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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a splendid book!
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...
Published on May 2, 2009 by Lisabeth Dilalla

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2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting characters and history but the book is terribly organized. Also
Interesting characters and history but the book is terribly organized. Also, way too much tennis match detail for a non-tennis playing reade
Published 1 month ago by Eugene Carlson


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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. He was the soul of honor, refusing to take points the officials mistakenly called for him. He was handsome; one observer said, "Every year that von Cramm steps onto the Centre Court at Wimbledon, a few hundred young women sit a little straighter and forget about their escorts." Cramm was, however, a homosexual. His homosexuality was not much of a problem in Weimar Berlin in the early 1920s, but after that the Nazis were putting homosexuals into concentration camps. He detested the Third Reich, refusing to talk it up when he was on tour. The match to decide the 1937 Davis Cup at Wimbledon is one of the many tennis tournaments described here. Fisher has woven parts of the match into the larger narrative of the book, and though the actual play isn't as important as the larger story he has to tell, the battle between Cramm and Budge sounds as if it was a game no one in the stands would ever forget. Journalist Alistair Cooke was there, and wrote, "The two white figures began to set the rhythms of something that looked more like ballet than a game where you hit a ball. People stopped asking other people to sit down. The umpire gave up stopping the game to beg for silence during rallies." James Thurber was there, too, and reflected on the end of the match that it had been "something so close to art that at the end it was more as if a concert had ended than a tennis match. The shouts of `Bravo!' when it was over came out of an emotion usually reserved for something more important." Hardly anyone knew that, as Cramm put it himself, "I'm playing for my life." As long as he kept winning, the Nazis were willing to overlook his unorthodox ways, and when Budge managed a last splendid shot, no one beside Cramm knew how much he had lost. But he was a real sportsman. Having lost the match, he went to Budge, clasped his hand, and said, "Don, this was absolutely the finest match I have ever played in my life. I'm very happy I could have played it against you, whom I like so much. Congratulations."

Cramm had been right about playing for his life. Less than a year later, he was thrown into prison for "moral delinquency", and afterwards he was sent to the Russian front. He got frostbite in both legs, but after the war he returned to tennis, and took up cotton importing. He couldn't visit the United States again; even if it had been a bunch of Nazis who had convicted him of a morals charge, it prevented him from getting a visa. It could have been much worse for him; homosexuals liberated from the prison camps after the war were sent to regular prisons to finish their sentences. The law making them criminals wasn't revoked until 1994. _A Terrible Splendor_ is the astonishing, inspiring story of a sports hero who was not merely a heroic tennis player, but a genuinely heroic man.
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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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many Lives, One Match, September 8, 2009
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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. Bill Tilden was the most famous tennis player of his time and into our own, as heralded for his amazing and enduring tennis-playing as for his off-court persona, infamous for his on-court antics, and highly irritating to the USTA for his bullheadedness as well as his ill-closeted gayness. Fisher gives us insight into all three, as well as solid introductions to many other figures of the times, including American tennis player Gene Mako, Queen Mary of England, English playwright Christopher Isherwood, German-Jewish tennis player Daniel Prenn, up and coming American Bobby Riggs, Hollywood types like Jack Benny and Charlie Chaplin, heiress Barbara Hutton, and Nazi terrors Goring, Himmler, and Hitler himself. That was the mix of the 1930s, a world indeed "poised for war." For some, World War II would bring persecution, deprivations, and personal tragedy, for others a new responsibility and realization of life's chaos, and for others, death.

The tennis match around which A Terrible Splendor is structured is told with perfect timing, building momentum and suspense then taking a break (neither disruptive nor jarring) to tell more of the background history, personal and political and social, and then taking us back into the match. The book drove me through emotional ranges of tears, anger, and excitement, and I could not put it down, as caught up as I was in the amazing lives of these three very distinct individuals, the times they lived in, and the match itself. Indeed, I was on the edge of my seat throughout this marvelous book and unsure until the end who won this incredible battle that went five sets, who survived the spiraling years into World War II, and who met the promise of a world beyond tennis and beyond war. I will never forget Cramm, Budge, or Tilden, or this great book, A Terrible Splendor.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting, July 12, 2009
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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, May 10, 2009
By 
K. Seeger (Albuquerque, New Mexico) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tennis, and then some!, July 21, 2009
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Like the world of the arts and politics, sports is no stranger to larger than life personalities whose individual lives often fail to mirror the success of those individuals. Marshall Jon Fisher, in his excellent new book, "A Terrible Splendor", recounts the activities of the top players in tennis in the late 1930s, both on and off the court. What he reveals is hardly shocking by today's standards but it allows the reader to get a glimpse of how tennis fit into the larger world picture as war clouds were gathering in Europe.

The thrust of the book centers around one match...a Davis Cup final played in London in 1937...a match often thought to be the most exciting ever played, where American newcomer Don Budge upset the German aristocrat Gottfried von Cramm. The ramifications of that match extended worldwide, but in no country more so than Germany. Ostensibly, "A Terrible Splendor" is about the von Cramm/Budge meeting, but it becomes almost a sideshow when the issues of von Cramm, a German homosexual and mentored by the greatest tennis player of his day, "Big" Bill Tilden, also a gay man, cross paths. Fisher is very good at blending in societal parallels regarding the mores of the day, especially on the issue of sexuality. That both men were gay, and known to be gay in tennis circles, and the fact that dicreetness played a role it wouldn't play today, reminds each reader of how different things were just a couple of generations ago.

Fisher's narrative style builds nicely. He's good at telling the story of the match, but his historical perspective completes the book. It's not always easy to have a courtside seat (in this case) but the author manages to do so with a crisp play-by-play. I highly recommend "A Terrible Splendor" for its insightful look at the game, the players of the time and the society in which they lived.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read, June 1, 2009
By 
J. E. Moss (Washinton, DC USA) - See all my reviews
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I just finished "A Terrible Splendor" and loved it. Couldn't put it down, in fact. For me, it was the perfect blend of history, biography, and tennis.

On the historical side, it was meticulously researched and gave all the relevant background to set the stage for the tennis, without getting into superfluous details. Fisher must have had reams of other material to include, but he doesn't indulge any tendency to get into it all any more than necessary -- just pithy, densely given details that made for a rich and exciting text. The background he gives is both enthralling on its own merit, and the perfect set up for the rest of the book. I walked away with a much fuller understanding of both pre-war Nazi Germany and pre-war America -- from both a political and social perspective. I particularly appreciated that Fisher doesn't ascribe to any myths of the era (e.g., Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics) without being sure of their veracity. When he's not certain of something, he tells you. It's a very refreshing and honest style that I appreciated from his editor's note before page 1.

On the biography side, it's a beautiful tale of not just the 3 main figures (Budge, Cramm, Tilden), but many secondary characters as well. I felt by the end of the match/book that I knew exactly where each had come from, what was motivating them, where they fit into the broader sports and political scenes, and what the match meant to them. They come alive in the way of any great biography, but here we get 3 all at once. I guess the best thing to say is that, like the Wimbledon crowd, I forgot who I was rooting for and just wanted to see them all turn out for the best. And I really appreciated the fact that he didn't just include a 3-page epilogue to the match; instead he gives a detailed summary of how each of the 3+ lives evolved after this match. I'd grown to care about them all that this extra detail was sort of like the match itself -- I didn't want it, or their lives, to end.

And the description of the tennis match was spectacular. Never a wasted moment, and if anything, I wanted more tennis in the early chapters. But Fisher doesn't waste pages on shot-by-shot details of the early sets. Instead he tells us how the match progresses in a riveting, minimalist way until the end, at which point he draws it all out with wonderful detail, evoking the emotion and tension of the moment. Details such as how the radio announcer for the U.S. was repeatedly told to keep on broadcasting (originally planned for only a 15 minute snippet) as the match progressed were wonderful. By the end of the match, I felt like I was there, waiting with the crowd, not wanting the match to end, and waiting with a deep breath to see how it would finally turn. He also did a super job of describing how the game was different then (amateur vs. professional, the clothes, the pace of the match, the sportsmanship,...) -- just one wonderful subtlety I wouldn't have thought to even inquire about after another.

All in all, I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves social history of the pre-WWII era, who's interested in the intersection of sports and politics, and of course anyone with an interest in tennis. It was an absolute joy to read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent mix of tennis, Roaring 20s, sportsmanship, Nazism, gay issues, June 28, 2009
As Don Budge replaced Bill Tilden as America's top tennis player, the Roaring 20s were well into the Depression. But, Tilden was still one of the top sports icons of that era.

But, the US Lawn Tennis Association was glad to see him fall. They knew, as few others did, despite jokes, that Tilden was gay.

Meanwhile, across the ocean, aristocratic Baron Gottfried von Cramm resisted calls first, then pressure, to join the Nazi Party even as he rose in the tennis ranks. He, though married, was also gay, and watched over his shoulder as the 30s grew longer.

Then, befriended by Tilden in the mid-30s, he raised his tennis game even higher. And with Tilden rebuffed even as a USLTA coach, so, he sat watching von Cramm face off against Budge in a do-or-die Davis Cup match three weeks after Budge had whipped von Cramm to win Wimbledon.

Fisher weaves these story lines together, both before and after the dramatic clash, including the eventual arrests of both Tilden, in the U.S., and von Cramm, in Nazi Germany.

An excellent look at various slices of life, expertly woven together.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, A Treasure, July 4, 2012
By 
Gerry Mandel (St. Louis MO, USA) - See all my reviews
You can read the other comments, reviews, summaries to see what this magnificent book is about. All I want to add is that I read a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction. I discovered A Terrible Splendor about 3 weeks ago, mentioned in a column somewhere. I'm glad I read it, I'm sorry it's over. If you are a fan of any of the following: sports...tennis...history...World War 2.... Germany...Nazis.... Tilden, Budge, or von Cramm.... excellent writing... a sense of history and place and events... if any of those things appeal to you, pick up A Terrible Splendor.
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A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played
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