Reviewed by Robert Anasi. It's been a quarter-century since Mike Tyson demolished Michael Spinks in 91 seconds to become the youngest lineal heavyweight champion in boxing history. Today, the world in which he took center stage seems impossibly distant. In 1988, boxing was the only major combat sport (UFC 1 was five years away) and American cities were trapped in a cycle of violence—a disaster propelled by social neglect and drug wars. Pundits likened inner cities to war zones and chose incarcerating a generation of African-American men as a final solution. As a child of this blighted landscape, Tyson became the boogeyman of white-flight nightmare. It was a role he embraced—one that proved very lucrative. Boxing was in a long decline, but every one of Tyson's fights became a major event. He brought in the celebrities and high rollers, filling casinos and pumping pay-per-view buys with a charisma unmatched by any heavyweight since Muhammad Ali. From the safe remove of their television screens, America loved to hate (or perversely love) Tyson, whom they perceived as a scary black man. This fascination should have faded after Tyson lost the title to Buster Douglas, or when he went to prison for rape, but the Tyson train wreck became an ever bigger attraction, whether he was biting Holyfield's ear, wrestling his pet tiger, or turning up on yet another police blotter. As Tyson notes, "I had fought eight rounds since I got out of jail and I had earned $80 million." When he declared that he wanted to eat Lennox Lewis's children, or drive an opponent's nasal bone into his brain, he was channeling his favorite comic book villain, but the world took him at face value. As Tyson inflicted ever greater amounts of coke and booze on his fragile sanity, he too seemed to forget that he was playing a role. Later stints in rehab and devotion to a 12-step program have brought Tyson a measure of calm. Undisputed Truth contains very little of that substance. Tyson opens the book with a fervent denunciation of his rape conviction. First he's condemning his behavior, next he's bragging about how he invented the hip-hop gangsta mafioso and listing all the women he had sex with. This unreliable narrator makes the truth difficult to locate. Tyson's changing roles—from gangsta to fighter, to recovering addict—are intriguing, but utterly scrambled. Sloman has cowritten numerous books with celebrities, including Peter Criss and Howard Stern, but Undisputed Truth adds up to little more than Iron Mike ranting into a tape recorder. It's a missed opportunity. The most interesting chapters come early, as he describes his difficult upbringing in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and his equivocal salvation at the hands of Cus D'Amato, who saw a future heavyweight champion in the fists of an insecure thug. D'Amato, in fact, is the only figure who comes across as fully human, and his manipulation of the young Tyson is both fascinating and disturbing. When covering the period after D'Amato's death, the book becomes an angry, depressed blur, which may well be how Tyson experienced it. Tyson, and others, were as much victims of his notoriety as they were beneficiaries. Tyson puts it in no uncertain terms: "I hate Mike Tyson. I mostly wish the worst for Mike Tyson. That's why I don't like my friends or myself." This time, there's no doubting his words. Robert Anasi is the author of The Gloves, a Boxing Chronicle and The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He lives in Long Beach, Calif.
Former heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson has written a book. Did you know he is a vegan?
An exhaustive--and exhausting--chronicle of the champ's boxing career and disastrous life. Tyson was dealt an unforgiving hand as a child, raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in a "horrific, tough and gruesome" environment populated by "loud, aggressive" people who "smelled like raw sewage." A first-grade dropout with several break-ins under his belt by age 7, his formal education resumed when he was placed in juvenile detention at age 11, but the lesson he learned at home was to do absolutely anything to survive. Two years later, his career path was set when he met legendary boxing trainer Cus D'Amato. However, Tyson's temperament never changed; if anything, it hardened when he took on the persona of Iron Mike, a merciless and savage fighter who became undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. By his own admission, he was an "arrogant sociopath" in and out of the ring, and he never reconciled his thuggish childhood with his adult self--nor did he try. He still partied with pimps, drug addicts and hustlers, and he was determined to feed all of his vices and fuel several drug addictions at the cost of his freedom (he recounts his well-documented incarcerations), sanity and children. Yet throughout this time, he remained a voracious reader, and he compares himself to Clovis and Charlemagne and references Camus, Sartre, Mao Zedong and Nietzsche's "Overman" in casual conversation. Tyson is a slumdog philosopher whose insatiable appetites have ruined his life many times over. He remains self-loathing and pitiable, and his tone throughout the book is sardonic, exasperated and indignant, his language consistently crude. The book, co-authored by Sloman (co-author: Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss, 2012, etc.), reads like his journal; he updated it after reading the galleys and added "A Postscript to the Epilogue" as well. At this rate, Tyson may write a multivolume memoir as he continues to struggle and survive.
“A masterpiece … grimly tragic on one page, laugh-out-loud funny on the next, and unrelentingly vulgar and foul-mouthed. Reading Tyson's memoir is like watching a Charles Dickens street urchin grow up to join Hunter S. Thompson on a narcotics-filled road trip — with the ensuing antics captured on video by assorted paparazzi.” –Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
“Undisputed Truth is raw, powerful and disturbing—a head-spinning take on Mr. Tyson's life…Unlike other sports memoirists, he doesn't pull punches, offering up slashing comments on people who were once close to him. His narrative reminds us of just how far he has come from his rough beginnings, and, in a way, how close he remains to them. He had a punch like a thunderbolt from Zeus, but there have been a lot of big bangers in boxing; Mike Tyson's came with a pulsating story line like few others.” --Gordon Marino, Wall Street Journal
“Parts of [Undisputed Truth] read like a real-life Tarantino movie. Parts read like a Tom Wolfe-ian tour of wildly divergent worlds: from the slums of Brooklyn to the high life in Las Vegas to the isolation of prison…. Mr. Tyson’s idiosyncratic voice comes through clearly on the page here — not just his mix of profane street talk and 12-step recovery language, cinematic descriptions of individual fights and philosophical musings, but also his biting humor and fondness for literary and historical references that run the gamut from Alexandre Dumas to Tolstoy to Lenin to Tennessee Williams…. A genuine effort by a troubled soul to gain some understanding of the long, strange journey that has been his life.” –Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“A hefty autobiography that might be the most soul baring book of its genre ever written … a fascinating look into a life that up until now had already been well chronicled … It’s raw and profane … but it is also quite funny.”—Associated Press
“Undisputed Truth, which is, without a doubt, one of the grittiest and most harrowing memoirs I’ve ever read.” –Flavorwire
“Most readers are familiar with [Tyson’s] tumultuous life and career—the bizarre behavior in the ring, the sordid behavior out of it—but what’s most surprising about the book is the introspection and self-awareness displayed … it’s raw and profane but also smart and witty … A fascinating and frequently surprising autobiography.”—Booklist
“Undisputed Truth, is the American dream writ large in raw detail: think Citizen Kane scripted by the writing team of The Wire…. [it] has a great American novel feel to it… Tyson could easily be a Tom Wolfe or Norman Mailer creation.” –Austin Collings, New Statesman
“[A] lively mixture of a memoir.” –Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books
“Tyson was ever practised at delivering the early killer blow; and so it is with this gripping and indecently enthralling autobiography….Tyson always had a way with words – although much of the credit for this book must go to his ghostwriter Larry “Ratso” Sloman, who not only makes Tyson’s life read like an Elmore Leonard thriller, but gifts him with considerable self-awareness and a memorably pithy turn of phrase….recounted in gripping, punch-by-punch detail in prose pungent with the reek of blood, sweat and petroleum jelly.” –Mick Brown, The Telegraph (UK)
“Thrilling…addictive…Sloman brings Tyson's voice springing off the page with its often hilarious combo of street and shrink, pimp profanity and the ‘prisony pseudo-intellectual modern mack rap’ of the autodidact.” –Geoff Dyer, The Guardian (UK)