Blows to the Head

How Boxing Changed My Mind

By Binnie Klein

Subjects: Memoir, Women's Studies, Jewish Studies, Sports And Society
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438430027, 206 pages, July 2020
Hardcover : 9781438430010, 206 pages, December 2009

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Table of contents


1. a dirty sport

2. women

3. vos is dos?

4. take me on

5. love me, love my cigar

6. a joy to be hidden

7. an endless scream

8. requiem for a heavyweight

9. risks

10. siblings

11. john calls the fight

12. making contact and collective rage

13. mind over matter

14. namesake

15. combat

16. pain and violent zen

17. annie oakley's anxieties

18. still a man's world

19. let my people box

20. poet laureate of plainview


A provocative tale of an unlikely contender and her midlife transformation through boxing.


"I peered through the Venetian blinds in our den, with its view of the playground next door, and watched mournfully as the popular girls played softball. I wanted to run fast, hit hard, and wear a cute uniform. These girls seemed to know something about life that I didn't. "

When Binnie Klein took up boxing in her midfifties, the reaction from friends and acquaintances was always the same: "You?" Why, after all, would a middle-aged Jewish psychotherapist with no previous history of athletics take up boxing? In Blows to the Head, Klein offers a provocative tale of an unlikely contender whose unexpected fascination with boxing takes her beyond the ring and leads her back to her roots and to a surprising chapter of the Jewish immigrant experience. With candor and wit, she reveals a series of memories and insights that would never have been possible if she hadn't been drawn toward a pair of boxing gloves during a physical therapy session. In a story that will captivate and inspire women and men, athletes and nonathletes, Klein shows us that if we turn over the "weird stones" on our path, the ones we usually ignore, we may find ourselves on an unexpected journey that will summon vitality back into our lives.

Binnie Klein is a psychotherapist in private practice in New Haven, Connecticut, and a Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University. She also hosts a popular weekly music and interview show on WPKN radio.


"Klein weaves into her own memories the story of Jewish boxing from Daniel Mendoza, the great 18th century boxer, to Barney Ross, creating delightful riffs with them." — Jewish Book World

"…uncommon in its storyline and graceful in style … While learning to perfect her jabs at an inner-city gym, [Klein] comes to look back on her own past and the world of Jewish boxing with strength, humor and insight." — Jewish Week

"…a story of body image, suppressed rage, growing confidence, and coming to terms with aging. It's funny, thoughtful, and takes a look at the fascinating history of Jewish boxers." — The Nervous Breakdown

"After reading … Blows to the Head … you will think twice before ever stereotyping someone again." — Boxing News

"…a tempered, classical offering of sport as mirror." — Gelf Magazine

"…Blows to the Head is a highly personal book and Klein's love affair with boxing is as much about soul-searching as it is about recreation." — Jerusalem Report

"The sprightly story of how a middle-aged Jewish woman became a boxer … Klein offers a light-hearted, self-deprecating, and entertaining romp through her unusual experiences as a boxer, using them to connect with her current activities, her past, and her Jewish identification." — The Jewish Chronicle

"Boxing isn't just a sport for Klein it is a life affirming activity that makes her stronger not just physically but in every sense of the word." — Examiner

"How likely is it that a nonathletic, Jewish psychotherapist in her mid-50s would take up boxing? Not very. And that is what makes … Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind all the more interesting." — Hartford Courant

"…[Klein's] stories about how facing a unique set of neuroses eventually led her to take joy in wrapping her knuckles and sparring with her coach are pleasantly … revealing." — Bitch

"…with humor and self-deprecating wit … [Klein] explores the … unexpected treasure of learning something new, something that other people think of as dangerous and forbidden." — New Haven Register

"…[a] delighted tone permeates Binnie Klein's memoir of her boxing obsession … [the] passages are lean and strong, and convey the allure of pushing a body and mind past their usual limits … [Klein] doesn't hold back from considerable self-reflection, but it never seems self-indulgent, only pensive." — ForeWord Reviews

"For everyone who ever believed in the ever-mortal wheel of change, Binnie Klein's wonderful tale of change is one of the most unusual stories ever told, one of how she reinvented her own wheel through the sport of boxing and turns around to gaze at the remote past and of what the future holds for her." — Bert Randolph Sugar, author of Boxing's Greatest Fighters

"Until now, I have avoided anything to do with boxing on the grounds that it was brutal and uncivilized. Reading Binnie Klein's elegantly literary, funny, philosophical, moving, and endlessly intriguing Blows to the Head has changed my mind! It's a wonderful discovery." — Katharine Weber, author of True Confections and Triangle

"'Why am I fascinated by boxing?' asks Binnie Klein. And like a savvy fighter, she approaches her question from a variety of angles: Is it to do with being Jewish? Being a woman? Approaching middle age? Is it about family history? Klein tackles these questions with a deft and admirably light touch. The result is the warmest, funniest, and most tough-minded boxing book I've ever read." — Kasia Boddy, author of Boxing: A Cultural History

"A graceful, deft celebration of body and soul. Brava to Binnie Klein for tapping her strength—physical, emotional, and spiritual—and for telling a knockout of a personal story." — Janet Carlson, author of Quick, Before the Music Stops: How Ballroom Dancing Saved My Life

"It's impossible not to be engaged by the story of Binnie—the youngest of three Newark Jewish sisters who was supposed to be a boy named Benny. She skips school to watch General Hospital with her depressed mother, feeling mystified by her ornery, cigar-loving salesman father's love of boxing. Blows to the Head is an inspiring, poetic, and psychologically astute chronicle of how—in her midfifties—this unathletic, brainy psychotherapist finally found a strong, quick-footed, and powerful way to triumph over her past." — Susan Shapiro, author of Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking, and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex and Speed Shrinking