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Levels of the Game
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Levels of the Game

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  509 ratings  ·  53 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 946)
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Aaron Burch
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
...more
Lisa Hunt
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
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
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
Carin
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
Paolo
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
James
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
...more
Gloria
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
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Holly Cline
Sep 29, 2010 Holly Cline rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Anita Ashland
Even though I like tennis, it never would have occurred to me that a written account of a match could be so riveting. The way McPhee weaves in details of the players' background, along what is going on the minds of the players during the match, made it almost impossible for me to put the book down.
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
...more
Ryan Gessner
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
Reid
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
Joe
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
Alberto
La parte sul match tra Ashe e Graebner così così (soprattutto quando descrive il gioco in campo). Notevole invece quella sul giardiniere che cura i campi di Wimbledon e godibilissima la storiella di Codignola sul tennis e dintorni. Soprattutto quando ci illustra come gioca Nanni Moretti: una rottura di palle che commenta ogni punto ed ogni tuo errore, i peggiori che si possono trovare sulla terra rossa ed affini.
Bella la copertina. W Nanni.
Vitor Peres
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
Kevin
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
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Owen Friedrich

Paperback available in West Chester Library
emece
Si me ha flipado sin tener ni idea de tenis, no quiero ni pensar lo que me habría gustado si supiera algo sobre el deporte. El síndrome "Moneyball".
Renato
"Livelli di gioco" è un racconto fenomenale, il cuore del libro. McPhee ti trascina non solo nella partita di tennis del 68 tra Ashe e Graebner (facendotela vivere in prima persona con un realismo disarmante) ma nella loro stessa vita, così diversa e simile allo stesso tempo, intrecciando i caratteri e i pensieri dei due giocatori.
Il successivo racconto di Codignola e il terzo, di McPhee, non sono però all'altezza del primo, davvero davvero bello.
Lo consiglio a chiunque ami questo sport, prati
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Cody
Reading a review of a John McPhee book means that you are wasting valuable time that could be spent actually reading a John McPhee book. One of his better early books, "Levels" is, first and foremost, a book about a tennis match. Then you realize that, first and foremost, it's a book about race in America. What's remarkable is that these two competing centers exist at the same time, in the same space, and are, in fact, the same conversation.
Michael
A great dual-biography told over the course of a tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner. Some of the old-fashioned tennis references are fun (reminds me of a tennis version The Glory Game) - two amateurs facing off in a US Open semi! McPhee is basically a master of making mundane stuff exciting, and he succeeds here. Doesn't quite have the flair of any of DFW's tennis pieces, but that's a high bar to try to reach.
Nick
This early John McPhee book works on many levels, as an account of a match between two young tennis stars, Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner; as profiles of each man at the start of their careers; as an examination of race and sport in America at the end of the 1960s. I wish there were less tennis jargon in the accounts of the match between Ashe and Graebner but that's a quibble. I was surprised by how meaningful this book still is.
Raffaele Castagno
Se vi piace il tennis, compratavelo, c'è poco da aggiungere. Se non vi piace il tennis compratevelo lo stesso. Perché potreste cambiare idea (che non fa male) ma sopratutto perché quello di McPhee è un ottimo libro, dove una partita di tennis, narrata punto per punto, può diventare un romanzo straordinario. La penna dell'autore vale in bellezza quanto i rovesci di un campione della racchetta.
Melissa Acuna
John McPhee's writing is so precise, so eloquent and so brilliant it takes my breath away. In this short work, he details the semi-final tennis match at the US Open in Forest Hills, NY played by Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner in 1968. In addition to narrating the match almost stroke by stroke, he examines each player's background, and the impact that it has on their tennis games.
Dieter
Tops if its kind. Following the course of a single match, delves in to the play, psychological and lifestyles of both contestants. Takes apart shots, fun for students of the game. A great journalistic effort to get such interesting details about both the match, their responses to it, and their personal histories. Read it gluttonously, a good sign as goes the powers of reading and writing.
Wyma
It's 40 years old - anyway the tennis match is that McPhee describes play-by-play in a breathtaking way, filling in with bits of the players' lives and thoughts. Everyone knows about Arthur Ashe, but I'd never heard of Graebner, his opponent. I don't know much about tennis but I would think that those who do would enjoy this book even more than I did. Fantastic read!
Dan  Logue
McPhee uses a match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner as the anchor of his descriptions of the two men, their personalities, tennis games, different paths to the match itself, and to a small degree the game of tennis. A nice snapshot of Ashe, and the state of tennis at the sport at the time, before his stardom and meaning in American culture is fully realized...
Ben
A scenic path through a 1968 US Open semifinal featuring Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner. Meandering narrative thread, but in a way that made the book very enjoyable, if tough to put down and pick back up. More like a 140 page essay than a book, really. No chapters, and few natural breaks, but I like short books so I was a fan.
Matt Buchholz
Oct 26, 2009 Matt Buchholz rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: David Foster Wallace fans
Recommended to Matt by: Nate Dore
Shelves: book-club
A concise, intricately paced piece of creative non-fiction that makes a compelling argument for the view of sports, or at least tennis, as intellectual endeavors. Makes a boy curious about all those "America's Best Sports Writing" anthologies that seemed like a joke before.
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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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