Levels of the Game - PaperbackLevels of the Game
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Hardcover: 0-374-18568-9; $18.95US
Paperback: 0-374-51526-3; $9.00US

Arthur Ashe thinks that Clark Graebner, being a middle-class white conservative dentist's son from Cleveland, plays stiff and compact Republican tennis. Graebner will acknowledge that this is true, and for his part he thinks that, because Ashe is black and from Richmond, Ashe's tennis game is bold, loose, liberal, all-or-nothing, flat-out, Democratic. These things--and the stories of Ashe's and Graebner's lives, and of other lives relevant to theirs--emerge in Levels of the Game, a narrative of a match played by Ashe and Graebner at Forest Hills.

Levels of the Game - HardcoverAfter writing over a period of years a number of long biographical sketches of individuals (Frank L. Boyden, Bill Bradley, Euell Gibbons, Temple Fielding, Thomas P. F. Hoving), John McPhee found that he wanted--as he put it--"to try to write about two people simultaneously, two whose lives were closely interreflective and who would in a sense sketch or mirror one another while I was attempting to sketch them. Watching Ashe and Graebner one day at Forest Hills, I thought, 'Why not experiment first with a pair of tennis players? Why not Ashe and Graebner? They're the same age. Any two Americans who reach this level will have had to know each other since childhood. At their level, the community of tennis players is so small that there are no strangers.' Any two world-class players of about the same age and from the same country will inevitably know one another well, and when they play there can be few surprises. Physical equipment being about equal, the role of psychology becomes paramount, and each will play out his game within the fabric of his nature and his background."

At the time of the Ashe/Graebner match at Forest Hills, Ashe and Graebner were twenty-five. They had known each other half their lives. Mr. McPhee's book begins with the ball rising into the air for the beginning serve, and ends with the final set-point.

Reviews

This may be the high point of American sports journalism. --Robert Lipsyte, The New York Times

McPhee has produced what is probably the best tennis book ever written. On the surface it is a joint profile of…Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner, but underneath it is considerably more--namely, a highly original way of looking at human behavior…He proves his point with consummate skill and journalistic artistry. You are the way you play, he is saying. The court is life. --Donald Jackson, Life

John McPhee's Levels of the Game…alternates between action on the court and interwoven profiles of the contestants. It is a remarkable performance--written with style, verve, insight and wit. --James W. Singer, Chicago Sun-Times


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