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A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played [Kindle Edition]

Marshall Jon Fisher
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.74
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Sold by: Random House LLC


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Book Description

Before Federer versus Nadal, before Borg versus McEnroe, the greatest tennis match ever played pitted the dominant Don Budge against the seductively handsome Baron Gottfried von Cramm. This deciding 1937 Davis Cup match, played on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, was a battle of titans: the world's number one tennis player against the number two; America against Germany; democracy against fascism. For five superhuman sets, the duo’s brilliant shotmaking kept the Centre Court crowd–and the world–spellbound.

But the match’s significance extended well beyond the immaculate grass courts of Wimbledon. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the brink of World War II, one man played for the pride of his country while the other played for his life. Budge, the humble hard-working American who would soon become the first man to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year, vied to keep the Davis Cup out of the hands of the Nazi regime. On the other side of the net, the immensely popular and elegant von Cramm fought Budge point for point knowing that a loss might precipitate his descent into the living hell being constructed behind barbed wire back home.

Born into an aristocratic family, von Cramm was admired for his devastating good looks as well as his unparalleled sportsmanship. But he harbored a dark secret, one that put him under increasing Gestapo surveillance. And his situation was made even more perilous by his refusal to join the Nazi Party or defend Hitler. Desperately relying on his athletic achievements and the global spotlight to keep him out of the Gestapo’s clutches, his strategy was to keep traveling and keep winning. A Davis Cup victory would make him the toast of Germany. A loss might be catastrophic.

Watching the mesmerizingly intense match from the stands was von Cramm’s mentor and all-time tennis superstar Bill Tilden–a consummate showman whose double life would run in ironic counterpoint to that of his German pupil.

Set at a time when sports and politics were inextricably linked, A Terrible Splendor gives readers a courtside seat on that fateful day, moving gracefully between the tennis match for the ages and the dramatic events leading Germany, Britain, and America into global war. A book like no other in its weaving of social significance and athletic spectacle, this soul-stirring account is ultimately a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

This thoroughly researched account uses the deciding 1937 Davis Cup match between Germany’s Gottfried von Cramm and the U.S.’s Don Budge to explore both the pre-topspin era of tennis and prewar international tension. The debt to John McPhee’s justly sanctified “Levels of the Game” is acknowledged and largely paid, but Fisher’s dutiful focus on the historical details of the era leads to long rehashes of familiar Nazi outrages. Von Cramm emerges as an elegant resister to the Reich, a persecuted homosexual who is clearly more interesting to the author than the bland, prodigiously talented Budge. But the figure at the edge who overshadows the narrative, as he did the tennis world until the Open system began, in 1968, is Bill Tilden, Cramm’s coach, a vain, theatrical box-office star who essentially invented the mid-century game.
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“Rich and rewarding…makes a strong claim to greatest-ever status for Budge vs. Cramm in the Davis Cup…Fisher brings a sharp eye for details. He vividly sketches the anything-goes atmosphere of Weimar Berlin [and] turns up details that tennis fans will savor.”
Wall Street Journal

“Tennis has seen plenty of great matches…but none with the extra-athletic significance of the Budge-Cramm affair…as the match enters its final set, all the narrative pieces lock together and A Terrible Splendor becomes as engrossing as the contest it portrays...Cramm’s life is a movie development deal waiting to happen.”
Washington Post

“Richly detailed…the story moves from one nail-biting set to the next against a backdrop of improbably high personal and political stakes.”
Boston Globe

“Vivid…The compelling nature of the match, in tennis terms alone, would be enough to make this a gripping read…But tennis is almost the least interesting element of Fisher’s account. For the historic match between the two players took place in London, with the world poised for brutal war and the players bringing all manger of psychological baggage on court with them….[Fisher] shows how sport can stand both outside the ‘real world,’ and yet remain subject to its dark whims.”
Financial Times

“Exciting…a thoroughly riveting account of an intense human endeavor…the astonishing, inspiring story of a sports hero who was not merely a heroic tennis player, but a genuinely heroic man.”
The Commercial Dispatch

"Marshall Jon Fisher has masterfully woven the story of Europe on the edge of war, a man pursued by the Gestapo, and America on the rise into the tale of the greatest tennis match of the century. A Terrible Splendor is tense, tragic...

Product Details

  • File Size: 1403 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1st edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00256Z3LS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,934 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a splendid book! May 2, 2009
This book is simply magnificent - writing at its best. In this exquisite account of purportedly the most important tennis match ever, Marshall Jon Fisher has succeeded in creating a tale that both informs and entertains. The tennis match itself is fascinating, but by putting it in historical perspective, Fisher has provided a backdrop that illuminates the lives behind the tennis players. This book provides a terrifying and realistic history of the world in the 1930's and 1940's and peoples it with both historic and lesser known figures, all of whom played a part in the world of tennis. His conclusion that provides a finale to each of the characters is as important to the book as the tale of the tennis match itself. I am grateful to have had an opportunity to learn more about the history of tennis and the biographies of some of tennis' most important figures through such an eloquent medium. If you are interested in history, tennis, movie stars, or brilliant writing, READ THIS BOOK!
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Than a Sports Hero May 21, 2009
Sports and nationalism often clash, and did so memorably when Adolf Hitler was in power. The story of how the four gold medals won by non-Aryan Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics embarrassed the Fuhrer has often been told. Of somewhat lesser renown is the 1936 heavyweight fight between Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, of which a German radio announcer said, "It is every German's obligation to stay up tonight. Max will fight overseas with a Negro for the hegemony of the white race!" I am no sports fan, but I knew of these instances. I had not heard of another significant sports battle of the time, a tennis match in 1937 between American Don Budge and German Gottfried von Cramm. It is the subject of an exciting book, _A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played_ (Crown) by Marshall Jon Fisher. I still am not a sports fan, much less a tennis fan, but this isn't really a sports story; it is a thoroughly riveting account of intense human endeavor.

There may be "three extraordinary men" in the subtitle and in the book, but Cramm is the one the book is really about. The others are Don Budge and Bill Tilden. Budge wasn't extraordinary except in his capacity to play tennis. Tilden was extraordinary in that in the 1920s, and also that he was a flamboyant but closeted homosexual whose exploits were constantly bothering the American tennis bureaucracy. Tilden is part of this story because he was keeping his hand in the game by helping to coach Cramm and his German team. But this is Cramm's story, or rather the story of Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt von Cramm, born at his family's manor near Hanover in 1909. Cramm was a gentleman, with a refined, thoughtful, but powerful game.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terribly Splendid May 16, 2009
I am half way through "A Terrible Splendor" and plan to creep along until the very end. If I waited to the last page to share with readers how much I am enjoying this book, that time might never come. This is because "A Terrible Splendor" is one of those book I don't want to finish. I love historical facts and every fews pages offers me some tantalizing tidbit. Fisher's development of von Cramm, Tilden, and Budge is brilliant and I have come to really know them -- and feel for them. So, I want to hang out with them for a while. The story is not all fun and games and this knowing has me turning pages with mixed feelings. I want to learn more about the lives of these interesting people, and to follow the excitement of the great match, but I do not yet know its cost. The backdrop of Nazi Germany makes for a compelling story line and the way Fisher weaves it all together makes for a riveting read. I highly recommend this terribly splendid book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent May 10, 2009
I enjoyed reading this book - fast paced, tightly written, just enough side line drama to keep it interesting and great character development.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting July 12, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've recommended this book to all of my friends and I don't even play tennis. What a great story of time passed. This is an education and won't disappoint. I have a waiting list of 9 people wanting to read the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many Lives, One Match September 8, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A Terrible Splendor by Marshall Jon Fisher is one of the best books I've read this year for [...]. The subtitle of the book is "Three Extraordinary Men, A World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Every Played" and it is all this, and so much more. It is certainly the very best tennis book I've ever read but even for non-tennis players, this book will hold you from first page until the last, providing suspense, thrills, and very sobering, moving, and compelling history.

In telling the lives of Baron Gottfried Von Cramm, German tennis player, Don Budge, an American player from head to toe, and Bill Tilden, one of the mightiest racquet-wielders ever, and building their stories around the 1937 Davis Cup match between Cramm and Budge, Fisher brings to vibrant life the years between the two world wars, and the very different places that each of these players came from and answered to. Fisher illustrates through strong and engaging writing the dramatic differences that country, age, and sexual orientation played for these three men, and brings home the magnitude of their achievements, on court but also in their lives.

Cramm was an aristocratic German with impeccable good looks, sportsmanship, and tennis playing. Opposed to the policies and practices of the Nazis, and gay, Cramm was safe from Nazi persecution only so long as he kept winning tennis matches for Germany. Budge was a middle-class American with phenomenal tennis skills, a love for Jazz and good times with the Hollywood cronies who befriended him, and solid support from the United States Tennis Association.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars TILDEN: HOMOEROTIC
In my own books on homoeroticism I’ve followed the lives of the men and boys who preferred other men and boys, from Ancient Greece to the end of the Renaissance. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Boyd Hone
5.0 out of 5 stars if you liked The Boys in The Boat...
You'll love A Terrible Splendor. The greatest tennis match ever played set against the time in our history when the world could have changed...drastically. Great read!
Published 1 month ago by Karen S. Gilbert
5.0 out of 5 stars A great tennis history lesson.
This book, on the surface, is describing one of the most exciting and politically important matches ever played. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Philip Michaels
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful snapshot into Geopolitical History and Tennis
Full Disclosure: My grandfather, Bryan M. "Bitsy" Grant, Jr. is prominently feature in this book, so I will have a large degree of supportive bias, or perhaps I would be... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Bryan Grant
4.0 out of 5 stars Tennis history
This work provides a detailed discussion of three tennis players on the eve of World War II, using the backdrop of German Nazi politics and the value of the Davis Cup in tennis, he... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Araph Keita
4.0 out of 5 stars A must for tennis fans
Excellent book. Terrific read if you like tennis and appreciate the history of the sport. The author also did a nice job putting the events into historical context.
Published 7 months ago by Court watcher
5.0 out of 5 stars A noble story, skilfully told
The author offers a detailed account of the magnificent Davis Cup tennis match of July, 1937, between Baron Gottfried von Cramm of Germany and Donald Budge of the United States, a... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Grant Hildebrand
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Tennis History
This is a story that needs to be told among sports enthusiasts and historians. Great history, great stories. Very well-written.
Published 14 months ago by Gary J Cimperman
3.0 out of 5 stars For tennis buffs only
I learned some things that I never missed not knowing. The books gets boring after a while. I did not finish it.
Published 14 months ago by Peter Gaspar
5.0 out of 5 stars Battle of the giants..
The central part of this book is how important the davis cup competition between countries were back in those days. Read more
Published 15 months ago by squirrel man
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More About the Author

Marshall Jon Fisher was born in 1963 in Ithaca, New York, grew up in Miami, and graduated from Brandeis University, where he played varsity tennis. He worked as a sportswriter in Miami and a tennis pro in Munich before moving to New York City, where he received an M.A. in English at City College. In 1989 he moved to Boston and began working as a freelance writer and editor.

He has written on a variety of topics for The Atlantic Monthly, ranging from wooden tennis rackets to Internet fraud, and his work has also appeared in Harper's, Discover, DoubleTake, and other publications, as well as The Best American Essays 2003. His book "The Ozone Layer" was selected by The New York Public Library as one of the best books for teenagers of 1993. His book (with his father, David E. Fisher) "Tube: the Invention of Television" was published by Counterpoint in 1996 and by Harcourt Brace in paperback in 1997. Their second book together, "Strangers in the Night: a Brief History of Life on Other Worlds" (Counterpoint 1998), was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the twenty-five Books to Remember of 1998.

In 2009, "A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, A World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played" was published to great acclaim. The Washington Times called it "a fine book...solidly researched.... Marshall Jon Fisher has found a remarkable story and has told it well." The Wall Street Journal termed it "rich and rewarding," and The San Francisco Chronicle called it "enthralling...a gripping tale.... Fisher pulls the task off with supreme finesse, at once revealing the triumph and tragedy of a remarkable tennis match." You can read more about the author and the book at

Marshall lives in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with his wife, Mileta Roe (a professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Bard College at Simon's Rock), and their two sons, Satchel and Bram.

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