On Being John McEnroe

On Being John McEnroe

by Tim Adams
     
 

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"In this book Tim Adams sets out to explore what it might have meant to be John McEnroe during the turbulent 1980s, and in his subsequent lives, and to define exactly what it is that we want from our sports heroes: how we require them to play out our own dramas, and how the best of them provide an intensity by which we can measure our own lives." "At the heart of this… See more details below

Overview

"In this book Tim Adams sets out to explore what it might have meant to be John McEnroe during the turbulent 1980s, and in his subsequent lives, and to define exactly what it is that we want from our sports heroes: how we require them to play out our own dramas, and how the best of them provide an intensity by which we can measure our own lives." "At the heart of this book are two characters - McEnroe and Bjorn Borg - and the rivalry that defined them, a rivalry as compelling and dramatic as Ali and Foreman or Spassky and Fischer. Their great Wimbledon match of July 5, 1980 - the central event in Adams's narrative - was, as he writes, "a confrontation between two highly developed states of mind: a struggle between extreme consciousness and an absolutely studied containment of consciousness."" It's a book that will appeal to any tennis fan or serious sports reader.

Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
It may be true, as the British journalist Tim Adams suggests in this brief but provocative inquiry into the McEnroe phenomenon, that his heyday was the last time that men's tennis was worth following. The metal racket had not yet become commonplace on the pro tour, which meant that the subtler play mandated by the wooden racket still predominated, and players' uniforms had not yet turned into billboards for advertisers, which preserved at least a shred of the game's traditional dignity.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
At first glance, this little drop-shot of a book would seem superfluous: both McEnroe and his antics have been covered to an excessive degree. But as the title suggests, the author has something more existential on his mind: to explore that peculiar interaction between social (read: British) mores and one of professional sports' original bad boys. Adams, literary editor of London's Observer, uses the legend's celebrated Wimbledon matches as a departure point for headier subjects. Everything from an artful interpretation of a Grand Slam tennis tournament (TV's first reality show) to the politics of branding gets crammed into this deceptively slight (if chaotically structured) volume. Adams is as adept at following a match's taut drama as he is at understanding its larger import. McEnroe was the first Nike branding child not in spite of but because of his petulance, Adams argues with silky eloquence, which made it especially ironic when the star began feeling locked in by that personality. Occasionally, as when Adams compares McEnroe's career to famous modern novels, the attempt at cultural meaning can feel like a reach, but mostly the book is a perfect meditation not only on the modern celebrity athlete but on the complicated expectations we have of them. (On sale Apr. 5)FYI: This book was published in the U.K. in 2003. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
How John McEnroe became a tempest of his own making. Adams, the literary editor of Britain's Observer and obviously a keen tennis appreciator, was initially drawn to McEnroe by the beauty of his game and by his canny ability to push, place, angle, and guide the ball by using its own pace. The author was equally intrigued by McEnroe's real-time emotions and moral outrage, all very publicly on display at Wimbledon in the land of deference, in the most deferential of games. McEnroe was the Tom Paine of tennis, recognizing no one as his social superior and positioning himself for the same status on the court. Though Adams shows a natural descriptive talent for reporting with winning unpretentiousness on various great matches, what he has most fun with here is speculating on the motivations behind McEnroe's behavioral antics. These admittedly conjectural explanations hit the nail on the head more often than not, sometimes only glancingly, more often dead on. Adams sees both social and psychological angles at play. On the social level, he draws parallels between McEnroe and Margaret Thatcher, in their distain for tradition, their scorched-earth style, and their winner-take-all spirit. He also characterizes McEnroe as the embodiment of Christopher Lasch's Psychological Man, plagued by anxiety, vague discontents, and a sense of inner emptiness, with a touch of Robert Bly's perpetual adolescent thrown in. These opinions are all buttressed by the comments of McEnroe himself, one of the rare sports figures who spoke candidly and offered original thoughts at press interviews. Adams also considers issues of money, marriage, and celebrity. But what finally sticks with the reader is McEnroe's own words:"I was like a compulsive gambler, or an alcoholic. Anger became a powerful habit." A sharp little piece of sports journalism-and a fine journey through a spectacular, volcanic tennis career.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780224069625
Publisher:
Random House UK
Publication date:
08/24/2004
Pages:
160
Product dimensions:
4.17(w) x 6.50(h) x 0.47(d)

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