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The Goddess and the American Girl: The Story of Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills Hardcover – May 12, 1988

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Between the two world wars, women's tennis changed radically: from a genteel, almost delicate, game it became much more akin to the sport as played by men. The two women most responsible for this revolution were the French player Suzanne Lenglen and the American Helen Wills, whose stories are combined in this ambitious study. By far the more interesting of the two was the complex Gaul, high-strung, with only a thin veneer of self-confidence, a contestant heavily dependent on the approval of her domineering father. In contrast, Wills enjoyed the sport precisely because it was a game and found it great fun. The single clash between the two, on the Riviera in 1926, was noteworthy, and Engelmann makes it highly dramatic. The book, however, is so overlong that it is apt to put off all but the most ardent tennis buffs. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Two great athletes whose personalities clashed are the subjects of this absorbing and lengthy dual biography. They both reached the pinnacle of the tennis world in the 1920s and 1930s. Lenglen was aggressive, tempestuous, and played with flair. Wills earned the sobriquet "Little Poker Face" for her imperious and cool court manner. The great matches they played against each other and various top stars are described in almost numbing detail. Although there is not much personal data, both women were pioneer feminists in a male-dominated sports world. Despite being wordy and overly detailed, a good choice for most public libraries.Samuel Simons, Memorial Hall Lib., Andover, Mass.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (May 12, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195043634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195043631
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,040,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Larry Engelmann is the author of six books: Intemperance(1979); The Goddess and the American Girl(1988); Tears Before the Rain(1991); Daughter of China(1998); They Said That(1999); and Feather in the Storm(2006). His books have been published in translation in 14 foreign languages, including Vietnamese and Chinese. He has also written for several national magazines including Life, American Heritage, Smithsonian, Playboy, Vietnam, the Saturday Review and Reader's Digest and for the Canadian magazine McLean's. He authored several stories published in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines. His stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Toronto Star, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News. He is currently at work on a book examining the serial murders in San Jose and the surrounding area between 1969 and 1971 with the working title, "Our Share of Night." Three of the murders (the Snoozy/Furlong/Bilek crimes) were solved in 1971. Another, the Mallicoat murder remains unsolved to this day. Three other similar crimes in the 1970s in Santa Clara County with the same MO as the first three, remain unsolved, also. He is also composing a memoir of coming of age in a small town during the height of the cold war, with the working title of Sex, Lies and Spam: A Very Cold War Childhood.

Mr. Engelmann lives part of each year at his home in northern California. He travels widely gathering materials for his writing and he customarily spends several weeks each year in Southeast Asia. He is a graduate of Austin High School in Austin, Minnesota, and earned his undergraduate degree in history and economics at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. He earned a PhD in American history and literature from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was motivated to buy this book after I watched the “American Masters” series entry featuring tennis star Billie Jean King. King is a champion whose achievements deserve to be recognized. However, I was disturbed by the documentary’s suggestion that King put women’s tennis on the map. I had gotten the impression from my parents’ involvement with the sport in the 1920’s, that a previous generation of women had fought for, and largely achieved, equality for women in tennis.

I bought this book to see if that was true. Engelmann confirms here that not only did the female stars of the 1920’s put women’s tennis on an equal footing with men’s – their competitions by far surpassed the men’s as box office draws and as sheer sensation. That these women have been so largely forgotten, and that most current documentaries fail to credit them or even make passing mention of them, is one of the oddest mysteries of the sports’ world.

Engelmann concentrates on recounting the exploits of French/European star Suzanne Lenglen (pronounced like a nasalized long-glen) and her arch rival, Californian Helen Wills. He tells how these women fought their way to preeminence, thrilling crowds of admirers with their power and grace. One of the rare modern commentators familiar with those stars has said that Lenglen was the Michael Jordan of that era, making seemingly impossible jumps and pirouettes across the court, at times, almost giving the impression of levitating.

The face-off between Lenglen and Wills attracted more attention in its day than the King/Riggs competition did in 1973. While the King/Riggs tournament was merely a “Battle of the Sexes” – the game between Lenglen and Wills became “The Battle of the Nations,” or, even more dramatically, “The War of the Worlds.
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