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String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  2,903 ratings  ·  355 reviews
An instant classic of American sportswriting—the tennis essays of David Foster Wallace, “the best mind of his generation” (A. O. Scott) and “the best tennis-writer of all time” (New York Times)
Both a onetime "near-great junior tennis player" and a lifelong connoisseur of the finer points of the game, David Foster Wallace wrote about tennis with the authority of an insider
Hardcover, 138 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Library of America (first published January 1st 2014)
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 ·  2,903 ratings  ·  355 reviews

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Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
"Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform — and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled."
- David Foster Wallace, in "Roger Federer as Religious Experience"


One of the benefits of this book is it allowed me to read some of my favorite David Foster Wallace essays (on Tennis) and introduced me to several I had somehow missed. This small collection (138 pages) contains the following essays:

1. D
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Sometimes we read books for unusual reasons. Exhibit A: String Theory. This book has been sitting in the well of the bedside table, a gift from my daughter to my tennis-loving wife, since Christmas. Me, I checked on-line yesterday to be sure the town library, where I had four books on hold, was open today. Much to my surprise, when I arrived at 12:50, I found a note on the door that said they had followed Town Hall's lead and decided to close at noon. Be back on the 5th!

Of course, I would be the
Cathrine ☯️
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: group-challenge
3.75 🎾 🎾 🎾
Hard to rate this as 3 of the 5 essays were written in the 90s and the last one in 2006 which makes it a bit dated. However, Wallace had my attention and appreciation. I love tennis and this was a good warmup to Wimbledon which will begin in a week and a half. All these years later and Roger Federer is still playing and winning. As others have noted, the final essay titled Federer Both Flesh and Not was excellent. I wonder what the author would have to say today. We'll never know as he
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is...

From Michael Joyce's career, David Foster Wallace discloses a large part of the recent history of tennis and its dynamics. This essay will be appreciated, of course, by people who knows about and feels something towards this sport.
I played tennis when I was younger so we have a bond. In that sense, this could have been a 5-star essay, had it not been for the highly sardonic tone of some of Wallace's remarks, which at times sounded
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Back and forth without being dreary
Endless drills without feeling weary.
A beautiful game
Prose that puts us to shame.
Essays about tennis: String Theory.
Kirti Upreti
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms from the joy of play got torn out by its very roots."-Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow

Beauty - the most mysterious of all things in nature - is omnipresent and yet escapes the sight. Our unaided eyes remain ignorant towards all the beauty that keeps fleeting across us day and night. The power to perceive it demands the virtue of patient slowness. Slowness doesn't work alone and it wakes the slumbering yet unwavering microscopi
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ever since I discovered that David Foster Wallace's tennis articles have been compiled into one book, I have wanted to read it. What more can one want - one of the great contemporary writers writing on one of my favourite sports? What can be better? I finally got the book a few days back and read it.

'String Theory' is a compilation of David Foster Wallace's essays on tennis. It is a slim book at 138 pages. (If we include John Jeremiah Sullivan's introduction, it is 145 pages.) The book has five
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Anita by: Bonnie Cheng
Dfw, shibboleth numismatist, here curated in the most multilingual English-only essays you'll ever need read, is in a rough spot bc you're just definitely coming in w/ unfairly high expectations, or at least i was, bc how freaking exalted of a writer do you have to be for an Editor at Library of America be like, "Yeah, we want to take five of this guy's magazine essays about tennis" - a topic that t.b.fair I guess is higher-and-higher brow as Having Eclectic Interests becomes more-n-more a statu ...more
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is."


A delightful collection of Wallace's five published tennis-themed essays, originally released in magazines such as Harper's and Esquire, spanning from 1991 to 2006. I was familiar with a couple of these beforehand, but it was particularly enjoyable to read all of them consecutively and chronologically.

The first piece, Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley, gives us an autobiographic account of Wallace's own junior tennis experiences, the bu
Brad Feld
Aug 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports, essays
I love tennis. I love David Foster Wallace. And I needed a book on the couch day after a gruelingly long week where I started feeling better and then was flattened this morning by a few spoons of my yogurt and peach breakfast.

String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis was the second book I read today (the first was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – more on that in another post) and it was delightful.

DFW was a tennis player and a pretty good one, especially as a junior player. If you’ve read Infin
Sue Thornquist
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love Roger Federer. I'm not sure I could articulate as clearly as I can now, after reading Wallace's eloquent and DEFINITIVE essay on him, WHY I love him so much. Wallace perfectly captured his legendary stature, his grace, beauty and power--literally as a tennis player, but also figuratively. And, never before have I read such accurate and compelling accounts of tennis matches as I did in this book. The power of Wallace's words and descriptions is stunning. I enjoyed all the essays in this co ...more
Harsha Varma
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
The thing with Federer is that he’s Mozart and Metallica at the same time, and the harmony’s somehow exquisite, just like David Foster Wallace's writing! ...more
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a pleasure it was to find the tennis essays of David Foster Wallace collected into one volume. I had heard about his famous ode to the amazing Roger Federer ("Federer Both Flesh and Not"), which is published here, and I had also previously encountered his "Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open" from 1996, a healthy satirical view of the pro tennis sponsorship scene (which also foreshadows key notions that shaped his giant novel "Infinite Jest," such as calendar years being sponsored by Gl ...more
Apr 25, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was in need of some tennis content and despite some misgivings about David Foster Wallace's abuse of author Mary Karr, I ponied up $4.99 to read his essays about tennis.

As I began the second essay, "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart," the use of language started to bother me.

Under the guise of reviewing Tracy Austin's autobiography, he uses words such as "vapid," "stupid," "shallow" and "idiot" to describe her.

I might have thought that it was funny to savage a professional athlete's literary wor
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Best collection of essays written on tennis ever.
Eric Mannes
Mar 06, 2018 rated it liked it
4 for “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart.” The rest? Eh.
Jonathan Pool
Feb 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-lit
The five separately commissioned pieces contained in String Theory span the period from 1991 to 2006, shortly before David Foster Wallace's death.
Collectively, what does this collection bring to the DFW legacy?

* DFW writes about tennis, specifically, as a tennis insider. String Theory will particularly appeal to tennis aficionados in the technical detail and its grasp sport psychology. It's even more appealing for tennis fans following the game in the 1980's and 1990's as DFW references multip
Joel Hill
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Okay, I'm all in on David Foster Wallace! I actually went in to this set of essays with little to no knowledge about Tennis and very little interest in the sport. Despite my previous indifference the author kept me invested from cover to cover.

I don't know if I'd recommend this to everyone. It's not exactly thrilling, and it's dense with facts and footnotes that were sometimes overwhelming.

Overall I'd say this collection is like a long road trip with the author. He takes you on a journey throug
Mallika Saharia
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As real as it can get. For those who've played tennis at some level or the other, you'll appreciate this book more than you would your own playbook. For those of you who haven't, this is a true window to the real world of tennis. ...more
Dipanshu Gupta
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ah Wallace! Made me fall in love with reading again. The most moving thing about good writing is prose structure. And Wallace seriously excels at that.
This book is a collection of five essays, written over time for various publications. His insights into tennis are second to none. His vocabulary and gift for painting a picture leaves you in awe and incredibly jealous. His habit of extensive footnotes is also present here. Sometimes its a funny quirk of his writing, the other times its an annoya
May 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Game. Set. Match. Profound reading on sport, self, and so much more.
Sahil Gupta
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
The experience of any event, hobby, or activity isn’t just limited to all that a computer qualifies with a string match for terms it knows are related to it. Instead, watching a tennis match for example is also about getting to the arena (and some first world city before that if you’re keen on a top talent embellishing a Masters final but hail from a country that has little mind space for anything other than cricket), absorbing the many sights, sounds that lead up to those few magical minutes bu ...more
Henry Branson
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes of this book, as all the indications were that it would be my sort of thing: one of my favourite sports, a combination of fan-, player- and journalist-perspective in one writer, and a literature professor to boot. Unfortunately, the writing felt self-consciously clever-clever, aiming for erudite and elegant but too often ending up reading like a bright teenager trying to sound clever by throwing in some unusual words and writing sentences that were too long.

However, that was les
May 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Such an enjoyable read. I find pleasure in reading about sports, but I get the impression that David Foster Wallace could have written about tax law or dental insurance or anything that I would normally find profoundly uninteresting and somehow have made it enrapturing. I'll have to read more if his stuff. ...more
Matthew Talamini
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two things:

First, I think it's important for a novelist, especially one who wants to write grandly and with a wide scope -- a maximalist -- to engage deeply with other arts besides writing. There's so, so much in these essays that points to important themes in Infinite Jest; you can see how all his thinking turns around the same constellation of subjects. It's wonderful.

Second, I've been thinking for a few years about DFW's footnotes. I've decided that they're an attempt to resist the one-dimens
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I put myself through college playing tennis. Well, I should say my parents put me through college by paying for my tennis lessons and by taking me to tennis lessons and by taking me to tennis courts and by buying me racquets and well…you get it. I played with Andre Agassi’s older brother Phillip and a couple of my friends/enemies on the court became money-making pros. One of them made a pretty good amount that he invested wisely while the other made enough to move to Europe and teach tennis for ...more
Kathy Thelen
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh how i loved reading this book. DFW is a marvelous writer for starters, and he brings such a discerning eye to all the nooks and crannies of tennis. My personal favorite among these five essays was “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” which is just such a perceptive and wickedly hilarious take-down not so much of Austin herself (he clearly was in awe of her precocious skills) but of the entire genre of sports autobiography. The other one i just loved was the one in which he shadows a top 100 pla ...more
Rhett Reisman
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am not a huge fan of tennis, but I love extended metaphors and figured that’s what this book would be about.

It was mostly about tennis. About the minutia of tennis. About regional youth tennis. About professional tennis biographies. About the sauerkraut served on hotdogs at Wimbledon.

But it was also like a heroes journey. Starting small and climaxing at the top of the sport leaving the author contemplating the beauty and fairness of the universe.

The author, David Foster Wallace, has an incr
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think I read this faster than I've ever read any other book. I cannot fathom a better reading experience or a better guide to the world of elite (and not-so-elite) tennis than David Foster Wallace. It wasn't until the penultimate page that I realized that the title refers not just to DFW's ideas about tennis, but to the musical quality of legendary players, specifically Roger Federer. Each of the essays is world class, resplendent with DFW's stylistic trademarks, but when David Foster Wallace ...more
Fábio Vitório
May 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: tennis-shelf
A book containing 5 tennis related essays from the famous author of Infinite Jest. All beatifully written in a way I doubt any sports writter can achieve although the first 4 I could only recommend to tennis fanatics. These 4 give you some insight on junior leagues from the author's own experience, pro level athlete career analysis and their dull biographies as well the remarkable differences between watching this sport at home and live (the 3rd essay about Michael Joyce and the 4th essay about ...more
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David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it fe ...more

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