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A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary…

A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and…

by Marshall Jon Fisher

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Extremely compelling account of the famous 1937 Davis Cup match between Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm. The match itself is still widely hailed as one of the best ever played, and Fisher does a fantastic job of wrapping up the match itself, the backgrounds of the three principal characters and the happenings of the world at that time, which was on the verge of World War II. Upon first reading this I would have easily given it five stars; hindsight leads me to bump it down just a tad. The reason why is because I read this before I read Frank Deford's Bill Tilden bio, which this book clearly uses as a reference on the subject at great length. So those biographical sections don't really bring much new to the table - perhaps a different player could have been spotlighted (Fred Perry?). But it's a minor complaint, and this excellent book is still very much worth having if you're a tennis fan. ( )
  asktheages | Sep 22, 2012 |
Marshall Jon Fisher has written a thrilling book about a tennis match that happened over seventy years ago. But it's not really about a tennis match. Fisher turns the court into a stage for the drama of a world tipping into war, repressed desires, and steely ambition.

Wimbledon. 1937. Everyone knows the Davis Cup semi-final between the US and Germany will decide the ultimate winner. The rubber comes down to the last match: up-and-comer Don Budge, and the regal Baron Gottfried Von Cramm. And sitting in the stands - coaching the German team - is American tennis legend Bill Tilden.

This summary makes A Terrible Splendor look like almost any other kind of "sport book", but it fails to capture the verve that Fisher brings to the genre. More importantly, it wholly fails to illustrate the detail that he lovingly applies to this story like so many layers of varnish. It gives the match a depth and lustre, and transform the book into a gleaming treasure.

Fisher brings an almost mythic element to the battle. He highlights the titanic ability of the players in an era where a few savants could have careers spanning twenty competitive years - or in Tilden's astonishing case, forty. But he also reveals the true stakes, especially for Cramm who was a staunch opponent of the Nazis.

In doing so, he paints a compelling picture of pre-war Germany, and pre-war Europe more broadly. The research here is really thorough and all the more tragic knowing how the freedoms of prosperous Wiemar Germany would so quickly be overshadowed by the the most vicious of regimes.

Without disrupting the flow of book or the match, Fisher resists leveraging the Nazis to inject some drama into his story. He makes the link between Cramm, the match, and the broader theatre of Europe plausible, clear, and urgent.

The remaining theme of A Terrible Splendor is homosexuality, as typified in the tragic, genius, life of Bill Tilden - the first, and perhaps greatest tennis star of all time. Though the bigotry of the era should be no surprise to anyone, again Fisher makes it feel immediate, intimate - and shameful.

He exhibits a real gift in A Terrible Splendor, of taking history, out of history, as it were. Making it demand your attention, and giving it a context that will leave you astonished, angry, exuberant and despondent. The true measure of a historian. An excellent book. ( )
1 vote patrickgarson | Apr 30, 2012 |
This was a surprisingly good read. On one level, this is just a recounting of what may have been the greatest Davis Cup tennis match ever played. And since the match between Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm was full of drama, the book may have been great if it only stuck to the facts of the match. However, Fisher does much more. He includes a very readable history of the rise of the Nazi party in pre-war Germany and the impact their ever increasing persecution of the gay community.

At first glance, it may not be apparent that these stories can be told together. However, Fisher deftly pulls it off and I found the book hard to put down. ( )
  arianr | Nov 14, 2009 |
Maybe should be retitled "The Greatest Story behind a Tennis Match Ever Played." Very interesting story and history (pre-World War II) around a Davis Cup match between the United States and Germany. ( )
  writemoves | Jun 28, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307393941, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:42 -0400)

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Looks at the prominent figures and events surrounding the 1937 Davis Cup Tournament, specifically the match between Don Budge of the United States and Gottfried von Cramm of Germany.

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