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Levels of the Game

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  823 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
This account of a tennis match played by Arthur Ashe against Clark Graebner at Forest Hills in 1968 begins with the ball rising into the air for the initial serve and ends with the final point. McPhee provides a brilliant, stroke-by-stroke description while examining the backgrounds and attitudes which have molded the players' games.
ebook, 160 pages
Published April 1st 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published September 23rd 1969)
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Jan 08, 2014 Vaidya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
There is a The Master of Go feel to this book. Two players squaring off, their backgrounds, how that decides what they are, the political and social undercurrents of that time, etc. While Kawabata's protagonists represented different ages and the different ways of playing the game, McPhee's are of the same age but from as different backgrounds as they can be from.

A white male, born to privilege and deep pockets, an only son, and his eye right on the money and the American dream which he knows is
Jan 22, 2010 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jessica says my reviews are too snooty; I assume this is because my reviews are comparative based - so many allusions to David Markson, or other books I've read.

But I challenge you to meaningfully review books in a non-comparative manner. I can talk about a book's pacing, and tone, and vocabulary, and meaning, and entertainment - but what are the scales for those? What qualitative and quantitative words would lend any meaning to my attempts to elucidate those factors for someone else? And even i
Aaron Burch
Aug 14, 2014 Aaron Burch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Holy shit, this book is good. It's obvious DFW loved it/McPhee. It reminded me, though I'd be hardpressed to put into words why, a bit of W.C. Heinz's The Professional. Mostly just because I so loved both? Heinz's book is a novel, whereas this is nonfic, but there's something about boxing and tennis that feels very similar, and both books drew me in in a way that can be tricky with sports narrative, but when it works I'm all in.

Bonus: the word "backswing" is used four times. (And "perfect" = 11
Oct 03, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
Such an exquisite little book. McPhee writes with such a graceful simplicity and effortless wit. You can really feel his fascination with these men and with the game of tennis.

I feel bad writing such a short review for a book I so thoroughly enjoyed, but there's just nothing else to say. It's short and incredibly readable and damn near to perfect.
Nov 18, 2016 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has no chapters: It's a 150-page essay by John McPhee that begins with the first point and ends with the last point of a semifinals match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner at Forest Hills in 1968. Interspersed throughout are the two players' backstories, which are so different and yet so similar. A remarkable tour de force that can be read in less time than it took Ashe and Graebner to complete their match. Much obliged to the tennis-loving friend who referred this book to me.
David Lewis
Nov 18, 2016 David Lewis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
good book. a high level history of the Ash/Graebner semifinal at the 1968 US open. the book is laid out like Kevin Costner's movie, "the love of the game," switching between describing points and games to talking about each man's history, pay, and character.
Nov 12, 2016 Biogeek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent for any tennis fan, or anyone wanting see how to write good non-fiction, sporting or otherwise.
Feb 18, 2017 B-luc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book about a tennis match. Really enjoyed it.
Harry Lee
Nov 25, 2016 Harry Lee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Masterful writing. It is easy to watch a tennis match. You take it for granted. But reading a tennis match. This is something else.
Jan 17, 2017 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating tale of two players and their connection to tennis. Loved how McPhee used their personalities and characteristics off the court to describe their style of play on the court.
Es un experimento interesante, pero que de todos modos demuestra que es imposible ser entretenido al intentar describir un partido de tenis.

La traducción no es muy buena, así que le quité una estrella a esta edición en particular.
Dec 12, 2013 Paolo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dice Matteo Codignola, il curatore di questa piccola ma preziosissima raccolta (un curatore benemerito e però un po' indiscreto: invece di scrivere una bella postfazione, si intromette tra i due racconti/reportage con una lunga digressione non richiesta che dovrebbe fare da trait d'union, se non fosse che, tra le altre cose, dobbiamo venire a conoscenza delle sue difficoltà nel giocare a tennis contro Nanni Moretti, che lo tortura psicologicamente e gli inibisce sadicamente la conquista di un so ...more
Apr 01, 2015 Dioptrias rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Verano de 1968, aún está reciente el asesinato de Martin Luther King Jr. Mientras los conflictos raciales y la lucha por los derechos civiles agitan la vida de los Estados Unidos, en el barrio neoyorkino de Queens se disputa el primer US Open de la historia. Es el nacimiento del tenis moderno, un momento crucial para el deporte en el que jugadores profesionales y amateurs se enfrentan por primera vez.

A un lado de la red, Arthur Ashe: afroamericano, demócrata, clase trabajadora. Del otro, Clark G
Jul 27, 2016 Akin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
Arthur Ashe v Clark Graeber, semi-finals, US Open, Forest Hills, 1968.

The United States of America, 1968. Race, Vietnam, Social Justice, Militant Action, Class, Education, Race. McPhee doesn't reach for the definitive statement. He simply writes about the match, and the players, and their perspectives on the world they live in, with a startling fluidity.

There are a couple of sections that have aged less well. One would not be so sardonic about the battle of the sexes, even in passing today. An
Nov 17, 2009 Carin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sports
This is certainly the most unusual sports books I've ever read. The framework is that the entire book is a play-by-play of a single tennis game in 1968 between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner. Interspersed throughout are digressions into both players' personalities, backgrounds, and politics. As per usual for McPhee I did learn a lot of random trivia (Arthur Ashe was a lieutenant in the army!) Language about race was off-putting 40 years later (it was written in 1969) although I know it was accur ...more
Jan 28, 2013 Gloria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book about a tennis game, and so much more.

Written in 1969, only five years from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the book, this book is ostensibly about the 1968 US Open game at Forest Hills between Graebner and Ashe. But McPhee weaves in comments and thoughts from both of the players and their families and, because Graebner and Ashe, while compatriots and colleagues in the game of tennis, come from such different backgrounds, paints a social portrait of the times.

I was really struck by Ashe's
Holly Cline
Sep 11, 2010 Holly Cline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Holly by: Jennifer Didik
Shelves: sports
What a delightful little book about tennis. If you enjoy the sport at all, it's definitely worth your while to pick up this quick read. The pacing could have gone awry with all the back and forth between play-by-play and personal histories of Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, but it actually worked and worked well.

It's interesting to think about 'tennis purists' of the time thinking Ashe & Graebner's power games were ruining the sport for the future. If only they could have seen Roddick, Isner
Lisa Hunt
Feb 27, 2014 Lisa Hunt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun, obscure little book that my friend lent me. It is a quick (about 150 pages), interesting read. It covers a single tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner (who I had never heard of). It mixes in the details of the tennis match with commentary on the two players...Graebner from a white, upper middle class background and Ashe from a black, less advantaged, single-parent home. Two players that had very different paths that end up, more or less, in the same spot. It is dat ...more
Patrick Cawiezell
It was eye opening to read this account of Championship level tennis from just over 40 years ago. Ashe and Graebner were two of the top players in the world and they both had day jobs because tennis was still an "amateur" sport.

Graebner has been lost to history but it was interesting to get his insights about hoping to be a millionaire by his early 40's, of course if he had come along thirty years later he would have been a millionaire many times over for his tennis ability alone but in that er
Nov 15, 2009 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John McPhee is a truly gifted writer. He can make anything interesting, and, while there are some clear consistencies in his style, I like the way he addresses different subjects in different ways in his books. Levels of the Game is basically two mini-biographies of tennis players Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, set against the backdrop of their US Open semifinal in 1968. But the match, rather than being just the context, is interwoven into the biographies. So in covering the two men's history, ...more
Mar 16, 2013 Reid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
This book, at first glance, seems almost like stunt-writing. It reminds me of Ian McEwan's Saturday; let's take this super-restrictive premise (a single day, a single tennis match) and see if my superb writing skills can still create an engaging story. McPhee pulls it off, though, and the whole story is a great read. I think you'll get more out of this if you've played competitive tennis, but all the background on Ashe and Grabner is enough, I think, to hook even folks who have only a casual int ...more
Ryan Gessner
Mar 08, 2012 Ryan Gessner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Levels of the Game is a book about a tennis match, but also a fantastic character study of two great tennis players. Possibly the single best book about sports I’ve ever read, it immerses us in the semifinal match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner at the inaugural U.S. Open. McPhee switches back and forth between a detailed narrative of the entire match, starting from the first serve and ending with the last point, and a look at how these two fascinating athletes, who were friendly competit ...more
Bill Daniels
Jan 20, 2015 Bill Daniels rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first Introduction to McPhee.

I bought "Levels" and Oriana Fallaci's "The Egotists" to read on the flight to Vietnam. I knew the flight was going to be long what with the heavy winter winds blowing west to east over the pacific.

I have kept the concept of levels of any game with me the rest of my life.

The book itself is about the 1968 U.S. Open Championship match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner.

I read and dozed over the three leg flight.

At one point, my seat mate sitting next to the wind
Jun 01, 2014 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short read but so well written. If you're a tennis fan or player I would say this is essential reading. Reads like a movie, hopping back and forth between the match and the history and lives of Ashe and Graebner. McPhee compares and contrasts the two through their styles of play and their upbringing. One minute, you're hearing Graebner's frustration mid-match of Ashe's high-risk shots landing in, and the next you're learning about Graebner's off the court "strut" due to a spinal injury in his yo ...more
Dec 25, 2014 Herbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book probably seems less remarkable because we live in the era of Grantland (RIP) and ESPN longform and David Foster Wallace and Claudia Rankine writing so beautifully about tennis. Still, it is remarkable: cinematic and sweeping and both historical and full of moment-to-moment tennis drama. Probably, so many of the things that we take for granted in sports writing now were done for the first time here. Seeing sports as a site for the dramatic collision of racial and economic difference, fo ...more
Jan 03, 2013 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't wait to pick this up after finishing Agassi. Also interested to see how much of Peter Hessler, McPhee's old student, I can see in the writing.

Finished. Best book on sports I've ever read. Gets so deeply into the game of tennis and characters of Clark Graebner and Arthur Ashe that you feel transported bAck to the court and the childhoods that shaped their games. Tennis descriptions are beautiful and only get at a poetry that I thought existed just wirh hockey: "scything cross court backh
Vitor Capela
Sep 01, 2010 Vitor Capela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
McPhee puts us courtside, watching the ball go by and feeling in our guts the ebbs and flows of the match. Each points pulls a connecting thread that leads us to know a lot about the players -- Ashe, the (today) underrated star, Graebner the forgotten WASP -- and how American society worked at the time. Saying the latter played tennis like a Republican somehow gives me a clearer image of his game than any YouTube footage could, and yet you understand very well where he comes from and why he sees ...more
Aug 21, 2015 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came upon this book while trying to get my hands on a copy of "A Sense of Where You Are". Now, having read both, I liked Levels of the Game better. It profiled both Arthur Ashe and Scott Graebler in 1968. In true McPhee fashion he drew comments and information from the two that they probably had never thought about. The book contrasts the two star players from their earliest playing days in a masterful way and it tells us more about the sport, and their lives than a book just built around Brad ...more
Marjorie Campbell
If you are a tennis player or fan AND a John McPhee lover, this book is must read, and reread. It's been some years since I last read it but it was even better this go-round. Guiding the reader through a classic match between Ashe and Graebel, McPhee layers on a full history of African Americans and professional tennis, as well as documenting how the level of the game displaces often profound social differences of its players. McPhee, you might say, shows us the levels of writing with this maste ...more
Alyson Hagy
Feb 04, 2016 Alyson Hagy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read a lot of McPhee. A lot. And I have always found him observant and concise and deft at removing himself from the center of things. He is a master of eliciting the character of those he studies. But I'd never read this book, despite my love for tennis. It's wonderful. And, though its racial analysis is somewhat dated, it holds up well as a dual portrait of two very different athletes. A real inspiration to anyone who wants to read (or write) serious sports-related nonfiction.
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John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The P ...more
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