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Levels of the Game ()

Mr. Doggett's Suggested Summer Reading for Students

Ostensibly this book is about a tennis match, Arthur Ashe versus Clark Graebner in the 1968 US Open Semifinals.  The match was historic in itself:

    "It has been thirteen years since an American won the men's-singles final at Forest Hills, and
    this match will determine whether Ashe or Graebner is to have a chance to be the first American
    since Tony Trabert to win it all.  Ashe and Graebner are still amateurs, and it was imagined that
    in this tournament, playing against professionals, they wouldn't have much of a chance.  But they
    are here, close to the finish, playing each other.  For Graebner to look across a net and see
    Ashe--and the reverse--is not in itself unusual.  They were both born in 1943, they have known
    each other since they were thirteen, and they have played tournaments and exhibitions and have
    practiced together in so many countries and seasons that details blur."

But McPhee is actually after bigger game than this one match.  He also provides insightful portraits of the two very different contestants.  Ashe, the only championship level Black tennis player of his time, is single, liberal, mercurial, a finesse player and a risk taker.   Graebner is married with kids, conservative, religious, a power player and risk averse.  McPhee demonstrates how their personalities influence, indeed shape, their play and how their lifelong rivalry lifts their games to higher levels when they play one another, ultimately lifting Ashe's game towards perfection by the end of this contest.

Ashe would go on to win the tournament, becoming the only amateur to win it in the Open era and together Ashe and Graebner lead the US to it's first Davis Cup in years.  After that though, while Ashe went on to a respectable career, Graebner slipped into obscurity.  But in this book, McPhee has preserved a moment in time when the two were evenly matched on the court, despite being polar opposites off of the court and in charting the lives that brought them to that moment, he provides a penetrating glance at two fascinating men.

This is a real pinnacle in Sports writing.


Grade: (A)


John McPhee Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: John McPhee
    -John McPhee Home Page
    -Featured Author: John McPhee ( With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times)
    -Creative Nonfiction: Writers: John McPhee
    -EXCERPT: FIRST CHAPTER of The Founding Fish by John McPhee
    -ESSAY: A Philosopher in the Kitchen: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. (John McPhee, February 11, 1979, The New Yorker)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: John McPhee's Fish Tales (Dick Gordon, 11/22/2002, The Connection)
    -ESSAY: McPhee on Catch-and-Release (Les Palmer, Alaska Outdoor Journal)
    -Essay on McPhee & New Journalism (Sharon Bass)
    -"Twenty Questions: A Conversation with John McPhee" (Creative Nonfiction, Michael Pearson)
    -BOOK SITE: Annals of the Former World   by John McPhee (FSB Associates)
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Annals of the Former World
    -AUDIO: McPhee on Science Friday (NPR)
    -ARTICLE: McPhee wins Pulitzer for Annals (PrincetonUniversity)
    -John A. McPhee '53 Web Shrine
    -ESSAY: How Reading John McPhee’s Book on Tennis Helped Me Write About Skateboarding: Jonathan Russell Clark Finds Better Ways to Describe the Action (Jonathan Russell Clark, February 9, 2022, LitHub)
-ARCHIVES: "john mcphee" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish by John McPhee (Craig Nova, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (James Swan, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (William Moody, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (Bill Pride, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (Curtis Edmonds, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (Stephen Bodio, Minneapolis Star Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (Michael David Sims, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (BRUCE TIERNEY, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (Rob Buchanan, Outside Online)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (MICHAEL S. ROSENWALD, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of The Founding Fish (Keith C. Heidorn, Living Gently Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of Annals of the Former World by John McPhee Rocks of Age: In his travels along Interstate 80, John McPhee has seen the history of the earth. (DAVID QUAMMEN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Basin and Range by John McPhee (Paul Zweig, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of  BASIN AND RANGE. by John McPhee (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt , NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of In Suspect Terrain (Michiko Karutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of IN SUSPECT TERRAIN. By John McPhee (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt , NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Rising from the Plains (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Rising From the Plains (Evan S. Connell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Assembling California (David Rains Wallace, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Annals of the Former World  Eloquence fills a tome of geological weight (Rob Laymon for The Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: Like Water From a Stone: The secret of this fervently worshiped nonfiction stylist: neurotically withhold. (Sarah Kerr, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Annals of the Former World (Ellen Scott, your Guide for Ecotourism,
    -REVIEW: of Annals of the Former World (MICHAEL SIMS, BookPage)
    -REVIEW : of John McPhee, Annals of the Former World   (Mike Lepore for
    -REVIEW: Seeing the USA with John McPhee: Deep Structure and Travels in the Fourth Dimension  (Theodore C. Humphrey,  California State University, Pomona)
    -REVIEW: 40,000 Words About Rocks: Road cuts and the people who look at them (Ron Hogan, Crosswinds)
    -REVIEW: The Stone Diaries:  A pioneer of narrative nonfiction takes on his biggest topic: the history of the ground we stand on (Sabine Hrechdakian, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW of Basin and Range (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW of Coming into the Country (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Tabula Rasa by John McPhee (Mark Oppenheimer, Washington Post)
-REVIEW: of Tabula Rasa (Noah Rawlings, LA Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
-Arthur Ashe (CNN/SI)
    -Bibliography (for McPhee)
    -ESSAY: The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature (George Plimpton, NY Times Book Review)