Odes on Ali by David Bates is a poetic account of the life and times of Muhammad Ali. Covering each one of Ali’s fights in rhyming verse, it’s a backstage pass beyond a traditional biography that covers all the blood, sweat and tears of Ali’s life.
The book begins with a passionate and eloquent introduction to Ali the fighter, covering the major moments from his life and how he has been such a huge influence on the world of sports and beyond. After the introduction, each fight by Ali is described in rhyming verse that calls to mind Ali’s own poetry (“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”). Given that the introduction is so informative, the book might have been better served having some factual prose in addition to the prose poems for each fight, to satisfy those readers who want more of a traditional background, with the poems filling in the poetic gaps – almost like a sports announcer talking about the fight and Ali’s poetry in the ring telling the real story.
The book wins out because of Bates absolute passion for his subject, and he manages to get a heap of information about each fight in just a few words. You’ve never read Foreman and Ali in Africa like this before. Bates also writes about Ali’s lesser-known fights as well, painting a full portrait of the fighter, so for the Ali fan there’s a lot here to savor and enjoy.