Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

December 5, 2013

In the ring with Boston's bare-knuckle boxer

Local author pens story of America's first sports star

By Judy Wakefield
jwakefield@andovertownsman.com

---- — The local author of a punchy new book about a popular, hot-headed, Irish-American boxer from Boston of yesteryear surprisingly is not a big boxing fan nor a fighter type of guy who’d punch your lights out if you told him that you didn’t like his new book.

Rather, he’s quiet, calm and a frequent contributor to History.com for crying out loud. Christopher Klein of Andover simply likes to do the research for his stories, then share the good stories with others.

“Strong Boy” is his new book about the life and times of John L. Sullivan, America’s first sports hero. Sullivan, who immigrated to Boston from Ireland, was the first modern heavyweight boxing champion of the world, from 1882 to 1892, and was the first athlete to earn more than a $1 million.

He was also a womanizing drunk, had a big ego, a big mouth and was a frequent presence on the police blotter in several communities. He went from Boston’s Irish working class to become the most recognizable man in the nation and “Strong Boy” is his story.

“It’s a story of making it, despite having everything against you. ... I like that sort of story,” said Klein, who is happily living with his wife and two children in west Andover in the house he grew up in.

Sullivan’s Irish roots also attracted Klein as the author has some of his own.

“I liked doing the research for this book and reading so much about him. I really enjoyed the reading ... there was a lot in the newspapers,” said Klein, who spent some two years researching Sullivan’s story.

Sullivan’s epic brawls, such as his 75-round bout against Jake Kilrain, are legendary and Klein’s storytelling about those historical fights is getting knockout reviews.

“Christopher Klein gives readers a ringside seat for one of the greatest boxing careers in history,” says one critic of “Strong Boy” (Lyons Press, $26.95).

Publisher’s Weekly, meanwhile, credits Klein with using his “expressive-yet-scholarly prose to tie Sullivan to the issues of the era, such as temperance, class and race relations, immigration and America’s growth into a world power.”

“In fact, if this book has a drawback, it might be that boxing sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of all Sullivan’s other activities. Still, Klein should not be faulted for his thoroughness since, even though this may not be the first book about Sullivan, it just may be the most exhaustive,” Publisher’s Weekly says.

Next Friday, Dec. 13, Klein visits the Center at Punchard, formerly the Andover Senior Center, to talk about his new book as part of the men’s monthly breakfast series.

Klein said some seniors may remember hearing their parents talk about Sullivan, whose 10-year boxing reign ended 121 years ago — in 1892.

“I thought some of the guys who regularly come for breakfast would enjoy this,” said Karen Payne Taylor, Center at Punchard program coordinator, who booked Klein for the event.

Klein is a history and travel writer and the author of two previous books, “Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands” and “The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston.” He has also written for the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Harvard Magazine, Red Sox Magazine, ESPN.com, Smithsonian.com and AmericanHeritage.com.