From Publishers Weekly
The legendary 1973 battle of the sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was equal parts media circus and watershed political moment. This book on the match, however, is beguiling in structure: it starts with the pair's oddly similar underdog childhoods and slowly builds to the main event—only to turn unexpectedly in the second half into a chronicle of the Title IX movement. Women's soccer, the Williams sisters, Annika Sorenstam—Roberts's coverage knows no bounds. The author, a New York Times
sports columnist, gets at the falseness of the 1973 competition (aging Riggs didn't even bother to train) without detracting from its significance. And if the match's outcome is well known, Roberts spices it up with new insight: King's evolution as an activist was slow and uncomfortable; Riggs's chauvinism was as much shtick as misguidedness. But for a book with such evident ambition, it sometimes feels too journalistic; only too late does it move from a celebration of feminism to a larger assessment of Title IX's future. More perplexingly, Roberts reflects only a little on the consequences of what, as she suggests in the title, is the biggest subtext of Riggs-King and, indeed, modern sports: its evolution into spectacle.
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On September 20, 1973, Billie Jean King, the premier female tennis player of her era, defeated aging male former Wimbledon champion and self-promoting hustler Bobby Riggs in a nationally televised match ballyhooed as the "Battle of the Sexes." At the time, it seemed like made-for-television tripe, but there were larger issues at stake, many understood only by King and a handful of supporters. Roberts, an award-winning columnist for the New
York Times, explores the events leading up to the match as well as the subsequent consequences, both direct and indirect. Riggs had created a context for the match by proclaiming women players so inferior to men that the best woman couldn't beat an over-the-hill hustler. His first challenge match with a woman, against Australian Margaret Court, seemed to prove his point as he demolished one of the top-tier female stars. But Court was no Billie Jean. Roberts explores the match in terms of its cultural significance, its impact on Title IX legislation, and the rise of feminism--in sports and otherwise--in the last quarter of the twentieth century. She also profiles the personalities involved, particularly the principals, King, Riggs, and Court. The only misstep in this ambitious and successful exploration of a uniquely American athletic moment is a chapter on contemporary tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. It just doesn't fit well within the theme of the book. On balance, though, this a fascinating, carefully crafted history of a contest that may have been the catalyst for a new era of women's athletics. Wes LukowskyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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