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By Randy Roberts
Jeremy Schaap, Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005), pp. 324, $24.00.

Cinderella Man, directed by Ron Howard (Universal Pictures/Miramax Films/Imagine Entertainment, 2005).
They were both killers.

The Great Depression killed a man slowly, slicing off pieces before it finished him. Ittook his job, robbed him of his dignity and self-respect, and turned him into a shell. If that didn't do the job, it left him as good as dead.

With his fists, Max Baer did the work faster. He was big and strong and quick. He had near perfect timing and, in the language of the sport, "heavy hands." When he hit an opponent, he hurt him.

In 1930 he knocked Frankie Campbell unconscious.Thirteen hours later Frankie died. In 1932 Max pounded Ernie Schaaf, knocking him senseless just before the final bell. Schaaf regained consciousness and fought again-twice. But he was never the same. In his last fight he collapsed from a light blow, sank into a coma, and woke up dead. Boxing men said that Max Baer had killed Schaaf.

In 1935 James J. Braddock fought and beat both killers. InCinderella Man , second-generation sportswriter Jeremy Schaap, recounts the improbable story of Jim Braddock. In the late 1920s Braddock was a minor light heavyweight contender, a limited pugilist with a powerful right hand and a fighter's heart but no left, no speed, and fragile hands. His strengths were enough in 1929 to get him a shot at the title. But in the fight, champion Tommy Loughran easilyout-boxed and badly outclassed the New Jersey scrapper.

Braddock stock as a fighter plummeted about the same time as the New York Stock Exchange. In the long, dark winter of his discontent, from 1929 to 1934, he broke his right hand, compiled a string of losses, left the sport, and like millions of other Americans struggled to survive the Depression. He took what work he could find, trudging fromdock to dock in New Jersey and New York searching for a day's wages, going sleepless at night worrying about feeding his family. By the end of 1933 he was on county relief.

During the same years, Maximilian Adelbert "Max" Baer's stock shot skyward. The Californian heavyweight was Braddock's opposite. Braddock was a plodder, a phlegmatic and dull craftsman. Baer was a wunderkind, as talented as hewas an irresponsible. He was a clownish child who loved the stage boxing gave him but not the sport itself.

In the early 1930s, when heavyweights played musical chairs with the championship, Baer punched and clowned his way to the title, winning the crown on July 14, 1934. Sportswriters predicted he would hold it for a decade.

On June 13, 1935, nine years and a day short of that decade, Baerfought his first defense against Braddock who had begun his long-shot comeback from obscurity in a preliminary fight on the same card that saw Baer win the title. In the heart of the Depression, sportswriters thought Braddock was good copy, but not even the most sympathetic believed he could win.

Braddock would not have earned the sobriquet "Cinderella Man" if the glass slipper-or, as it were,crown-had not fit. He won, going from relief to royalty and serving as a life lesson for hard-pressed Americans.

With the end never in doubt, Schaap tells his story well. There are a few clunky phrases and unfortunate slips into sportsese. Describing Baer as having "a waist as slim as a bride's and shoulders as wide as a doorframe" and picturing Campbell's head as "bobbing like a speed bag"conjures cartoon images. But such phrases are rare in this nicely told tale.

What Schaap does best is recover a lost era in heavyweight history. Generally the late-1920s and early-1930s form a sort of Dark Ages in the history of the division, a time after the fall of Jack Dempsey and before the ascendancy of Joe Louis. Max Schmeling, Jack Sharkey, Primo Carnera, Max Baer, and Jimmy Braddock are...