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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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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; 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; democracy against fascism. For five superhuman sets, the duo’s brilliant shotmaking kept the Centre Court crowd–and the world–spellbound. But the match’s significance extended well beyond the immaculate grass courts of Wimbledon. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the brink of World War II, one man played for the pride of his country while the other played for his life. Budge, the humble hard-working American who would soon become the first man to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year, vied to keep the Davis Cup out of the hands of the Nazi regime. On the other side of the net, the immensely popular and elegant von Cramm fought Budge point for point knowing that a loss might precipitate his descent into the living hell being constructed behind barbed wire back home. Born into an aristocratic family, von Cramm was admired for his devastating good looks as well as his unparalleled sportsmanship. But he harbored a dark secret, one that put him under increasing Gestapo surveillance. And his situation was made even more perilous by his refusal to join the Nazi Party or defend Hitler. Desperately relying on his athletic achievements and the global spotlight to keep him out of the Gestapo’s clutches, his strategy was to keep traveling and keep winning. A Davis Cup victory would make him the toast of Germany. A loss might be catastrophic. Watching the mesmerizingly intense match from the stands was von Cramm’s mentor and all-time tennis superstar Bill Tilden–a consummate showman whose double life would run in ironic counterpoint to that of his German pupil. Set at a time when sports and politics were inextricably linked, A Terrible Splendor gives readers a courtside seat on that fateful day, moving gracefully between the tennis match for the ages and the dramatic events leading Germany, Britain, and America into global war. A book like no other in its weaving of social significance and athletic spectacle, this soul-stirring account is ultimately a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.


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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; 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; democracy against fascism. For five superhuman sets, the duo’s brilliant shotmaking kept the Centre Court crowd–and the world–spellbound. But the match’s significance extended well beyond the immaculate grass courts of Wimbledon. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the brink of World War II, one man played for the pride of his country while the other played for his life. Budge, the humble hard-working American who would soon become the first man to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year, vied to keep the Davis Cup out of the hands of the Nazi regime. On the other side of the net, the immensely popular and elegant von Cramm fought Budge point for point knowing that a loss might precipitate his descent into the living hell being constructed behind barbed wire back home. Born into an aristocratic family, von Cramm was admired for his devastating good looks as well as his unparalleled sportsmanship. But he harbored a dark secret, one that put him under increasing Gestapo surveillance. And his situation was made even more perilous by his refusal to join the Nazi Party or defend Hitler. Desperately relying on his athletic achievements and the global spotlight to keep him out of the Gestapo’s clutches, his strategy was to keep traveling and keep winning. A Davis Cup victory would make him the toast of Germany. A loss might be catastrophic. Watching the mesmerizingly intense match from the stands was von Cramm’s mentor and all-time tennis superstar Bill Tilden–a consummate showman whose double life would run in ironic counterpoint to that of his German pupil. Set at a time when sports and politics were inextricably linked, A Terrible Splendor gives readers a courtside seat on that fateful day, moving gracefully between the tennis match for the ages and the dramatic events leading Germany, Britain, and America into global war. A book like no other in its weaving of social significance and athletic spectacle, this soul-stirring account is ultimately a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    BrokenTune

    Review first posted on BookLikes: http://brokentune.booklikes.com/post/... 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 dista Review first posted on BookLikes: http://brokentune.booklikes.com/post/... 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 frozen moon, before his wooden racket plucks it out of the electrified air of Wimbledon's Centre Court, rocketing a service winner past J. Donald Budge." Last month I posted a few thoughts about my issues with non-fiction books which read like fiction and the insincerity that I feel when reading overly dramatised accounts of historic event (posted here: One Minute to Midnight), Terrible Splendor restores my belief that it is possible to write a work of non-fiction about a very specialised subject and still be engaging and believable. Granted, Fisher's book title does read like a headline in a second-rate newspaper but it is not representative of the way the book is written. Fisher does a great job of presenting not only the biographies of the three tennis greats - Gottfried von Cramm, Don Budge, and Big Bill Tilden - but he also manages to provide extremely detailed contexts surrounding their lives, including not only the historical events of the time or insights into the relationships with family and other contemporaries but also very descriptive accounts of the development of their playing styles and tennis technique. Now, I can appreciate that this level of detail may not be to every reader's taste but I thought it was just wonderful. If you're not into tennis, the technical descriptions of grips, racquet specs, service techniques, and plays are probably skip-able. I particularly enjoyed learning about the development of tennis as a sport, how the Davis Cup originated, and how grand slam tournaments like Wimbledon have changed in the last 100 years. After all, it is almost inconceivable today that Wimbledon and other major tournaments were for amateurs only and professional tennis players were not allowed to participate until 1968. The main focus of the book is, of course, on the lives of von Cramm, Budge and Tilden - each an interesting personality - but von Cramm's story, which is much forgotten today, is just as extraordinary and tragic as it is inspirational.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ivan

    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 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 regurgitating facts and figures, miring an otherwise solid narrative in the minutiae of statistics; in this case a myriad of names, dates and scores read and forgotten almost simultaneously. [I should note that readers with a real love of tennis are bound to enjoy this much more than I did:]. Along for the ride is “Big” Bill Tilden (still the greatest tennis champion of all-time), who served as coach to the German team. The author devotes ample space to the formative years of each man. However, some men are simply more interesting than others. Tilden was a bigger-than-life sports figure, as famous in his day as Babe Ruth, who was twice sent to prison for having sexual relations with underage young men. The Baron was one of the most dashing and handsome young men to ever play the game of tennis, but a known homosexual who’s every move was watched and recorded by the Nazis. He was convicted of violating the infamous “Paragraph 175” and sent to prison; he was subsequently conscripted into the German army, and secretly served the resistance fighters. In later life he was briefly married to heiress Barbara Hutton. By comparison, Budge is simply, bluntly, boring. There is quite a bit to recommend A Terrible Splendor, not the least of which is the amount of hidden LGBT history presented. Still, on the whole I was left with an unquenched thirst for more of von Cramm’s story; what a great character, and what a movie his life would make.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    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 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 Davis Cup match. Compelling and dramatic historical personalities, excellently sourced yet imaginative writing. There are a few more personages I want to read about from this account too, like the first female stars of tennis who apparently were quite ahead of their time. (Of course, being ahead of one's time was a man finally inventing tennis "shorts" by ripping off his formal white trousers below the knees to get some air. Scandal!) But I think the women in their adventures, sports and sex-wise, might have been a lot more liberal than we give them credit for. So, I'd say read it if non-fiction and tennis and the time period leading up to WW2 do it for you.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Thimsen

    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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    A riveting account of one of the greatest tennis matches ever played at Wimbledon against the backdrop of impending WWII. As long as Gottfried von Cramm, second ranked tennis player in the world, keeps winning, he can keep the Nazis at bay. Peter Bernhardt, Author: The Stasi File, 2011 ABNA Quarter Finalist; Kiss of the Shaman's Daughter [sequel]; Red Romeo; http://tinyurl.com/a7rnpql - http://sedonaauthor.com - https://tinyurl.com/ycyvps3b A riveting account of one of the greatest tennis matches ever played at Wimbledon against the backdrop of impending WWII. As long as Gottfried von Cramm, second ranked tennis player in the world, keeps winning, he can keep the Nazis at bay. Peter Bernhardt, Author: The Stasi File, 2011 ABNA Quarter Finalist; Kiss of the Shaman's Daughter [sequel]; Red Romeo; http://tinyurl.com/a7rnpql - http://sedonaauthor.com - https://tinyurl.com/ycyvps3b

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jui

    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 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. The tennis match between Don Budge (American) and Gottfried Von Cramm (German) is the one is fighting for prestige (and pride) and and the other one for his life. There were times when I was reading the book where I could just visualize the tension in my head. But alas what lead me to give this book 4 instead of 5 stars was writing. May be its just me but the writing in the book is not streamlined (I am use to writing lot of scientific reports). There was quite a bit of repetition and the organizational structure of the book was quite loose. But what do I know, may it was just fine and deserved all 5 stars.

  7. 4 out of 5

    R.B. Payne

    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 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 the book came to an end. The writing is dense and therefore demands a careful read so be prepared to take your time. The research done in preparation for this book had to be massive, and you will learn something intriguing on every page. You don't have to be a tennis fan to enjoy this book - it is history first, tennis second. Highly recommended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marlene Rockmore

    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 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 interesting and tense and full of ambiguities a German from Nazi Germany plays against a young American, and you find yourself sympathetic to both athletes -- especially the German who is playing for much more than winning a tennis match, He is playing for his life...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel

    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 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 mixture of tennis legends, sportsmanship and World War II makes for an immensely captivating read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Greg Fanoe

    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. 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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    Very well-researched and interesting story on 1938 Davis Cup; interwoven with the various political issues of the time; great storytelling

  12. 4 out of 5

    Toby

    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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rene'

    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. 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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Randall Harrison

    This is a well-told tale of a sporting event in the 1930s. While that might not seem like the subject of a good year, it is. There is a lot going on beneath the surface of this tennis match that makes the story so compelling. Fisher does a good job of weaving the stories of the participants in the match with a social history of the times: the Great Depression endures, war looms in Europe, spectator sports have become an important element of current society, Nazis seize power in Germany, etc.. Fi This is a well-told tale of a sporting event in the 1930s. While that might not seem like the subject of a good year, it is. There is a lot going on beneath the surface of this tennis match that makes the story so compelling. Fisher does a good job of weaving the stories of the participants in the match with a social history of the times: the Great Depression endures, war looms in Europe, spectator sports have become an important element of current society, Nazis seize power in Germany, etc.. Fisher also discusses the mores of the times and places in the story and links the tennis match to them as both a snapshot of the times and an omen of what lies ahead. If you like tennis read the book. If you want a different perspective on Europe and the US in the 1930s, read this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Martin Reader

    Don Budge and Gottfried von Cramm played a wonderful tennis match at Wimbledon in 1937 to decide the Davis Cup. While Budge was representing America, von Cramm represented Germany. But since he had refused to join the Nazi party, in some ways, von Cramm was playing for his life. It was generally thought if he failed to bring home the Davis Cup for Germany, he would be arrested. The book covers the match in detail, but it is much more than that. It discusses the history of tennis, but also the hi Don Budge and Gottfried von Cramm played a wonderful tennis match at Wimbledon in 1937 to decide the Davis Cup. While Budge was representing America, von Cramm represented Germany. But since he had refused to join the Nazi party, in some ways, von Cramm was playing for his life. It was generally thought if he failed to bring home the Davis Cup for Germany, he would be arrested. The book covers the match in detail, but it is much more than that. It discusses the history of tennis, but also the history leading up to World War II. A great story.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    This is a fascinating story and it needed to be written, I just found that reading it was a lot of work. The author jumps around in time so often it was hard to follow the timeline. Halfway through the book I couldn’t even remember what match the story was centered on. I’m happy I read it because of what I learned, it just wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read for me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    The greatest tennis match ever played in 1937 at Wimbledon between Baron Gottfried von Cramm (a German) and Don Budge (American). Set in Europe before WWII it includes a cast of tennis greats and the world spiraling into war.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Helen A

    Inspired Learned more than I ever knew about Hitler's takeover of Germany . This book made the history personal and a warning of how easily people can perpetuate prejudice and violence. Makes me even more concerned about America at this time, the day before the 2020 election. Inspired Learned more than I ever knew about Hitler's takeover of Germany . This book made the history personal and a warning of how easily people can perpetuate prejudice and violence. Makes me even more concerned about America at this time, the day before the 2020 election.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Yuliya

    "On a tennis court though, life remained the same. Inside the dependable white rectangle, everything made sense." - p.187 "On a tennis court though, life remained the same. Inside the dependable white rectangle, everything made sense." - p.187

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Fascinating read about the greatest match in tennis history. So many great characters fill these pages despite a little too much instant replay of a lot of tennis games.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alex Bantz

    If you like tennis as well as a history buff, this book is for you. Great writing and a riveting story and part of history I had never known about before.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sal

    Best book I’ve read this year. One of the most interesting pieces of WWII history that seemed to have been lost until now.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Isaac Pritchett

    Story of Wimbledon match between Budge and von Cramm. Compelling and carries itself well.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Rizio

    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. 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.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Thomasin Propson

    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. 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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Maureen M

    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 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 political struggle. The United States was slogging through the Great Depression. Germany was free-falling into fascism. In the Davis Cup, tennis’ biggest trophy in the early 20th century, the world’s top players faced off as national teams. Marshall Jon Fisher’s deeply researched story puts readers on the scene at Wimbledon Stadium, the host venue, with the swastika flying overhead. Great Britain would face the winner in the finals, but the real contest was the semifinal match between the world’s two best players, Budge and Cramm. For Budge, national pride was on the line. For Cramm, much more. His refusal to join the Nazi party had made him untrustworthy. Worse, the Nazis were persecuting homosexuals and they knew his secret. Fisher braids the life stories of Budge and Cramm together with the tale of former world champion “Big Bill” Tilden. An American with a big ego and a problematic private life, Tilden was snubbed by U.S. tennis authorities, so he coached the Germans instead. Weaving those three large strands together with the gay bar scene in Weimar Berlin, the rise of Nazi Germany and a litany of worldwide tennis matches would be a challenge for any writer, and Fisher winds up in a tangle in several places. But he makes up for it in the climactic chapter. Cramm had taken the first two sets. Budge battled back to take the next two. In the final set, the champions pushed each other to five match points. With the sun setting on Center Court, with Queen Mary, Hollywood celebrities and German Jewish expatriates looking on, the hopes of nations collided in the greatest tennis match ever played. Fisher writes that “Budge and Cramm turned journalists into poets.” In the final scenes of this book, they had the same effect on him.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Harold

    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 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 German aristocrat, faced off for the match of his life against an opponent he can't quite beat. He is also secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, gay, with the Nazis on his tale. Only his prominence as an athlete keeps him safe. Tilden the master of the sport a decade before, and still among the best players in the world, is a pro, and thus ineligible for the Davis cup. He is also gay, and according to the book, grows more affected the older he gets. He and Von Cramm did not have a sexual relationship, but one assumes they had a strong bond. This is a wonderful backdrop for a scintillating historical novel. The evil of the Nazis, the thrill of sport, the tension of being a closeted gay athlete. International drama with lives at stake, played out in incredibly high stakes and tense matches, in an era in which players disputed calls in their favor when they thought them wrong. Unfortunately this isn't a novel, and the author is constrained to stay close to the facts, so we have no internal dialog. We don't know what either Tilden or Von Cramm were feeling except on rare occasions. We are told there is tension in the world but don't feel it. On the other hand we are treated to the play by play of the matches, who hit what shot to win what point. To me, that is petty drama, and prose play by play of sporting events is simply not thrilling, even if the even was. The best tennis match of all time doesn't make the best or most interesting prose of all time. Too often I waited for the matches to be over for the drama to begin.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gloria

    (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 (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 and great research but it became, I noticed, a bit repetitive at points (as if the writer realized that he had to back up again and remind the reader of a particular person's details again before launching into more great information). For the second reason, it is often difficult to put down and return to a few days later, if not already deeply tied into the world and history of tennis. Despite that, I am in awe of the amount of work that went into the book, the story and the people discussed, in particular Cramm and Budge (a bit horrified and saddened by the story of Tilden). Definitely worth a read for anyone interested in World War 2, LGBT history or tennis Notes: p 116-117 Thurber on watching Wimbledon on television (new media): "It was a cloudy day, but the little miracle came off beautifully. Budge, the size of your index finger, against Parker, the size of your little finger, wielding match-stem racquets hitting a speck of white. YOu could hear the impact of the racquets, the judge's droning count, and the barking of the linesmen. You could see the tiny, tense faces in the stands, the tiny heads moving in unison, following the infinitesimal ball… It was like watching a photograph in an album come to life. Extremely interesting, but not entirely satisfactory, because you can't get a grasp or feeling of the match as a whole." p 248 a German musi critic's description (1940s) of Gotttfried Cramm's playing "Chamber music wih white balls"

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jock Mcclees

    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 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 because of this when being homosexual was not accepted. Both enjoyed Berlin in Weimar Germany but it became hell when the Nazis took over. It was fascinating learning about the early years of tennis. Who knew that the Davis Cup is called that because a Harvard student named Davis and a couple of friends decided to start an international competition. He went down and bought the trophy at a store in Boston and the rest is history. It was also really interesting getting an insight into the politics of the time through the viewpoint of these tennis matches. I say matches because the book covers a number of them besides the one that is the main focus of the book. The problem I had with the book and was the reason for only 3 stars was that it didn't flow very well. It jumped back and forth in time and was very hard to follow at times. It also repeated some things. Bits and pieces of the main match that the book focuses on is spread out throughout the book. If the organization had been better, would have gotten more stars. Still a good book though.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Goatville9

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Tennis in the 1930s was a different game than today. The players were amatuers earning only travel expenses and meals although a little padding of the bills was tolerated. Frank Parker - with a far more scandalous romance still a secret - created a stir at Wimbledon by wearing shorts instead of the white linen pants worn by everyone in the game. Also Davis Cup matches - seeded with US and Western European countries - served as proxies for a fast coming world war. The book is ultimately about one Tennis in the 1930s was a different game than today. The players were amatuers earning only travel expenses and meals although a little padding of the bills was tolerated. Frank Parker - with a far more scandalous romance still a secret - created a stir at Wimbledon by wearing shorts instead of the white linen pants worn by everyone in the game. Also Davis Cup matches - seeded with US and Western European countries - served as proxies for a fast coming world war. The book is ultimately about one singles match in the 1937 Davis Cup; while not the last match of the tourney it would decide whether Germany or the US won the cup. Don Budge, the American, learned tennis on public courts in California. The German, Gottfried Von Cramm, was of the German aristocracy. He was married to a princess of Jewish heritage. He was also a known homosexual. Von Cramm, ranked #1 in the world, had lost to Budge weeks earlier in the Wimbledon final. Von Cramm's orientation, his wife's race, and their aristrocratic backgrounds made them marked suspects in Nazi Germany. Despite this Gottfried has value for and protection from the Nazis as the world's best tennis player. As the younger Budge is starting to ecllipse Von Cramm as #1 only a few people in the world realize he now plays every match for his life.

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