Christopher Klein Author & Freelance Writer

The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan,
America's First Sports Hero

"One of the best boxing books ever penned"--Boston Globe

John L. Sullivan, the first modern heavyweight boxing champion of the world, was the gold standard of American sport for more than a decade, and the first athlete to earn more than a million dollars. He had a big ego, big mouth, and bigger appetites. His womanizing, drunken escapades, and chronic police-blotter presence were godsends to a burgeoning newspaper industry. The larger-than-life boxer embodied the American Dream for late nineteenth-century immigrants as he rose from Boston’s Irish working class to become the most recognizable man in the nation. In the process, the “Boston Strong Boy” transformed boxing from outlawed bare-knuckle fighting into the gloved spectacle we know today.

Strong Boy tells the story of America’s first sports superstar, a self-made man who personified the power and excesses of the Gilded Age. Everywhere John L. Sullivan went, his fists backed up his bravado. Sullivan’s epic brawls, such as his 75-round bout against Jake Kilrain, and his cross-country barnstorming tour in which he literally challenged all of America to a fight are recounted in vivid detail, as are his battles outside the ring with a troubled marriage, wild weight and fitness fluctuations, and raging alcoholism. Strong Boy gives readers ringside seats to the colorful tale of one of the country’s first Irish-American heroes and the birth of the American sports media and the country’s celebrity obsession with athletes.

If sports are America’s secular faith, Sullivan is not only among the pantheon of athletic gods, he is our Zeus. Far from a sepia-tone relic, Sullivan blazed the trail for any athlete who ever earned and squandered a fortune, owned a sports bar, sought political office, wrote his memoirs, inked endorsements, found himself behind bars, soaked in the adulation of millions, spewed braggadocio, and always backed up his swagger. 

Readers of Strong Boy will:
  • Learn how Sullivan’s incredible career and oversized personality launched America’s modern sporting obsession
  • Travel back in time to the extravagant Gilded Age to witness the birth of America’s celebrity culture
  • Discover how Sullivan’s power and self-confidence transformed him into an idol for a generation of Irish-Americans emasculated in the wake of the horrific potato famine that gripped their homeland
For more on Strong Boy, visit

Boston Globe review of Strong Boy
Publisher's Weekly review of Strong Boy

Click here for more coverage of Strong Boy

Listen to Christopher talk about Strong Boy with WGBH's Boston Public Radio, WBUR's Radio Boston, and the Art of Manliness

"Advance Praise for "Strong Boy"
“You don’t have to be a boxing fan to want to time travel back to the 1880s and sample some nickel beer, free lunch, horse trolleys, and the Babel of immigrants. Christopher Klein, in this well-researched book, delivers the sportin’ life of the Gilded Age when Americans crowned their first athlete-king, John L. Sullivan, in coast-to-coast banner headlines.”
 —Richard Zacks, best-selling author of Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York

“Christopher Klein gives readers a ringside seat for one of the greatest boxing careers in history. The descriptions of the fights are quick and powerful—like one of John L.’s punches—and the Boston Strong Boy’s life story unfolds with wonderfully vivid detail. The Sweet Science deserves beautiful writing like this.”
—Bob Halloran, author of Irish Thunder: The Hard Life and Times of Micky Ward and Impact Statement: A Family's Fight for Justice against Whitey Bulger, Stephen Flemmi, and the FBI
“Christopher Klein’s action-crammed account of the life and times of John L. Sullivan packs the wallop of the Boston Strong Boy’s legendary right fist. The magnetic, deeply flawed Sullivan comes back to life in this fascinating visit to the seedy, bare-knuckled culture of America’s nineteenth century beneath its Victorian gloss.”
—Edward Achorn, author of The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game and Fifty-nine in ’84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had
“Christopher Klein’s Strong Boy is a well-researched look at a forgotten hero: modern boxing’s first heavyweight champion. It’s a go-to resource on John L. Sullivan’s personal life, his ring career, and the era in which he thrived. For all the talk about ‘the man who beat the man,’ here’s a work that documents the man himself.”
—John Florio, author of One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title
“Sports biography at its best. Rich in period detail, anecdote, and fresh perspective, Strong Boy paints both the good and the bad sides of success, as America’s growing celebrity culture turned a simple Irish American gladiator into a national, in fact international hero. A very human story with profound parallels for our sports-obsessed culture today!”
—Nigel Hamilton, author of Biography: A Brief History and The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941–1942
“This admirable biography has a Citizen Kane feel to it: Strong Boy both celebrates John L. Sullivan as a sports hero and lights up the pathos of Sullivan the man-child. If he could ‘lick any son-of-a bitch in the world,’ John L. could out-drink and out-eat all contenders. The first million-dollar man in sports died broke. Christopher Klein does justice to the legend, the man, and the times.”
Jack Beatty, author of The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley, 1874–1958

Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands:
A Guide to the City's Hidden Shores
The Boston Harbor Islands are experiencing unprecedented visitation, finally assuming their rightful place as Bostons backyard. Rich with history, over 150 full-color photographs, maps, and illustrations, and a resource section devoted to the recreational offerings surrounding the harbor islands, Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands is an indispensable guide to help you plan your island adventures. Explore the military installations that protected Boston during wartime including Fort Warren, home of Confederate prisoners during the Civil War. Visit Boston Light on Little Brewster, site of the nations oldest lighthouse. Kayak into the coves where pirates and bootleggers once hid. Wander the meadows that were the camps of Native Americans and the sites of Revolutionary skirmishes. Sail to the outer islands, a spectacular ocean wilderness. Find the best year-round fishing spots and discover why the islands are a birders paradise. Dive amid century-old shipwrecks or climb to the top of Spectacle Island for an altogether different view of the Boston skyline. Take in a jazz concert, an antique baseball game, or simply hop from one island to the next to experience the stunning natural beauty of this most storied national park area. Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands is sure to resonate with new and veteran islanders. Whether its hiking, camping, a trip through history, or a simple getaway to spend a day at the beach, a visit to the harbor islands offers an outdoor experience wholly unique to the geography and heritage of Boston. Don t leave port without it!

Purchase this book now

For more information on this book, visit the web site of the publisher, Union Park Press.

To view Christopher's talk about the Boston Harbor Islands, click here

Select images from the book are available for purchase. To view photographs available for purchase, click here. E-mail about any image you would be interested in purchasing.
Press Coverage

July 20, 2010
Feature in The Spoken Word column of The Boston Globe

February 18, 2010

June 29, 2011

May 13, 2011

February 18, 2010
Andover Townsman

October 7, 2010

July 31, 2009
Medford Transcript

May 2009

January 11, 2009
Globe South edition of The Boston Globe

November 30, 2008

November 18, 2008

November 2008
Northeast Boating Magazine

Fall 2008
Drew Magazine profile

August 7, 2008
Perfect time to visit Boston Harbor Islands

August 3, 2008
Boston Harbor Insight

July 31, 2008
Island Hopping: There's plenty of history, right in Boston's back yard

July 18, 2008
The New York Times
In Boston Harbor, but a World Away

July 14, 2008
The Daily News Tribune
Island view: Waltham author explores Boston Harbor Islands

June 26, 2008
Andover Townsman
Day-tripping to the Islands: Andover grad's book shows Boston Harbor's opportunities
The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston:
A Spectator's Handbook

Boston isn't just passionate about sports, it's obsessed. The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston is the first and only comprehensive guide to the incredible range of spectator sporting events in and around the Hub. Discover the heart and soul of Boston among the fans at Fenway Park, the mobs lining the route of the Boston Marathon, the tailgaters at Boston College, and the crowds celebrating yet another championship for the Pats, Sox, and Celts. Paying tribute to Boston s legendary sports history, and covering everything from the Red Sox farm teams to the Head of the Charles, this book is filled with the practical information devoted fans need: how to get tickets even at the last minute; how to save cash; where to score autographs; the best Boston sports bars (in Boston and around the world; itineraries for out-of-town sports pilgrimages; and the Top Ten Things All Boston Fans Must Do Before the Fat Lady Sings Whether you re a rookie or an old-timer, The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston is your all-access ticket to the greatest sports city in the world. 

Feature in the Globe North section of The Boston Globe