Review: Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story by Candace Toft

off-the-ropes-coverOFF THE ROPES: THE RON LYLE STORY, Candace Toft. Hamilcar Publications, $27.95 (214p) ISBN-13: 978-1949590012
Publication date: Oct. 31, 2018

What you learn from a book is what really dictates its value. What the book reveals. What the book confronts. What the book asserts. Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story, is the definitive biography about one of boxing’s “the most known and unknown” (homage to Three Six Mafia) heavyweight, Ron Lyle. At a time when the heavyweight division was inarguably at its height—the 1970s—Ron Lyle was unquestionably the most feared and avoided heavyweight. He has had more fights cancelled due to excuses by his opponents than any top-tier fighter in history.

Muhammad Ali only agreed to fight Ron Lyle after he (Lyle) lost to an unheralded heavyweight named Jimmy Young. Joe Frazier and Ken Norton wanted no part of Lyle. George Foreman agreed to fight him only AFTER losing his title to Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” which was fought in Kinshasa, Zaire. Jerry Quarry was only willing to fight Lyle a second time when offered a king’s ransom. Of course, as he got older, there were more suitors, (i.e., Jerry Cooney et al), however, Lyle was still a threat to any heavyweight because of his extreme punching power. Earnie Shavers, who is considered by most boxing experts to be the hardest punching fighter in history, declared that no one hit him harder than Lyle.

But, Lyle’s story is so much more than his boxing exploits. He was one of 19 children. His father was a cleric and his mother was devoutly religious. Even though Lyle’s upbringing was strict, his GPS was set to mischief, and then morphed into petty crime. Lyle was convicted of murder, learned to box in prison, served 7 ½ years, became a professional boxer, met a woman—married her—had a child, and pursued becoming heavyweight champion with a level of zeal that would be considered extreme—even for Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.

Like many boxers, Lyle had more “downs” than “ups” and managed to find trouble. However, his devotion to children was second only to his devotion to boxing. We learn that Lyle was charitable, deeply private, overwhelmingly mistrustful, and overburdened with demons. The writer, the late Candace Toft, uses plain language to tell a very complex story. Her writing style allows the reader to gain traction rather than be distracted by language that overreaches. Hall-of-Fame boxing journalist, Al Bernstein, wrote a compelling foreword. Off the Ropes is as good as any boxer-bio/memoir ever written and would be an even better feature film.

Rating: Booking Cool

Rating Scale:
Cool: Decent
So Cool: Good
Booking Cool: Excellent
So Booking Cool: Masterpiece

Review: GuRu by RuPaul

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GURU, RuPaul. Dey Street Books, $25.99 (208p) ISBN: 9780062862990
Publication date: October 23, 2018

If there is anything RuPaul is more passionate about than being unapologetically fierce, it is probably helping others tap into their fierceness—unapologetically, of course. Now, let’s take it further. It’s great to be fierce and fabulous, but how do you treat others? How do you treat yourself? In his new book, GuRu, RuPaul doesn’t just empower readers to live their best life, he understands that this can effectively be accomplished when people are prompted to take an honest look at themselves and reflect on where their thoughts come from and how much of them are influenced by society. When is the last time you watched, let’s say, a YouTube video and formed your own opinion before looking at the comment section?

GuRu has a plethora of dazzling images that showcase the icon’s versatility in supreme drag queen aesthetics and is an asset to your coffee table. However, it is more than a pretty book with colorful quotes; it is a book that is there whenever you need a reminder that you’re not alone (RuPaul does get personal in the pages), or you need a pick-me-up, and/or a boost of motivation to keep moving forward in life with your head, standards, and heels (if you wear them) high.

Previous book by RuPaul: Workin’ It!: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style (It Books, 2010).

Rating: So Cool

Rating Scale:
Cool: Decent
So Cool: Good
Booking Cool: Excellent
So Booking Cool: Masterpiece

Interview With “Renaissance Man: The Lin Manuel Miranda Story” Author, Marc Shapiro!

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While New York Times bestselling author Marc Shapiro likens the life of a writer to that of a roller coaster, he also believes that as a creative, the psychological benefits of the craft are high. He would know. Shapiro has written everything from articles, horoscopes, short stories, poems, to approximately 80 celebrity biographies, including the bestseller, J. K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter. Lin Manuel Miranda (check out our review here on Renaissance Man: The Lin Manuel Miranda Story, An Unauthorized Biography)Mary Tyler Moore, George Harrison, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, Adele, and Fifty Shades of Grey author, E.L. James are among the high-profile lives he’s penned. He even wrote one about the hit rock song “Hey Joe.” Recently, he revealed that he finished writing the late Senator John McCain‘s life story (this interview was done prior to the senator’s death).  Shapiro, who says he’s always been attracted to creative people, is also interested in finding out what makes them tick.

“Some days it’s a pain in the butt to make a living doing this, but more often than not, it’s fun. You’re doing what you love to do and making a living, and getting paid for it,” he said.

Listen to the full interview to learn more about Shapiro’s projects, both past and present, including the recent release of his debut short story collection, Short Story Collection: Stories of High Strangeness, the execution of Renaissance Man, his insights on being an author, and journalist, and the time he had three weeks to write the LA Times bestseller, Total Titanic: The Most Up-to-Date Guide to the Disaster of the Century, and more!

Review: Renaissance Man: The Lin Manuel Miranda Story, An Unauthorized Biography By Marc Shapiro

marc shapiroRENAISSANCE MAN: THE LIN MANUEL STORY, AN UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY, Marc Shapiro. Riverdale Avenue Books, $18.01 (200p) ISBN-13: 978-1626014480
Publication date: May 10, 2018

From the New York Times bestselling author and veteran entertainment journalist, Marc Shapiro, comes his newest biography of a high-profile talent: the self-made Lin Manuel Miranda’s story. Unlike some unauthorized biographies, Renaissance Man is anything but salacious and scandalous. Shapiro doesn’t go for the cheap. He has instead chosen to tell the compelling journey of the Hamilton frontman that will leave readers feeling inspired and motivated. Ever the page-turner and crisply written, this book is just as pleasurable for the celebrity memoir and/or “tea” enthusiast as it is for the go-getter crowd. When absorbing Miranda’s story, the takeaway extends beyond the fact that Miranda was a man who went after his dreams steadfast. The real message here is the level of discipline one should probably have for pursuing and maintaining a passion.

Prior to the groundbreaking success of Hamilton, there was Miranda’s first major theater production, In the Heights, which dealt with cultural themes significant and personal to Miranda, who was bred in a predominately Latino community in Inwood, New York City. Shapiro highlights the tireless work ethic Miranda dedicated to his play as a college student, as well as his determination—there is a moment when Miranda meets with a potential investor who wanted Miranda to trade the loss of a scholarship storyline for one about drugs and/or a teen pregnancy. In short, the investor opted for a stereotypical scenario and showed he didn’t get the heart of the project. Miranda stuck to his guns, and the play eventually soared past his college campus and onto Broadway. Each new opportunity that arose to elevate his work, whether it be in the form of a national tour or any new stage in general, raised the stakes for Miranda; he did not allow the praise to make him comfortable or complacent.

Miranda was introduced to Alexander Hamilton in school for an assignment. And while he possessed a keen interest in literature early on (he’d read to the other kids in daycare, kind of like a teacher, in which he would eventually become) as well as in musicals and hip hop, the Puerto Rican visionary never imagined he would one day create a play in the late president’s honor.

Call it fate, nevertheless, Miranda worked hard for his success. He had talent, recognized his talents, and made the choice to hone them (even if there were on-and-off-again periods and other obstacles he had to overcome). He didn’t ask for handouts and didn’t need to. Shapiro shows how Miranda got to the point where his work spoke and continues to speak for itself.

Rating: Excellent

Rating Scale

Cool: Decent

So Cool: Good

Booking Cool: Excellent

So Booking Cool: Masterpiece

Review: The Art & Science of Respect: A Memoir by James Prince

JPRINCETHE ART & SCIENCE OF RESPECT: A MEMOIR BY JAMES PRINCE, James Prince. N-The-Water Publishing, $29.99 (296p) ISBN-13: 978-0999837009
Publication date: July 6, 2018

Memoirs can be vain, exhausting, narcissistic treatises that tell you next to nothing about the subject (person); however, that is not the case for the James Prince Memoir, The Art & Science of Respect. If you read between the lines, Prince probably gives up too much information—almost to the point of incriminating himself. Written in a conversational style, it’s as if you’re having a conversation with the former street hustler turned music mogul, boxing manager, and entrepreneur.

And he doesn’t hesitate to name drop. So, you’ll hear him provide intimate anecdotes involving Drake, Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Baby & Lil Wayne (Cash Money), The Geto Boys, Sir Mixalot, Suge Knight, Master P, Biggie, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Andre Ward, Don King, Lou DiBella, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, Irv Gotti, et al.

Prince doesn’t make it a point to bash or embarrass, but he has had some “uncomfortable” moments with some of the aforementioned. Sometimes, the “disagreements” were handled amicably—and sometimes not.

Prince has more than his fair share of personal baggage as a child of Houston’s notorious Fifth Ward, and he dishes dirt on himself. By no means does he portray himself as some saint. Prince was in the streets, and he earned every bit of his reputation. His riches came with a price: death or the penitentiary. He knew it, and he got out of one game and into another. Prince used his street hustle smarts to make it big in the music industry, and then spun off into other industries.

Here is an example of his transition: “All of my life, I thought the only way to make money off grass was by selling weed—until I started selling hay.” The former illegal “grass” seller became a legal “grass seller”—and I don’t mean medical marijuana. He purchased several acres of land and made money selling hay. Exhibit A of his brilliance.

At the root of Prince’s success is—believe it or not—his spirituality. He has always incorporated it in his thinking, even during his “street” life days. Prince also has an insatiable appetite for success, a maniacal work ethic, and a keen ability to see people for who they truly are (a.k.a., a B.S. Detector). Arguably, his best attribute is his generosity, whether he is providing the “homies” with opportunities to make legal money, buying homes for family members and friends, or building a community center.

The Art & Science of Respect is a quick read that is touching, educational, and inspirational.

Rating: Booking Cool

Rating Scale

Cool: Decent

So Cool: Good

Booking Cool: Excellent

So Booking Cool: Masterpiece

Review: “What Truth Sounds Like” by Michael Eric Dyson

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WHAT TRUTH SOUNDS LIKE: RFK, JAMES BALDWIN, AND OUR UNFINISHED CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE IN AMERICA, Michael Eric Dyson. St. Martin’s Press, $24.99 (294p) ISBN-13: 978-1-250-19941-6
Publication date: June 5, 2018

An Acerbic Truth. A Bold Truth. An Encompassing Truth. An Unsettling Truth. A Disruptive Truth. A Troubling Truth. A Terrible (or Terrifying) Truth. A “Truth” Truth (Ruth).

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s latest—just happens to be his greatest (book that is). In what is a defining moment in his authorship and critique about all things “race” in America, Dr. Dyson utilizes the full power of his protruding arsenal of words, incalculable intellect, and asymmetrical compulsion for expressing complexity using simplicity as well as simplicity using complexity to tell an unfiltered, uncomfortable, uncompromising truth: An Acerbic Truth. What Truth Sounds Like: RFK, James Baldwin, and our Unfinished Conversation about Race in America is an alarming but astonishing, disturbing yet defining, and exhausting while exhilarating literary spectacle that uses a meeting between then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and James Baldwin et al (in May of 1963) as a backdrop to contextualize the current racial climate in America.

Dyson “slices and dices” and “fishes and dishes” an inconvenient, almost mean-spirited, occasionally cryptic, bushel of truth with a perfect admixture of edge and eloquence. Politicians, Artists, Activists, Intellectuals, Crackers, and Bad “Niggers” (one of the chapter titles) beware. Dyson dares to spare no one; not friend, or foe, or historic figure, or president. If you are in his analytical or conjectural line of fire, be prepared to be assailed with verbal projectiles. This book is not for the faint of heart.

Dyson lays the groundwork by recounting the events that led to this historic meeting and provides a brief bio of the major players involved (i.e., Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, Lena Horne, Dr. Kenneth Clark, Lorraine Hansberry, and the only surviving “witness” amongst the aforementioned, Harry Belafonte). However, the most compelling figure in attendance was probably the least known, Freedom Rider Jerome Smith, who did not mince words. When Kennedy intimated that Blacks shouldn’t listen to the incendiary “lyrics” of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X because that could spell trouble, Smith said, “You don’t have no idea what trouble is,” and that’s when the meeting went downhill—or uphill (depending on your perspective) from that point.

In the succeeding chapters, Dyson uses his verbal scalpel to dissect and his barrister-esque elocution to build a case for the final chapter, “Even If: Wakanda. Forever,” which is arguably Dyson’s most powerful utterance ever. I would humbly suggest the reader to begin by reading the final chapter first to enhance the experience and to better appreciate Dyson’s indomitable genius.

At nearly 60 years old, one can sense as Dyson transitions from “old head” to “elder” that What Truth Sounds Like, is a precursor for what will be his greatest works, which will undoubtedly happen post-Trump. But for now, What Truth Sounds Like, is a Wake-up call for the Woke which is why this book is minimally 25 years ahead of its time.

Thus far, we have only “witnessed” Dyson’s intelligence; his wisdom has yet to be realized—and it is as imminent as our mortality. And, as imminent as his reconciliation with his teacher-mentor-friend-brother: Dr. Cornel West. And that’s an Acerbic Truth, Ruth.

Reviewed by Professor Clifford Benton

Review: “Authority Marketing” by Adam Witty and Rusty Shelton

authoritymarketingAUTHORITY MARKETING: HOW TO LEVERAGE 7 PILLARS OF THOUGHT LEADERSHIP TO MAKE COMPETITION IRRELEVANT, Adam Witty and Rusty Shelton. ForbesBooks, $16.95 (160p) ISBN-13: 978-1946633132
Publication date: May 3, 2018

While many modern business-related books stake claim to having the “answers” few actually deliver. An exception to this trend is the recently published Authority Marketing by Adam Witty and Rusty Shelton. The authors assert in this world of social media, branding, and hypercompetition, the paradigm has shifted from product-centered marketing and personality-centered marketing to “authority-centered” marketing; thus, they have developed the formula: Expertise + Celebrity = Authority.

In short, according to the Witty & Shelton: Effective Authority Marketing involves a strategic process of systematically positioning a person as the leader and expert in his or her industry, community, and marketplace to command an outsized influence and edge on competitors.

The authors cite seven pillars of Authority Marketing (and dedicate a chapter to each one): Branding and Omnipresence; Lead Generation; Content Marketing; PR in Media; Speaking; Events; and Referral Marketing. During the course of these chapters, Witty & Shelton provide compelling anecdotes to illustrate concepts so the reader “gets it.” The language is straightforward, not stuffy, and the authors don’t write as if they are being paid by the number of words (or syllables for that matter).

An example used to illustrate the point of personal branding made by the authors is their mentioning of David Meerman Scott who decided to insert his middle name to distinguish himself from the numerous David Scott(s) across the globe. Think noted sports journalist, Stephen Smith—I mean Stephen A. Smith. Witty & Shelton also discuss the importance of “owning” your media presence, keynote speaking, writing a book, and using Twitter—strategically!

Authority Marketing’s strongest attribute (inarguably) is its intent on being written as a “how to” instead of being a jargon-laden, academic treatise overrun by “analytics” and theoretical constructs. The book is a must-read (excuse the cliché but it applies in this case) for college students (regardless of major), entrepreneurs, and people who want to go from being “dreamers” to being “doers.”

Reviewed by Professor Clifford Benton