Join the Mailing List

Name*
Please type your full name.
E-mail*
Invalid email address.
Invalid Input

WAR IN THE RING--A unique book about boxing, Hitler, and WWII

WAR IN THE RING:
Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler—
by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro
A BOOK WRITTEN FOR KIDS, BUT STIMULATING FOR EVERYONE
by Chuck Cascio
     Those of us of (ahem!) a certain age have heard numerous stories about World War II. Perhaps our parents or grandparents served in the military during those years, or perhaps our families were dramatically impacted by the hatred that spread around the world, or perhaps we have a specific, lingering image someone described to us about the world at that time. 
     I am sure many of today’s youth know the realities of that era--the living conditions in the United States, the surge of Nazism, and the attempts people made to "normalize" their lives—and I am sure many others do not. I am also certain that all could benefit from knowing more, especially if the history of that time is presented in a way that ties together the social, political, and sports worlds in a unique manner. Which brings me to the incredibly insightful, highly readable book, War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler, by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro.

war in the ring

     The authors combine the realities of racism, Nazi power, war, sports, and humanity in compelling non-fiction that stimulates thinking and curiosity about the era. The book is intended for middle-school students, but the writing does not talk down to anyone. As a former high school teacher, I can easily how the book could be used to engage teens in unique discussions of that time. By weaving the lives and profiles of the boxers—African American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling—against the rise of Hitler and WWII, War in the Ring provides an intriguing look at history for readers of all ages.
     Louis and Schmeling fought twice—once in 1936 and again in 1938. With the turmoil rising in the world during those years, each man came to represent his respective country and each became a national symbol. The authors describe how Louis also carried the burden of being a black man in Jim Crow America. And when Louis, who was born amid the cotton fields of Alabama and raised in Detroit, lost the first match badly, it registered as a defeat for America. At the same time, Schmeling's win brought him lavish praise from Hitler himself and other Nazi leaders who saw it as a national victory. 
    Things changed dramatically two years later. Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round and emerged as one of the nation's first African American heroes, a symbol of hope in the United States. In Germany, Schmeling was ignored by nationalists and ostracized by Hitler himself.
     While many books do a fine job of capturing the World War II era, War in the Ring stands out because it is written in a novel-like manner and ties historical fact with societal and personal realities. By describing two men who grew up in poverty and used boxing as an attempt to improve their lives as the backdrop for the realities of war and all its suffering, authors Florio and Shapiro succeed in creating a grim metaphor for various aspects of life in that era. Here’s an example from the Prologue of the kind of thought-provoking imagery found throughout the book:

     “As the two fighters climb through the ropes, the overhead lights beaming down on them, men and women across the United States lean in to their radios, hanging on the outcome.

     “In Germany, it’s the middle of the night, but millions of residents have their lights on and their radios tuned to the broadcast coming over the phone lines.

      “The bell rings.”
 
      On a factual level, those words provide a picture not generally associated with war, but on a metaphorical level, the words capture the world at the time…a world in which the United States was about to step “through the ropes” and the bell was, in fact, about to ring.
     Read War in the Ring for yourself, read it with your kids or grandkids or students you teach but, most important, take some time to discuss what it is saying beyond the world of sports and the world of politics. Take time to appreciate what it illuminates about striving to normalize daily life amid the turmoil of conflict.
THE END
Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.