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Shoemaker’s Excellent Trip Inside The Squared Circle

There was a time many years ago when a poster of a kilt wearing Rowdy Roddy Piper hung from my bedroom door. Watching professional wrestling was a cherished part of my childhood, but like playing Nintendo and building tree forts, it was a habit I ultimately outgrew. Fortunately, one doesn’t need to be a regular viewer of Monday Night Raw to enjoy David Shoemaker’s terrific book, “The Squared Circle, Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling.” After giving an impressively researched history of wrestling’s origins in America, Shoemaker dedicates each chapter to telling the story of the lives and often tragic deaths of various wrestlers. Although the outcomes of the matches may be scripted, the pain wrestlers endure in and out of the ring is all too real and the ending is rarely a happy one for Shoemaker’s spandex clad gladiators. It is a testament to author’s skill and passion for the subject matter that he can spin these sad tales without every letting the book feel morbid or depressing.

Industry icons such as Andre The Giant and “Macho Man” Randy Savage are artfully profiled, but Shoemaker is at his best when shining a light on lesser known talents. I had never before heard of Bruiser Brody, but was captivated by the author’s telling of his uncompromising life and brutal death. Shoemaker finds glory in the struggle of a “jobber” like “Special Delivery” Jones whose role was primarily to lose to more promotable stars. Perhaps the most gripping chapter of the book details the rise and fall of the legendary Von Erich family in Texas. Patriarch Fritz Von Erich gained his fame post-World War II by playing the character of a Nazi German heel in the ring. The line between fiction and reality is always a blurry one in professional wrestling. Fans that believe in curses have long suggested that Fritz’s talented sons tragically paid the price for their father’s sins. Shoemaker doesn’t make a judgment on the validity of the curse, just as he doesn’t pass judgment on the wrestlers he profiles or the industry that shaped them. He just presents the facts as best as he can gather. He leaves the judgments to the reader and as a result “The Squared Circle” is a tremendous read.

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