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Good Sport

By Jim McFarlin

Photography by Lucy Hewett | Shot on location at Unabridged Bookstore

09.25.17

Local author Jonathan Eig takes on perhaps his greatest subject yet.

HE WAS SO affected after writing the book Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig that he toured the country raising money to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and was honored on the field at Yankee Stadium for his efforts. He investigated one of our town’s most untouchable crime legends in his nonfiction work Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster. And now, Chicago-based author Jonathan Eig goes toe-to-toe with “The Greatest” in his extraordinary new bio, ALI: A Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30), out this month.

“When I realized there was no unauthorized biography on Muhammad Ali, I couldn’t believe it,” says Eig, a one-time teacher and lecturer at Columbia College Chicago and Northwestern University who spent more than four years completing ALI. “I felt this was the best idea I was ever going to have, and the most fun I could ever have on a project. I don’t know if I was the perfect person to do it, but I was the most excited.”

Eig believes this is the perfect time for a biography on Ali, who died in June 2016: Most of the champ’s opponents and confidants, including three of his four wives, are still living, and milestones of the ’60s and ’70s, like the Vietnam War, can be placed in historical perspective. “Ali was constantly surrounded by reporters and photographers,” notes the former Wall Street Journal staffer, who conducted nearly 600 interviews. “You almost have too much material to work with. You could spend the rest of your life watching Ali in YouTube videos.”

What’s next for Eig? “I’m trying to go big again,” he says. “I want to write about another of the greatest figures of the 20th century and see if I can get away with it again.” Book signing Oct. 4, Carnivale, 702 W. Fulton St.