The Professional

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Originally published in 1958, The Professional is the story of boxer Eddie Brown's quest for the middleweight championship of the world. But it is so much more. W. C. Heinz not only serves up a realistic depiction of the circus-like atmosphere around boxing with its assorted hangers-on, crooked promoters, and jaded journalists, but he gives us two memorable characters in Eddie Brown and in Brown's crusty trainer, Doc Carroll. They are at the heart of this poignant story as they bond together with their eye on the...

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The Professional: A Novel

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Originally published in 1958, The Professional is the story of boxer Eddie Brown's quest for the middleweight championship of the world. But it is so much more. W. C. Heinz not only serves up a realistic depiction of the circus-like atmosphere around boxing with its assorted hangers-on, crooked promoters, and jaded journalists, but he gives us two memorable characters in Eddie Brown and in Brown's crusty trainer, Doc Carroll. They are at the heart of this poignant story as they bond together with their eye on the only prize that matters—the middleweight championship. The Professional is W. C. Heinz at the top of his game—the writer who covered the fights better than anyone else of his era, whose lean sentences, rough-and-ready dialogue, dry wit, and you-are-there style helped lay the foundation for the New Journalism of Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese, and Tom Wolfe. And all the trademark qualities of W. C. Heinz are on ample display in this novel that Pete Hamill described as "one of the five best sports novels ever written."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Esquire (website), 2/17/12
“It's about fighting, but it's also about watching and listening, and it's about patience, and honing, and craft, and sparseness, and beauty, and crushing, awful defeat.”

Men’s Journal,11 Best Cult Sports Books, 1/18/13
“The author of this book received two congratulatory notes upon its publication in 1958: one from Elmore Leonard and the other from Ernest Hemingway, who called it ‘the only good novel I’ve ever read about a fighter.’…Style-wise, the book owes much to Papa—though it deserves its own championship belt.”

Entertainment Weekly
Selected as the "It Lit Comeback".
Boston Globe
To read 'The Professional' the fabulous first novel of writer W. C. Heinz, is to visit a world that no longer exists...
Ernest Hemingway
The Professional is the only good novel about a fighter that I've ever read...
Associated Press
The best boxing novel ever.
Jeff McGregor
Tells his stories the way Heifitz fiddled or Hopper painted, or the way Willie Pep boxed—with a kind of lyrical understatement.
Sports Illustrated
Vanity Fair
No one will ever produce work of comparable range.
Elmore Leonard
Every W.C. Heinz sentence is as clear and cold as an ice cube.
Boston Herald
One of the most respected sportswriters of the 20th century, a peer of Damon Runyon, A. J. Liebling, and Red Smith.
Library Journal
Heinz's first novel offers the story of boxer Eddie Brown and his manager, Doc Carroll, on their way to a shot at the middleweight championship title. Since its 1958 publication, the book has garnered a loyal following of fans, including Ernest Hemingway, who declared it "the only good novel I've ever read about a fighter." This edition includes a terrific new foreword by Elmore Leonard. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306810589
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 5/10/2007
  • Edition description: First Da Capo Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 134,376
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

W. C. Heinz is the coauthor of Run to Daylight, the best-selling autobiography of Vince Lombardi, and MASH, the novel that later became a successful movie and TV series. Da Capo recently published an omnibus collection of his best sportswriting, What a Time It Was. W. C. Heinz lives in Vermont.

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Read an Excerpt

Foreword by Elmore Leonard

The way I remember it, I read The Professional when it came out in January 1958, and for the first and only time in my life wrote to the author to tell him how much I liked his book.

I must have taken months to work up the nerve, because the reply from Bill Heinz, which came within a few days, was dated October 11, 1958, my birthday. He wrote:

You are only the second person, outside my circle of friends and acquaintances, who has felt impelled to comment to me or the publisher about The Professional. The first was Ernest Hemingway, who cabled his compliments to Harper's about six days after the book came out. You are a writer, however, and understand, as does, of course, Papa, and that is what gives your letter added importance to me.

In my letter I told Bill that I'd bought the book or got it from the library -- I'm not sure now which it was -- after reading a review in Time. In his letter, Bill said it must have been Newsweek, because "Time blasted it and me."

But I'm positive it was the Time review and still recall it being extremely unkind to both the work and Bill's style.

I got hold of the review again recently to see why it prompted me to read the book. It appeared in the magazine's February 13, 1958, issue and it was brutal: an opinion laden with showoff references -- the British critic Cyril Connolly, for God's sake -- the reviewer pontificating on his belief that sportswriters should stick to sportswriting and not "tangle with the elusive opponent, literature." It was acceptable, though, to wax literary in writing the review, despairing that "you cannot write novels about boxers with boxing gloves." Read that again. I think he meant wearing the gloves when writing, but who knows? It belongs in that filler The New Yorker used to run called "Block That Metaphor."

Reading the review I must have been thinking, The man doesn't get it. He admits the story is a wonderful example of tough prose, but still doesn't get it. He says, "It's about the fight game, see." Which is what reviewers do, end sentences with the word "see" to indicate that anyone can write tough prose. All you do is imagine Cagney, or Edward G. Robinson, talking out the side of his mouth.

Since there was no byline, I asked Bill recently if he knew who wrote the review. He said "No, they used to shoot from the woods in those days."

Perhaps the review irritated me to the point where I had to read the book. I did, I ate it up, and told Bill as well as I could why I liked it.

In his letter in '58 he said,

It pleases me that you observed how I employed dialogue in character development. I have long felt that most writers get between the reader and the characters. Characters, to live, must be permitted to think for themselves, each with his own manner of speech and level of thought. The writer should be kept out of there. He should not tell, but show.

If I was praising his work for the right reasons, I must have been on the right track at an early stage of learning to write fiction, developing a style I might be able to handle. At least I knew the difference between showing and telling, allowing the characters and their voices to carry the story.

But it was Bill Heinz who brought it home in his letters, and showed exactly how to do it in his book. He said in that first letter, "Also I'm happy that you admired the restraint. The best fighters I have known have all had that -- the ability to keep the fight moving at their distance and always directly in front of them, pursuing their aim with a quiet purpose with all kinds of hell breaking loose on all sides from the throats of amateurs."

Perhaps that will always be true, the showy writer, novelist, or critic, getting more attention than the pro.

Shortly after our exchange of those first letters, Bill arrived in Detroit to interview Gordie Howe, then the backbone of the Red Wings, for The Saturday Evening Post. Bill came to our home for dinner on a Sunday and missed his ride with Howe to Olympia, where the Wings played their games at that time. Howe lived only a few blocks from us, but I got Bill to his house a few minutes late. The outcome, we drove down to Olympia together, I got to meet the Wings and watch the hockey game from the press box. After he returned home to Connecticut, Bill sent a copy of The Professional inscribed to my wife and me: "Two fine people who, one Sunday in Lathrup Village, saved my life." But the highest point of Bill's visit, for me, was spending a couple of evenings with him, listening to his stories about boxers and ballplayers and talking about writing and Ernest Hemingway.

He told me that he met Hemingway during the war in Germany, when he was covering the Allied advance for the New York Sun and Hemingway was sending his dispatches to Collier's. Hemingway had taken over a house in the Hurtgen Forest that became a meeting place for the correspondents. Bill presented Hemingway with a bottle of Scotch in appreciation of the man's work. Hemingway was so moved he urged Bill to use his bedroom, rather than sleep on a cot in the attic, for as long as Bill was there -- an invitation to a stranger that Bill found touching but that he turned down.

It was Toots Shor, the New York restaurateur, who sent a copy of The Professional to Hemingway in Cuba. Hemingway cabled the publisher his reaction to the book. Bill's editor called to relay the quote, and as soon as they'd hung up Bill told his wife, Betty.

Quote: The Professional is the only good novel I've ever read about a fighter and an excellent first novel in its own right. Hemingway. Unquote.

"Well," Betty said, "I think we should have a drink." They sat, late that afternoon, before the fire in the house in Connecticut, sipping their drinks, silent at first, and then she said, "You know, I remember when you were first starting to write your short stories. After working all day you'd come out looking depressed and you'd go over to the bookcase and take something of Hemingway's down and read it. This must be the greatest day in your life."

"If you don't stop," he said, "I'll start to cry."

"A tear," she said, "just dropped in my drink."

Bill wrote and thanked Hemingway, telling him what Betty had said and mentioned the panning he had taken from Time. Hemingway wrote back:

What I cabled was straight, and you believe it. Critics, mostly, don't know much about it. They can't tell the players without a scorecard.

It was Betty who had prompted Bill to write the book he had been thinking about for several years. He had sold a piece on Eddie Arcaro to Look magazine for a lot of money and Betty said, "Now you can afford to write your book, so write it." Nine months later The Professional went to Harper, and they grabbed it.

By the time I had turned to the second page of the book, I was aware of Hemingway's influence. It was Bill's use of the word and.

She was sitting there with another woman, and they were in their late thirties and their coats and accessories were obviously new and selected with too much care and not much taste.

The sentence is simple, an observation that shows an attention to details; but notice how the words are put in motion, given almost a feeling of drama, by the repeated use of "and." Newsweek said in its review that "Heinz writes with spare, Hemingway force." The Saturday Review: "A novel as good as The Professional is in no way a mere derivative of 'Fifty Grand'. It would have been written exactly as it was, and just as effectively, even if Hemingway's story had never been published."

Forty-three years ago reading The Professional, I began to see ways Bill Heinz stripped his prose of unnecessary words. I realized that said is the only verb you need to carry dialogue.

"What time is it?" Doc said, as we were finishing.

"One-twenty," I said.

"That's right," Eddie said. "We better get to the studio."

"You know why I'm doing this?" Doc said to me.


"I'm a kindly old man. I feel sorry for that dame."

"Ethel Morse?"

"Whatever her name is."

The verb said nails it, gives it a beat. You don't need answered, replied, suggested, averred, any of those. I learned also that you don't need an adverb to explain how the line of dialogue is said. "Adverbs get in the way," I now state authoritatively. They can destroy the rhythm of the sentence, distract, stop the flow of words cold. An adverb modifier is the author's word, not the character's; and if he is to remain invisible, his words must be kept out of the prose.

If there is even one adverb modifying the verb said in The Professional a copy editor slipped it in when Bill wasn't looking.

You cannot imagine how important it was for me to learn these unwritten rules of writing. I had been writing fiction, Westerns, for only the past seven years. I knew I didn't want to write in the classic style of the omniscient author, I didn't have the voice for it, the language. Studying Hemingway I felt I was getting close to the style I wanted to develop. I began reading The Professional and there it was on every page.

In May 1959, I sent Bill a copy of one of my Westerns and told him I was working on another. In his reply he said, "I would like you to work at developing character through conversation -- each person talks differently and so defines himself. You must be able to see and hear each character as he talks. You've got to try for a cleaner cleavage between the various manners of speech and of thought development."

The review of The Professional in The New Yorker said:

This precise, poignant, and absolutely honest book examines, almost day by day, the month of training a middleweight prizefighter, Eddie Brown, undergoes at an upstate New York summer resort before his first crack at the world championship after nine years in the ring. It ends just after the fight, and the outcome, if devastating, is not in the least pitiless.

That's what the book is about.

But to me it's so much more. Over the years I've spoken endlessly of Hemingway being a major influence, failing to mention W. C. Heinz as the all-important link, the next step. It has taken a rereading of The Professional for me to see clearly where I came from.

Thanks, Bill.

--Elmore Leonard

Copyright Elmore Leonard, Inc. Reprinted by permission.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2011


    Heinz is one of the most underrated writers of the 20th century.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2003

    Great book on the fight game

    W.C. Heinz does a terrific job of capturing the atmosphere of a boxer's training camp and places the reader right in the middle of it. Absolutely great! If anyone wants to discuss the ending, please feel free to e-mail me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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