A Necessary Spectacle: Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs & the Tennis Match That Leveled the Game

Selena Roberts, Author
Selena Roberts, Author . Crown $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4000-5146-5
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-4000-5147-2
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The legendary 1973 battle of the sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was equal parts media circus and watershed political moment. This book on the match, however, is beguiling in structure: it starts with the pair's oddly similar underdog childhoods and slowly builds to the main event—only to turn unexpectedly in the second half into a chronicle of the Title IX movement. Women's soccer, the Williams sisters, Annika Sorenstam—Roberts's coverage knows no bounds. The author, a New York Times sports columnist, gets at the falseness of the 1973 competition (aging Riggs didn't even bother to train) without detracting from its significance. And if the match's outcome is well known, Roberts spices it up with new insight: King's evolution as an activist was slow and uncomfortable; Riggs's chauvinism was as much shtick as misguidedness. But for a book with such evident ambition, it sometimes feels too journalistic; only too late does it move from a celebration of feminism to a larger assessment of Title IX's future. More perplexingly, Roberts reflects only a little on the consequences of what, as she suggests in the title, is the biggest subtext of Riggs-King and, indeed, modern sports: its evolution into spectacle. Agent, Mark Reiter at IMG. (Aug. 16)

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