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Best That I Can Be

Johnson, Rafer

13 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0385487606 / ISBN 13: 9780385487603
Published by Doubleday, N.Y., 1998
Condition: Fine Hardcover
From Jack Skylark's Books (West Covina, CA, U.S.A.)

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About this Item

Signed and inscribed on the half-title page. A fine copy in a BroDart protected jacket save for a small bump on the bottom edge of cover board. Ships in bubble wrap in box. Bookseller Inventory # PC 65-19

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Best That I Can Be

Publisher: Doubleday, N.Y.

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Signed: Inscribed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


Rafer Johnson's story is the classic American dream: hard work leading to success, honor, and glory.  Here, he openly writes about his humble beginnings in an obscure African American Texas ghetto, his growing up in the all-white, sun-drenched Californian town of Kingsburg, and his time at UCLA as the president of the student body and an acclaimed athlete.  His talents brought him to dramatic athletic duels in Moscow, Melbourne, and Rome, and to the glamour of acting, broadcasting, and politics in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and the rest of the nation.

Structured around the ten events of the decathlon, Rafer's memoir vividly describes an exceptional life.  It introduces remarkable people, both unknown and celebrated (the Kennedy family; Gloria Steinem; Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade; Tom Brokaw; and others), who befriended Rafer and affected his life.  It tells of obstacles and tragedies--crippling injuries, an alcoholic father, the assassination of his close friend Robert F.  Kennedy--and what it takes to overcome them.  With tact, integrity, and acute observation, Rafer Johnson shares the intimate moments that have shaped his life and the lives of others.


After Rafer Johnson abandoned the Texas slums for the idyllic but all-white California town of Kingsburg, he adopted the rallying cry of "be the best that I can be." This cry defines the young African American's character and drives Johnson through racism and poverty to stardom on the track field at UCLA and to a dramatic Olympic gold in 1960. It helps him work graveyard shifts and serve burgers, as he trains for the grueling 10-event decathlon. And it spurs Johnson to run faster, leap higher, and throw farther than any other decathlete in history, despite injury, fatigue, and political pressure from cold war governments. (At a 1958 meet in Moscow, his "summit meeting" with Russian decathlete Vasily Kuznetsov is labeled as the clash of Communism versus the free world.)

But it's Rafer's wealth of accomplishments off the track that make this modestly recounted memoir one that must be told. His colorful life includes a stint as a Hollywood actor, a brief broadcasting career, friendships with Tom Brokaw, Muhammad Ali, and Marlon Brando, and a fling with feminist Gloria Steinem. Even more intriguing is his intimate relationship with the Kennedy family that sadly derails when Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated. Rafer--who helped wrestle the gun away from Sirhan Sirhan--is deeply affected by his friend's death, but plows forward to champion goodwill projects such as Eunice Kennedy's Special Olympics. It's standard fare for Rafer Johnson and yet another example of his commitment to be the best he can be. --Rob McDonald

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