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

Overview

On the eve of World War II, with the Nazi flag fluttering over Wimbledon's Centre Court, America's tennis champion took on Germany's. One man played for his country, while the other, hounded by the Gestapo, played for his life. A third, perhaps the greatest player of them all, saw his own double life reflected in the contest.

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

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Overview

On the eve of World War II, with the Nazi flag fluttering over Wimbledon's Centre Court, America's tennis champion took on Germany's. One man played for his country, while the other, hounded by the Gestapo, played for his life. A third, perhaps the greatest player of them all, saw his own double life reflected in the contest.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Rich and rewarding…makes a strong claim to greatest-ever status for Budge vs. Cramm in the Davis Cup…Fisher brings a sharp eye for details. He vividly sketches the anything-goes atmosphere of Weimar Berlin [and] turns up details that tennis fans will savor.”
Wall Street Journal

“Tennis has seen plenty of great matches…but none with the extra-athletic significance of the Budge-Cramm affair…as the match enters its final set, all the narrative pieces lock together and A Terrible Splendor becomes as engrossing as the contest it portrays...Cramm’s life is a movie development deal waiting to happen.”
Washington Post

“Richly detailed…the story moves from one nail-biting set to the next against a backdrop of improbably high personal and political stakes.”
Boston Globe

“Vivid…The compelling nature of the match, in tennis terms alone, would be enough to make this a gripping read…But tennis is almost the least interesting element of Fisher’s account. For the historic match between the two players took place in London, with the world poised for brutal war and the players bringing all manger of psychological baggage on court with them….[Fisher] shows how sport can stand both outside the ‘real world,’ and yet remain subject to its dark whims.”
Financial Times

“Exciting…a thoroughly riveting account of an intense human endeavor…the astonishing, inspiring story of a sports hero who was not merely a heroic tennis player, but a genuinely heroic man.”
The Commercial Dispatch

"Marshall Jon Fisher has masterfully woven the story of Europe on the edge of war, a man pursued by the Gestapo, and America on the rise into the tale of the greatest tennis match of the century. A Terrible Splendor is tense, tragic, beautifully told, and immensely enjoyable."
—Atul Gawande, National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestseller author of Complications and Better

"Forget Federer versus Nadal, and Borg versus McEnroe. Marshall Jon Fisher convincingly demonstrates that the greatest tennis match of all time was Gottried Von Cramm versus Don Budge in the 1937 Davis Cup semifinals. This is one of the best sports books you will ever read. But it's more than a sports book: as absorbing as the drama unfolding on Wimbledon's Centre Court is, it's surpassed by the drama of history swirling outside it. Fisher masterfully weaves biography, history, and sports—and sex and romance and the drums of war—into a thoroughly riveting narrative. Full of ironic twists and astonishing revelations, A Terrible Splendor is a literary triumph."
—Scott Stossel, Deputy Editor, Atlantic Monthly

“Marshall Jon Fisher has turned a tennis court masterpiece — American Don Budge versus German Gottfried von Cramm to decide the 1937 Davis Cup — into a literary masterpiece.   Blending their lives with the darkening times, Fisher illuminates bygone cultures in the fascinating tale of a July afternoon in London.” 
—Bud Collins, writer for the Boston Globe and commentator for ESPN and Tennis Channel

“There could be no more disparate characters in any sport than Bib Bill Tilden, Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm. Marshall Jon Fisher has done a marvelous job of weaving the threads of these three lives together at a time when the world was coming apart and at the moment when Budge and von Cramm were playing in the most important — if not the best — tennis match ever. This is sports history at its finest and most thorough.”
—Frank Deford, Senior Contributing Writer, Sports Illustrated, and Commentator on NPR’s “Morning Edition”

“Through the prism of one of the greatest tennis matches ever played, Marshall Jon Fisher throws open a window on the terrifying world of the thirties in Europe; illuminating in vivid detail the persecution of Baron Gottfried von Cramm; the pitiful kow-towing to Hitler by the tennis authorities and, rising above it all, the innate sportsmanship of the two friends and rivals, von Cramm and Donald Budge. Between every Budge backhand and von Cramm volley, history rears up in all its ‘terrible splendor.’”
—Richard Evans, Correspondent, The (London) Observor

“For those of us who believe that tennis is a metaphor for life, here at last in this marvelous narrative is proof, served up on the rackets of Budge and Von Cramm.  A Terrible Splendor is a wonderful account of a time of great historical drama, with the world on the brink of war, and everything resting, or so it would seem, on getting the ball back over the net just one more time.”
—Abraham Verghese, author of The Tennis Partner and Cutting for Stone

"I’m grateful for my ignorance of tennis history, since if I’d known the outcome of the 1937 Davis Cup match before I read this engrossing book, I might not have sat on the edge of my seat and bitten my nails as Don Budge and Gottfried von Cramm served and volleyed. Marshall Jon Fisher captures two memorable characters, illuminates their historical and cultural milieus, and keeps us in delicious suspense."
—Anne Fadiman, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and the New York Times bestseller Ex Libris

Louis Bayard
Marshall Jon Fisher has gotten hold of some mighty themes in A Terrible Splendor: war and peace, love and death, sports and savagery. He's also taken on one hell of a tricky story. Even as he shows us Budge and Cramm battling away—and he describes the on-court action wonderfully well—he has to keep cutting away to show us the geopolitical forces gathering round them…Still, as the match enters its final set, all the narrative pieces lock together, and A Terrible Splendor becomes as engrossing as the contest it portrays.
—The Washington Post
The Barnes & Noble Review
Tennis superstars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal may play for great stakes in their quest for Grand Slam glory, but even their epic battles can't compare to the pressure felt by America's Don Budge and Germany's Gottfried von Cramm in their 1937 Davis Cup match, the subject of Marshall Jon Fisher's absorbing new book. With World War II looming, their match found sports and politics intersecting on Wimbledon's Centre Court, but for the anti-Nazi von Cramm, the stakes were even higher: "I'm playing for my life... [The Nazis] won't touch me as long as I'm winning." Borrowing a technique from John McPhee's acclaimed Levels of the Game, Fisher weaves biographical information with both the ongoing drama of the match and the ever-darkening world political scene. The handsome, polished, homosexual von Cramm, an impeccable sportsman born to an aristocratic and wealthy German family, emerges as the most compelling figure in the book. Disdainful of the Nazis (he called Hitler "a housepainter"), he refused to join the Nazi party, no matter how intense the pressure. And intense it was. As the Nazi stranglehold on Germany crushed all dissent, the Gestapo monitored his activities, the tennis ace keeping out of jail only as long as he won matches. Shortly after his heroic loss to Budge at 8–6 in the fifth set, von Cramm was arrested, thrown into prison for a year, and sent to the Eastern Front. Despite winning the Iron Cross for bravery, von Cramm was dishonorably discharged because of his arrest by the Nazis on charges of immoral behavior. Solidly written and researched, Fisher's book is not without faults; repetition of tennis trivia and a plethora of speculative phrases diminish the solid underpinnings. Nonetheless Fisher's achievement is a substantial one, bringing alive a legendary match and, in von Cramm, a player of uncommon grace who, sensing his fate, could ironically only find peace and safety in the spotlight of Centre Court. --Tom Santopietro
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307393951
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/20/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 425,968
  • Product dimensions: 5.28 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

MARSHALL JON FISHER’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, and other magazines. His essay "Memoria ex Machina" was featured in Best American Essays 2003. He has written several books with his father, David E. Fisher, including Tube: The Invention of Television. Marshall lives in the Berkshires with his wife

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Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

First Set The Gentleman of Wimbledon 1

Second Set Appeasement 37

Third Set An American Twist 95

Fourth Set "I'm Playing for My Life" 153

Fifth Set No Man Living or Dead 189

Aftermatch Miracles of Redemption 225

Acknowledgments 269

Notes 272

Index 313

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Wonerfully written, wonderfull story.

    The reader is transformed to the world of tennis and politics in the 1930's. They will get to know the stars of the tennis world they may never had heard of (von Cramm, Budge) and some they know (A 19 year old Bobby Riggs).

    Although the homosexual tendencies of the players gets mentioned, it's very minimal, but necessary, to show how those in power put their morals in the draw as long as they can draw benefits.

    One doesn't have to be a fan of the game of tennis to begin this book, but there is a very high probability that they will be in the gallery rooting for his favorite while reading.

    I give this book my highest recommendation. Very well done.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2009

    Excellent Tennis

    This book receives a 5 star due to the writer's excellent layout of this epic match and the political environment of the 30's. The writer builds each of the tennis icons and gives the reader insight into the U.S., Britain, and Germany. He does and excellent unbiased biography of a gay man and presents to the reader a Gottfried Von Cramm as a a great tennis champion he was. This book should be in the library of any tennis or sports enthusiast.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2012

    beautifully written and a treat for tennis fans

    a terrible splendor is a beautifully written book about a relatively obscure event occuring during a turbulent and horrific time. as others have written the book has less to do with tennis & more to do with the character of people during the davis cup matches of 1936. the book is a rewarding and worthwhile if read just for the writing, however tennis fans will find it a fascinating look at tennis from an era rarely seen

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    Posted March 11, 2010

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    Posted December 18, 2009

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    Posted April 26, 2009

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