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Comin' at ya! Book reviews on an iconic boxer, freakonomics, Frankenstein [updated]

October 30, 2009 |  4:50 pm


In our pages this week, Tim Rutten reviewed "Sweet Thunder" by Will Heygood, a biography of boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson is "now universally acknowledged as the greatest prizefighter who ever lived," Rutten writes:

Anyone who ever saw him in the ring, or has watched a film of one of his bouts, understands why boxing fans paradoxically insist on calling their sport "the sweet science." .... Haygood gives a fine account of Robinson's career in the dazzlingly competitive welter- and middleweight ranks of his era, but where this lyrically written biography -- with its jazz-inflected prose -- truly excels is in its evocation of the culturally rich post-renaissance Harlem, where Robinson began boxing as a ninth-grade dropout.

Earlier in the week, reviewer Greg Hess weighed in on Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s "Superfreakonomics," a follow-up to "Freakonomics," the authors' 2005 bestseller.

They do not pretend in "Super Freakonomics" to be our economic saviors. They don't provide solutions to the financial crisis, subprime debt, CEO compensation or a template for healthcare reform. Rather, the Steves wryly, humorously and almost sadistically remind us that we are slaves to our own failures to parse situations into basic economic components.

And we're feeling Halloween-y with two more reviews. Today it's "The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein" by Peter Ackroyd, in which Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley meet the real Victor Frankenstein. Reviewer Thane Rosenbaum writes:

Ackroyd, a biographer and novelist who is at his best when he reanimates the historical figures of London's past and transforms them into his own fictional characters, has a splendid time imagining Mary Shelley and her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, along with Lord Byron, the poet rock star of his age, befriending a melancholy Swiss scientist named Victor Frankenstein.

In a novel in which even Coleridge has a cameo, Frankenstein is the only true fictional major player. In Ackroyd's imagination, Frankenstein is more than just slumming in Mary Shelley's head; he's doubling down on the entire doppelgänger motif. Despite being surrounded by such literary flamboyance -- indeed, the holy trinity of British Romanticism -- this Frankenstein is no slouch when it comes to his own creative ambitions.

The novel, part mystery, part polemic on the life force of the imagination, is a reminder that novelists are in the monster-making business -- even those who failed chemistry in high school.

And in tomorrow's paper -- online now -- take a step through "The Gates" by John Connolly. The young adult horror novel, about a boy and his dog who inadvertently stumble upon the Gates of Hell, is reviewed by Denise Hamilton. It "has a shot at becoming a middle-school Halloween classic," she writes, because it is

a laugh-out-loud funny tale about a boy who must find a way to close the gates of hell (and save humanity!) after his goofy neighbors accidentally open them during a séance, unleashing a horde of demons.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

[update: the original version of this post mistakenly referred to Sugar Ray Robinson as Sugar Ray Leonard]

Photo: Sugar Ray Robinson in 1962. Credit: Hulton Deutsch / Allsport