Levels of the Game

John McPhee

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

160 Pages



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Levels of the Game is a narrative of a tennis match played by Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner at Forest Hills, Queens, in 1968, beginning with the ball rising into the air for the initial serve and ending with the final point.

In between, McPhee provides a brilliant, stroke-by-stroke description of the match while also examining the backgrounds and attitudes which have molded the players' games. Arthur Ashe thinks that Clark Graebner, a middle-class white conservative dentist's son from Cleveland, Ohio, plays stiff and compact Republican tennis. Graebner acknowledges that this is true, and for his part thinks that, because Ashe is black and from Richmond, Virginia, Ashe's tennis game is bold, loose, liberal, flat-out Democratic.

When physical assets are about equal, psychology is paramount to any game.


Praise for Levels of the Game

"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 behavoir . . . 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 performancewritten with style, verve, insight and wit."—James W. Singer, Chicago Sun-Times

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Read an Excerpt

Levels of the Game

Arthur Ashe, his feet apart, his knees slightly bent, lifts a tennis ball into the air. The toss is high and forward. If the ball were allowed to drop, it would, in Ashe's words, "make...

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  • John McPhee

  • John McPhee is the author of more than 25 books, including Annals of the Former World, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction in 1999. He has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965 and lives in Princeton, New Jersey. McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were both nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science.

  • John McPhee Yolanda Whitman