The Greatest Fight of Our Generation: Louis vs. Schmeling

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Held on June 22, 1938, in Yankee Stadium, the second Louis-Schmeling fight sparked excitement around the globe. For all its length—the fight lasted but two minutes—it remains one of the most memorable events in boxing history and, indeed, one of the most significant sporting events ever.

In this superb account, Lewis A. Erenberg offers a vivid portrait of Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, their individual careers, and their two epic fights, shedding light on what these fighters represented to their nations, and why their second bout took on such international importance. Erenberg shows how in the first fight Schmeling shocked everyone with a dramatic twelfth-round knockout of Louis, becoming a German national hero and a (unwilling) symbol of Aryan superiority. In fact, the second fight was seen around the world in symbolic terms—as a match between Nazism and American democracy. Erenberg discusses how Louis' dramatic first-round victory was a devastating blow to Hitler, who turned on Schmeling and, during the war, had the boxer (then serving as a paratrooper) sent on a series of dangerous missions. Louis, meanwhile, went from being a hero of his race—"Our Joe"—to the first black champion embraced by all Americans, black and white, an important step forward in United States race relations. Erenberg also describes how, after the war, the two boxers became symbols of German-American reconciliation. With Schmeling as a Coca Cola executive, and Louis down on his luck, the former foes became friends, and when Louis died, Schmeling helped pay for his funeral.

Here then is a stirring and insightful account of one of the great moments in boxing history, a confrontation that provided global theater on an epic scale.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Erenberg does a masterly job of tellnig the story and interweaving the larger historical context, especially regarding race.... An impressive account of an important event."—Barbara Keys, The Journal of American History

"Erenberg's analysis of the key events of 1933 to 1938 is the best of the three works. Erenberg provides a broader context to the story, offering thoughtful discussions of the Depression's impact on German and American-boxing, the startling role of black fighters in 'transforming boxing's image from a gangster-run enterprise to a sport that carried a measure of purpose and idealism,' and how the second fight 'opened the door to a new conception of American identity: civic nationalism and ethnic and racial pluralism.'"—Reviews in American History

"If anything, the title to Lewis Erenberg's book is an understatement. Louis-Schmeling was not just 'the greatest fight of our generation,' it was the greatest sporting event of the 20th century. And here, in well-researched detail, Erenberg captures the two participants and their importance in what can best be described as 'The War to Come.' On all scorecards, this book can be judged, in boxing parlance, 'a winner.'"—Bert Randolph Sugar, Boxing Hall of Fame Historian

"Erenberg's The Greatest Fight of Our Generation has the keenest sense of how the fight reflected the growing internationalization of sports and the interesction of manhood and politics in American culture at the time."—The Nation

"Set against a backdrop of the Great Depression and World War II, Lewis Erenberg captures not only the excitement, but Erenberg gives us the boxers themselves and the fights they waged, but equally important, he shows us how the historical context—racial divisions, economic collapse, international conflict—elevated great fighters like Joe Louis and Max Schmeling to the level of gods. This is exciting history."—Elliott Gorn, Brown University

"Erenberg makes the case that the heaveyweight title fight between then-champion Joe Louis, a black American, and Max Schmeling, a German, on June 22, 1938, was the most important sports event of its time and one of the most important in American history.... There seems to be more than a little truth in the idea, as Erenberg suggests, that the second Louis-Schmeling fight redefined the position of the African-American and the ideology of race in the U.S. It was the beginning of the world of American race relations as we know it today."—Gerald Early, Chicago Tribune

"Excellent.... Has injected some interest (at least on my couch) in the heavyweight division."—George Solomon, he Washington Post

"Lewis Erenber's lively analysis of the Joe Lewis-Max Schmeling fight in 1938 explains not only the meaning of the fight itself, but also how Joe Louis's triumph over a German fighter in the age of Hitler dulled the power of racism in the United States. Joe Lewis personified and furthered the efforts of African Americansto throw off the yoke of white superiority. Max Schmeling, though embraced by the Nazis, protected Jews against persecution. Brilliantly argued and beautifully written, the book offers insights into the lives and personalities of the fighters as well as their fans. The book will no doubt become a classic in the fields of transnational history and cultural studies."—Lary May, author of The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way

"[Erenberg's] account of Schmeling is certainly the most thorough and sympathetic to date." —The Historian

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195319996
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/29/2007
  • Series: Oxford History of Art Ser.
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lewis A. Erenberg is Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. An authority on World War II and American culture, he has been on NPR, the Milt Rosenberg Show, and the Studs Terkel program and has been interviewed for articles in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Vanity Fair, and The Nation.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : "more than a prizefight" 1
1 Down but not out : boxing in the great depression 7
2 Coming off the canvas : the renaissance of boxing in the great depression 37
3 Max Schmeling's Sieg - Ein Deutscher Sieg (Max Schmeling's victory - a German victory) 71
4 The Braddock affair and the color line 103
5 The greatest fight of our generation 134
6 This is the army 166
7 Last rounds 199
Epilogue : winners and losers 223
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