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

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  319 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
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; ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 21st 2009 by Crown (first published 2009)
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Feb 13, 2014 BrokenTune rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
Review first posted on BookLikes:

I am utterly exhausted today. I didn't get much sleep last night. It was just too hard to put this book down, so I read on until the wee small hours of this morning when I finished the last chapter.

And it all started with this...

"JULY THE TWENTIETH, 1937, AND Baron Gottfried von Cramm tosses a new white Slazenger tennis ball three feet above his head. It seems to hang there suspended for the slightest of moments, a distant
Nov 27, 2009 Ivan rated it liked it
As I write this review, having only just finished the book, I must confess to a decidedly mixed reaction. The story of the 1937 Davis Cup match between American Don Budge and the German aristocrat Baron Gottfried von Cramm is certainly a compelling one. Indeed, the reportage of the actual championship match between Budge and von Cramm is gripping entertainment, replete with colorful quotations and a fine sense of pacing. However, the author too often falls into the biographer’s trap of regurgita ...more
Feb 06, 2012 Trish rated it really liked it
Very good. I like to absorb my history through the lens of a particular event or people of the time, (a la Seabiscuit) and this book does a great job of it. A bit of a slog through the really tennis-technique-heavy parts, but I was rewarded with a lot more appreciation of game strategy and skill. Much more interesting was the political backdrop of two closeted gay men, one German playing for Germany against his will, one American coaching for Germany in defiance of America in the definitive 1937 ...more
Feb 07, 2011 Jui rated it really liked it
I wish I could give this book all 5 stars, because the story is great. This book has everything that even a lot of good fictions don't have. I mean if you want to make of any book into a movie, this would be it. An idiom comes to my mind that describes my feeling about this book is that the "Truth (real life) is stranger (more fascinating)than fiction".

There is no sport today where one can say that winning a game is question of death and life, but in 1937 Davis Cup that's exactly what it was. T
R.B. Payne
Jul 27, 2011 R.B. Payne rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating read that blends history, sport, and inspiration. The events in the book are focused primarily in Europe, pre-WWII; but the span of the book reaches from the beginning of tennis to modern day. If the names Bill Tilden, Don Budge, and Gottfried Von Cramm don't mean anything to you, they will when you finish this book.

Marshall Jon Fisher's writing style is lyrical, almost hypnotic at times, and he tells this true story in such a heart-filled way that I was truly sorry when th
Marlene Rockmore
Feb 15, 2012 Marlene Rockmore rated it really liked it
I have a guilty pleasure which is tennis and I've become a fan of the genre of tennis books. I was at the Nadal/Federer match, which was supposed to have been the greatest match ever played, and I read this a week after the exhausting Nadal/Djokovic Australian Final of 2012. I read John McPhee's Level of the Game, about Arthur Ashe, who came from the public courts of African American Richmond Virginia to capture the US Open against country club Clark Graebner. But this book was surprisingly inte ...more
May 08, 2012 Gabriel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is odd when tennis, in a book that ostensibly focuses on the sport, is the least interesting thing in the book. This book is so chock full of wartime depictions and historical blurbs that most history buffs, not just tennis fans, would be entranced. I'm not sure about the objective veracity of some of the facts as reported by Fisher, and I'm pretty sure there's a fair amount of creative license being employed for maximum dramatic effect when it comes to the players' interactions, but the mixt ...more
Greg Fanoe
Feb 28, 2012 Greg Fanoe rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The true story was a hell of a lot of fun, it works well as a general work on the political environment of pre-World War II Europe, and there's more than enough twists and turns to go around. I wish it had a little more structure, but that's a minor nitpick.
Michael Thimsen
Jan 26, 2014 Michael Thimsen rated it really liked it
Gottfried von Cramm is one of the greatest tennis players that I have never heard of until now. It was a pleasure to read about his sportsmanship and his bravery in the face of fanatical Nazism. I also regret that I was born too late to watch the great Don Budge hit a backhand.
Oct 02, 2013 Rene' rated it really liked it
Fascinating account of tennis as the world steamrolls toward WWII.. So many intriguing stories and amazing people. Even those who don't love tennis will find this book engrossing.
Mar 24, 2013 Toby rated it really liked it
For anyone interested in tennis or for those who love the tale of a great historic moment populated with strong, charismatic characters, this is a fine read.
Apr 21, 2012 Amber rated it it was amazing
Very well-researched and interesting story on 1938 Davis Cup; interwoven with the various political issues of the time; great storytelling
Jul 10, 2013 Ken rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, culture, tennis
The best tennis book ever!
Patrick Rizio
Mar 13, 2017 Patrick Rizio rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Terrific book. With the background history from world war one and going forward this is a great historical novel. The tennis information is excellent if you're a fan, (as I am), but you don't have to love tennis to enjoy this book. Great character development! I would recommend it highly.
This would be more enjoyable if I loved sports writing or tennis. Interesting, how a single match could mean so much to one person--the Nazis at his back--and overall more depressing than I'd guessed it would be.
Maureen M
May 22, 2009 Maureen M rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, reviews
May 31 -- Star Tribune One was a German aristocrat, the epitome of elegance and sportsmanship. The other was a homely American raised on public tennis courts. Between them stood the net at Center Court in Wimbledon and a web of international tension.
“A Terrible Splendor” recounts the 1937 Davis Cup match between the German, Baron Gottfried von Cramm, and the American, Don Budge, set against the gravitational pull of World War II.
Again, an international sporting event would be a proxy for polit
Aug 07, 2013 Harold rated it liked it
This is the potentially fascinating history of three tennis players and one of the most important tennis matches of all time -- the 1937 Davis Cup match between the US and Germany. What makes it interesting is the three protagonists (or at least two of them) and the world they found themselves in. The American Don Budge faced off against the German Gottfried von Cramm, who was coached, unofficially, by perhaps the best tennis player of all time, Bill Tilden.

Von Cramm is almost the archetype Ger
Apr 18, 2011 Gloria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Gloria by: Matt
(Gift to Matt, who then read it and highly recommended it to me.)

Really enjoyed this book, in that it placed this amazing match in the context of world politics, as well as social mores. I am giving it four stars because of two things, equally divided between the reader and the writer: 1) I glazed over with the amount of details on the actual games, which is completely my shortcoming (still can't figure out accurately the tennis terminology after all these years), and 2) there was so much detail
Jock Mcclees
Jun 14, 2016 Jock Mcclees rated it liked it
Great story. Thought about giving it 4 stars. The title talks about 3 extraordinary men but the focus is primarily on two of them. It revolves around one of the greatest tennis matches of all time, the deciding 5th match of the Davis Cup interzone final between Germany and the United States in 1937 played by Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm.

I had never heard of von Cramm or Bill Tilden, who was the other one of the 3 the book focused on. Both it turned out were gay and each had problems b
Dec 07, 2010 Goatville9 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Maybe a little overenthusiastic in the bestowing of stars. Many books try to combine sports and mainstream history/zeitgeist and fail because they make things too simplistic or jingoistic. (War As They Knew It springs to mind as an example.)

This book doesn't fall into that category. I enjoyed it very much. Recommended for all tennis fans and sports history fans. (There's nothing risqué here, but if your mind is too tiny to handle the fact that yes, gay people play sports too, than this is not a
The idea behind this book is intriguing from the get-go. As the subtitle says, "Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played." It's got biography, history, and sports all brought together under extreme circumstances that couldn't fail to be interesting.

Baron Gottfried von Cramm vs. Don Budge in the Davis Cup Interzone Final of 1937, the German vs. the American, with American great Big Bill Tilden surreptitiously coaching the former. This is where th
Aug 07, 2010 Eleanor rated it liked it
This book has wonderful reviews - and while I found it well researched, I didn't think it was as good as it could have been. The bouncing around (no pun intended) between tennis match, politics, movie stars, personal quips and homosexuality information of the 30's was to jagged for me. I think it could have been better put together and therefore more compelling. Each of the subjects at hand could have been made into a separate book and a separate fantastic book at that --- or somehow melded in a ...more
Oct 24, 2009 Brooke rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
This was a LOT of tennis. I think the author did a good job narrating the match and demonstrating that tennis is indeed a psychological sport. That said, I could have learned that in 30 pages, not 150. I did like reading about the background of Big Bill Tilden, Don Budge and Gottfried von Cramm. I liked learning more about the time period these men existed in. However, 3/4 of the way through the book I found the emulation of the sports stars in contrast to the Third Reich imminent atrocities to ...more
Aug 15, 2009 Bob rated it really liked it
Very interesting story of early tennis greats Don Budge (American) and Baron Gottfried von Cramm of Germany, as well as Bill Tilden and some others. WW2, and prejudice against homosexuality play a big part in the story (both Tilden and von Cramm were gay).
It's a shame these players and their big matches are largely forgotten now. With all the talk of Federer being the greatest of all time, players like Tilden and Budge (and possibly even von Cramm) definitely need to be included in those convers
Deepak Sharma
Dec 14, 2014 Deepak Sharma rated it really liked it
I love tennis - playing, watching, and reading about the fascinating characters from the history of tennis. So, this book was on my to-read list for a long time. It did not disappoint. Awesomely detailed and researched, the author has done a wonderful job painting a picture of the vast span of years, and how the politics was intertwined with sport. Maybe, it was unavoidable, but the constant jumping back and forth, sometimes over decades, was not something I liked too much. But, nothing that wou ...more
Feb 06, 2010 Karena rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, sports, tennis
This is a very thoroughly researched history of tennis during the 1920s through to the 50s, and not just about the one match promoted on the cover. I've learned so much about Budge and Cramm and Tilden that I feel I know their personalities as well as I do Nadal's and Federer's (and I watch them a lot). Very nicely written. The only drawback was how much it jumped around; if you put it down for a few days and pick it up again you might get confused...but it's worth pushing through. It is also a ...more
James H
Nov 01, 2013 James H rated it liked it
This wasn't a compelling read, although the facts and the history were interesting, so I was able to finish it. One of the things I found most interesting was how I'd never heard of most of the main characters in this book, but at the time (1920's-30's), they were apparently household names. Our collective memory is short. Also, the differences between then and now--the long travel times by ship (weeks to Australia), one of the first live transatlantic radio broadcasts, amateur versus profession ...more
Skivvy Jones
Sep 02, 2014 Skivvy Jones rated it really liked it
The portrait of the handsome, elegant bisexual German Gottfried von Cramm lingers as do glimpses of a washed up Tilden and Joe America Don Budge. The dissolving Weimar backdrop has us wondering what might have been as Hitler's gang make their deadly cameo. When Hollywood finally decides to pull off a great tennis movie, this book is a finalist for best source material. I don't envy the author's task of tying reams of historical research together and keeping the narrative moving, but he largely s ...more
An absorbing read on the whole; the author's description of the Davis Cup match that is centric to the book is particularly gripping. However, Fisher does tend to meander into tangents that aren't strictly relevant to the main narrative, which is also slightly repetitive as the book goes on. That all said, this is a very, very well-researched book that quite successfully links together the lives of 3 of tennis' greatest players, Nazi Germany, the onslaught of the Second World War, and what was t ...more
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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 vari
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