles, especially a trio of now legendary 1930s bouts with Jimmy "The Babyfaced Assassin" McLarnin: "As the fighters made their entrances, pearl-grey fedoras bobbed expectantly and wisps of cigar smoke swirled into the night sky." Century also charts the "second narrative" of Ross's life, including heroism at Guadalcanal during WWII, a highly publicized struggle with morphine addiction and running guns to Palestine to aid the Jewish fight for a state-to show how Ross's life "was everything the Diaspora tradition had warned Jews not to become, but a fulfillment as well of its secret fantasy." Photos. (Feb. 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Moving biography of the 1930s boxer who fought his way out of a Jewish ghetto in Chicago to become a World Champion and a genuine World War II hero. If there is still a queue of writers mining the Depression Era for racehorses or prizefighters with inspirational stories that will resonate with today's readers, Century (Street Kingdom, 1999) has beaten them to the punch with one Dov Ber "Beryl" Rasofsky (1909-57). Growing up on Chicago's Maxwell Street, Beryl's consummate boxing skills and toughness displayed under the ethnically cleansed moniker of Barney Ross made him one of the last heirs to a largely untold tradition of formidable Jewish pugilists. The author effectively weaves the Depression's neighborhood milieu into Ross's saga: Irish and Italian immigrants, for instance, boisterously revere their brethren who find glory in the prize ring, but Jews, under the watch of an orthodoxy steeped in nonviolence, remain discreetly conflicted. Nonetheless, when Ross emerged from the Golden Gloves championships to turn pro, promoters knew how to push buttons to hype the fights. The atmosphere in a series of epic championship bouts Ross had in the mid-'30s with Italian-American Tony Canzoneri (lightweight) and Canadian Irishman Jimmy McLarnin (welterweight) was often electric with tribal antipathy, Century observes; while orchestras played his opponents into the ring with tarantellas and jigs (respectively), Ross entered to the strains of My Yiddische Mamme. Booze and cigarettes were among the habits haunting Ross into fame and fortune, but along with the typical indulgent, parasitic entourage, it was compulsive gambling that nailed him. Almost as a purge, he enlisted in the Marines and won aSilver Star for action on Guadalcanal. His last fight, which he eventually won, was against the morphine addiction acquired as a result of treatment for war wounds; he died of cancer at 57. A strikingly researched work that's rich with perspective on Jews in America.
From the Publisher
“An excellent story of a man and his times. And proof positive that time does not relinquish its hold over men or monuments. In a sport devoted to fashioning halos for its superstars, Ross wore a special nimbus, and this book properly fi ts him for that.”
—Bert Randolph Sugar, The New York Times Book Review

“Will a better book on the fighter ever be written? I have to doubt it. The research is impressive yet unostentatious. The prose is trim and elegant, and lands its emotional blows with very effective precision . . . Century doesn’t waste a single paragraph.”
—Scott McLemee, Newsday

“Barney Ross’s life is a curious mix: a boxer with a religious streak who was haunted by the death of his own dad. Douglas Century has managed to deal with all of Ross’s contradictions and mysteries, when Jewish fighters were like gods of the ghetto. This is a deeply moving book.”
—Jerome Charyn, author of Savage Shorthand: The Life and Death of Isaac Babel

“Fascinating . . . A powerful account of the career of ‘one of the two greatest Jewish boxers of the twentieth century.’”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“If there is still a queue of writers mining the Depression Era for racehorses or prizefighters with inspirational stories that will resonate with today’s readers, Douglas Century has beaten them to the punch . . . Ross’s consummate boxing skills and toughness made him one of the last heirs to a largely untold tradition of formidable Jewish pugilists.”
Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805242232
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/7/2006
  • Series: Jewish Encounters Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.29 (w) x 7.81 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

DOUGLAS CENTURY is the author, with Rick Cowan, of The New York Times best seller and Edgar Award-winner Takedown: The Fall of the Last Mafi a Empire. Publications he has written for include The New York Times, Details, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian.
He lives in New York City.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2006

    Remarkable Story

    The book is a powerful and effective biography of Barney Ross, a boxing champion whose life was a remarkable series of ups and downs. There are two notable subtexts in the book - one that involves a search for a bygone world of immigrants and ethnic identification, and the other that deals with the uneasy relationship between the intellectual and the physical among 20th century Jews. Whether you are a fan of boxing or not you will appreciate this truly remarkable story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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