Most autobiographies, especially sports autobiographies, are just a chronological series of events with insight into each event. It's usually not new insight and is mostly just filled with platitudes and cliches that the author already gave in press conferences. There are always a few interesting tidbits in each of these autobiographies, and reading a bullet point summary of those tidbits in an online review is just as good as reading the actual book.
Agassi's autobiography is more like a novel. You read it and think it would make a phenomenal movie, the way it starts at the very end and then flashbacks to the beginning. You can't just read about the revelations in some online review and think you've gotten everything out of this book. This is a book that needs to be read front to back. It's superbly written -- not by Agassi himself, as he never had the education to pull that off, but he did spend thousands of hours on it and as a longtime fan I know that this is his authentic voice. In a recent interview, Andre expanded on why he and Pete Sampras were opposites by saying that when they saw each other in October 2009, Andre realized that Sampras had also just released an autobiography and tried to start a conversation by mentioning how he was so glad how his turned out, and how many thousands of hours of sweat and tears he put into it. He said that Sampras just looked at him like he was crazy. Sampras felt that an autobiography was just an encyclopedic sort of thing, not a cathartic baring of the soul. When you compare their books, it shows.
Another thing that separates this book is Agassi's remarkable memory. Agassi has always been known as one of the best analysts of the sport, and has always astounded the press with his point-by-point recollection of matches that had taken place decades before. After I play a recreational tennis match, I can barely remember the points I just played. You could ask Agassi about a point he played in 1988 and he'd be able to tell you what was going through his head, how fast the serve came at him, the sequence of shots, what someone in the crowd shouted out, what the temperature was, the humidity, the wind speed. He mentions in the book how he seems to notice the most trivial things, and once he notices them they forever stay in his mind. I'm sure if his memory was somehow measured, it would be found to be in the very upper tier in the populace. This combined with his deep, empathetic ability to notice and understand human behavior creates a truly astounding read. It is rare to find an athlete as intelligent as Agassi, and if his father hadn't been so anti-education, I believe he could have had a brilliant academic career and flourished in some intellectual field. Perhaps psychology. Sports psychology would have been an easy fit, certainly!
You don't have to be a tennis fan to enjoy this book, although you will certainly get a little bit more out of it. Similarly, a sports fan will be able to get more of it than someone who doesn't care much for any sport. However, there is not a person out there who could not gain something from reading this book. This is not simply a tennis story, or a sports story. This is a human story.
In regards to the crystal meth revelation, I will say this in his defense:
1. Testing positive for a recreational drug (crystal meth is a recreational, performance inhibiting drug, NOT a performance enhancer) in 1997, the year that he started and stopped taking the drug, had the penalty of a 3 month suspension. 3 months. That's like a nice little vacation to get rested and refreshed for the rest of the season.
2. In 1997, Agassi won nothing. He was losing in the first round of every tournament. He was playing challenger events, the minor leagues of tennis, and even losing in those. It is true that he won a few matches, and he did have a surprising run at the US Open when everyone thought he was going to quit tennis any minute. This was not fair to the players he beat - he should have been suspended at the time. However, when you really think about it, it just speaks to his talent that at his absolute lowest, when he was quite literally disabled physically, when he went out in front of that New York crowd and felt the magic and realized that he wanted to win, he was still able to muster up the game to beat world class players. At the end of the day, the only person hurt by his drug use was himself. Andre has said in recent interviews that he would happily have 1997 thrown out of his career. Have all of his results from that year blacked out. It makes absolutely no difference to the total number of titles and championships he won.
3. For the past decade, Agassi has been the most admirable person to ever come out tennis. What he's given back is remarkable. What he's done for the sport is unmatched. Tennis is an unpopular sport in the United States, but people would always tune in for Agassi, and this book is selling like hot cakes. People love Agassi, and for good reason.
This doesn't justify him lying to the ATP, but we need to keep this in perspective. It's important to understand that this doesn't diminish his legacy in the slightest. He is still one of the best tennis players of all time -- and as you'll see in this book, he may have achieved twice as much if he hadn't stumbled and fallen and beaten himself for so much of his life. He hated tennis, he admits it. His father, a man who would make Joe Jackson quiver with fear, thrust him into it as a toddler. He makes a strong argument for why it is the loneliest sport in the world, the sport most likely to produce insanity in its players. On the other hand, look at what it gave him. He loved holding up trophies and gold medals. He would never have met Stefanie without it. There was a duality to his life that I'm sure we can all relate to in some way.