counter The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science and the Human Brain - Free Download Books
Hot Best Seller

The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science and the Human Brain

Availability: Ready to download

A surprising, charming, and ever-fascinating history of the seemingly simple game that has had a profound effect on societies the world over. Why has one game, alone among the thousands of games invented and played throughout human history, not only survived but thrived within every culture it has touched? What is it about its thirty-two figurative pieces, moving about its A surprising, charming, and ever-fascinating history of the seemingly simple game that has had a profound effect on societies the world over. Why has one game, alone among the thousands of games invented and played throughout human history, not only survived but thrived within every culture it has touched? What is it about its thirty-two figurative pieces, moving about its sixty-four black and white squares according to very simple rules, that has captivated people for nearly 1,500 years? Why has it driven some of its greatest players into paranoia and madness, and yet is hailed as a remarkably powerful educational tool? Nearly everyone has played chess at some point in their lives. Its rules and pieces have served as a metaphor for society including military strategy, mathematics, artificial intelligence, literature, and the arts. It has been condemned as the devil’s game by popes, rabbis, and imams, and lauded as a guide to proper living by different popes, rabbis, and imams. In his wide-ranging and ever fascinating examination of chess, David Shenk gleefully unearths the hidden history of a game that seems so simple yet contains infinity. From its invention somewhere in India around 500 A.D., to its enthusiastic adoption by the Persians and its spread by Islamic warriors, to its remarkable use as a moral guide in the Middle Ages and its political utility in the Enlightenment, to its crucial importance in the birth of cognitive science and its key role in the new aesthetic of modernism in 20th century art, to its 21st century importance to the development of artificial intelligence and use as a teaching tool in inner-city America, chess has been a remarkably omnipresent factor in the development of civilization. Indeed as Shenk shows, some neuroscientists believe that playing chess may actually alter the structure of the brain, that it may for individuals be what it has been for civilization: a virus that makes us smarter. From the Hardcover edition.


Compare

A surprising, charming, and ever-fascinating history of the seemingly simple game that has had a profound effect on societies the world over. Why has one game, alone among the thousands of games invented and played throughout human history, not only survived but thrived within every culture it has touched? What is it about its thirty-two figurative pieces, moving about its A surprising, charming, and ever-fascinating history of the seemingly simple game that has had a profound effect on societies the world over. Why has one game, alone among the thousands of games invented and played throughout human history, not only survived but thrived within every culture it has touched? What is it about its thirty-two figurative pieces, moving about its sixty-four black and white squares according to very simple rules, that has captivated people for nearly 1,500 years? Why has it driven some of its greatest players into paranoia and madness, and yet is hailed as a remarkably powerful educational tool? Nearly everyone has played chess at some point in their lives. Its rules and pieces have served as a metaphor for society including military strategy, mathematics, artificial intelligence, literature, and the arts. It has been condemned as the devil’s game by popes, rabbis, and imams, and lauded as a guide to proper living by different popes, rabbis, and imams. In his wide-ranging and ever fascinating examination of chess, David Shenk gleefully unearths the hidden history of a game that seems so simple yet contains infinity. From its invention somewhere in India around 500 A.D., to its enthusiastic adoption by the Persians and its spread by Islamic warriors, to its remarkable use as a moral guide in the Middle Ages and its political utility in the Enlightenment, to its crucial importance in the birth of cognitive science and its key role in the new aesthetic of modernism in 20th century art, to its 21st century importance to the development of artificial intelligence and use as a teaching tool in inner-city America, chess has been a remarkably omnipresent factor in the development of civilization. Indeed as Shenk shows, some neuroscientists believe that playing chess may actually alter the structure of the brain, that it may for individuals be what it has been for civilization: a virus that makes us smarter. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science and the Human Brain

  1. 5 out of 5

    James Williams

    This is the second book I've read about the history of chess this year (the first was Birth of the Chess Queen by Marilyn Yalom). While they are both excellent treatments of the subject, I think I like The Immortal Game better. It's just more fun. The Immortal Game has a sort of whimsy about it which I find appropriate because chess is, after all, merely a game (despite the intellectual and historical heft it can throw around after 1400 years). Of course, they're very different works, so that co This is the second book I've read about the history of chess this year (the first was Birth of the Chess Queen by Marilyn Yalom). While they are both excellent treatments of the subject, I think I like The Immortal Game better. It's just more fun. The Immortal Game has a sort of whimsy about it which I find appropriate because chess is, after all, merely a game (despite the intellectual and historical heft it can throw around after 1400 years). Of course, they're very different works, so that comparison is not truly fair. Birth of the Chess Queen was a study of the history of the game and the way society changed around it. The Immortal Game is more of a study of the way play styles evolved and how peoples of various times related themselves to the game of kings. Unsurprisingly, the book is named after its most striking feature: a move-by-move analysis of a casual game between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky from 1851. This particular match, of course, is dubbed "The Immortal Game". Move-by-move, the author examines how chess thought changed and how players of each generation would see the given board position. As a chess novice, I found this view eye-opening. This is an excellent work for anyone who plays chess or even just has a passing interest in a game that practically marks modern civilization.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Congdon

    OH YEAH, tough competition on Chess the Immortal Game in the reviews arena. I’m really in the big leagues here with Chelsea and her three likes. Or Benjamin Zapata’s three likes and comment. Yeah I really got bring out my A material here. (This book as 159 reviews and 3 likes gets ya top billing. Tough crowd.) And I if were to rebut Chelsea’s criticism that the author dawdles too much on his own experiences, that’s it’s self indulgent, I mean, that’s what these pop books are. It’s the convention OH YEAH, tough competition on Chess the Immortal Game in the reviews arena. I’m really in the big leagues here with Chelsea and her three likes. Or Benjamin Zapata’s three likes and comment. Yeah I really got bring out my A material here. (This book as 159 reviews and 3 likes gets ya top billing. Tough crowd.) And I if were to rebut Chelsea’s criticism that the author dawdles too much on his own experiences, that’s it’s self indulgent, I mean, that’s what these pop books are. It’s the convention. The writer places themselves at the center. I’d do the same thing if I were them. It’d be odder if they didn’t. < That/ > would really register a blip on the Gabedar. ANYWAY, I think if you read anecdotal books you should share the spoils. SPOILER: spoils The origin of Chess The widowed queens’ only son had died. The town elders went to the philosopher to ask how they should break the news to the queen. The philosopher thought for three days then asked the palace carpenter to whip together a checker board with some figurines. He called his new game “war without bloodshed.” The philosopher taught the game to everyone “in the know” and soon its popularity was famous throughout the kingdom. The queen upon hearing of the craze requested a demonstration and the philosopher and the philosopher’s friend played a game. When the king was mated she said “My son has died. Thank you for telling me in such a cool way. Tell the people I am ready for them to comfort me in my grief.” That’s the best one anyway. The two pieces that have remained the same from the earliest form of the game……drum roll please, this is my best anecdote……the knight and the rook! The Flying L & The Haymaker. The bishop use to be an elephant that could jump a space (a flying elephant). And the queen, back in her wayward years, used to be a jester. That is, until the reign of Isabelle I of Castile. To onlookers of the period, Isabelle was doing such great work starting the Inquisition, driving out all the Muslims and Jews, and all that, they thought, “That’s the kind of queen our chess board needs, a fire breathing harpy. It’d really shake things up.” Duchamp (gave up art to play chess professionally, but that’s old hat) wrote a book about an endgame. He said that even chess masters didn’t even read his book since the likelihood that they’d ever have that configuration was extremely rare. I wonder how < its/ > doing on goodreads. Duchamp and Beckett, chess BFFs. Aint that fit as a fiddle? In the first Harry Potter movie, when they have the chess match, that sequence is so lame. They could’ve made it so much cooler. Voltaire loved chess and played the unusual tactic of using his king as his primary offense. Some games, it was the only piece he played. He also made the habit of playing on the graves of his enemies. Marx loved chess and often tried to queen every one of his pawns. An unusual strategy, he would respond saying he wasn’t trying to win but rather re-envision the hierarchy of the caste system. It was an idea that had a profound effect on his chess game and why no one wanted to play with him. When I played competitive chess as a young lad I had the annoying habit of making a “cha-ching” sound whenever I took an opponent’s piece. But I did lose at lot of those matches, so the better kid won. Anyhow, that’s about it. Also, and more importantly, there’s a good chess app and if anyone wants to go toe-to-toe on the chessboard, just say the word. That is, unless you’re chicken.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Zapata

    A well-researched charming introduction to the beautiful game of chess,a game that has captivated people for nearly 1,500 years. David Shenk takes us on a trip millennia back and light-years ahead to find out how 32 carved pieces on a board illuminated our understanding of almost everything,from religion,art,mathematics,literature,to artificial intelligence and beyond.Indeed,as Shenk shows,some neuroscientists believe that playing chess may actually alter the structure of the brain,that it may b A well-researched charming introduction to the beautiful game of chess,a game that has captivated people for nearly 1,500 years. David Shenk takes us on a trip millennia back and light-years ahead to find out how 32 carved pieces on a board illuminated our understanding of almost everything,from religion,art,mathematics,literature,to artificial intelligence and beyond.Indeed,as Shenk shows,some neuroscientists believe that playing chess may actually alter the structure of the brain,that it may be for individuals what it has been for civilization:a virus that makes us smarter.Awesome indeed,...a wide-ranging and absorbing examination of chess. Being a chessplayer myself,I really enjoyed this book,fresh and smart.It was a revelation to see how chess took over the life of Marcel Duchamp,with him going so far as to give up his art,which had made him the most influential artist of the twentieth century,even his wife,in 1927 Duchamp married Lydia Sarazin-Lavassor,a young heiress.On their honeymoon he spent the entire week studying chess problems.Infuriated,his bride plotted her revenge.When Duchamp finally drifted off to sleep late one night,Lydia glued all of the pieces to the board.They were divorced three months later. Full of wonderful anecdotes,this book is a strong move,wonderful reading!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ciro

    Chess is the simply the most important game in the history of the world. Bobby Fischer did nothing wrong.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

    The Immortal Game covers the long and meandering history of chess in an easy to read narrative that parallels a particular game played by two chess masters in the mid 1800s in London. The book includes detailed discussions on the rules and strategies of chess as well as its significance in relation to human understanding at different points in history. The Immortal Game of the title seems to end anticlimactically, echoing a somewhat stilted conclusion to the otherwise graceful narrative. Additi The Immortal Game covers the long and meandering history of chess in an easy to read narrative that parallels a particular game played by two chess masters in the mid 1800s in London. The book includes detailed discussions on the rules and strategies of chess as well as its significance in relation to human understanding at different points in history. The Immortal Game of the title seems to end anticlimactically, echoing a somewhat stilted conclusion to the otherwise graceful narrative. Additionally, there are sections where the parallel between the particular game moves and the accompanying history are more awkward than others, but overall the evidence is strong and the argument eloquent. While the author's personal involvement in the story is established early in the book, his rhetorical struggle with his own feelings about the game seem a bit indulgent and interrupt the story. Thankfully, these interruptions are few and brief. The average player is not likely to improve his or her game by reading this book, however, most readers (from non-player to advanced) will gain a greater understanding of how chess has shaped different facets or our global society from the time of it's invention and why people continue to play this complex game nearly two thousand years later.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mauricio

    Yes this book gets into the History of Chess but really it is about a specific game played on June 21, 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, two world chess champion candidates playing a tune-up match in a pub in London. The author sets the stage and describes the game move-by-move. You don't have to be an expert to appreciate the beauty of this particular game, it was won with brilliant sacrifice and combination in a wide open style. Halfway through this book I knew I was going t Yes this book gets into the History of Chess but really it is about a specific game played on June 21, 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, two world chess champion candidates playing a tune-up match in a pub in London. The author sets the stage and describes the game move-by-move. You don't have to be an expert to appreciate the beauty of this particular game, it was won with brilliant sacrifice and combination in a wide open style. Halfway through this book I knew I was going to learn and start playing this game, my only regret is that I started playing so late in life. Starting so late, I know I will never become an expert at chess but I don't think I will mind that so much.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    I picked this up (from the library) based on a recommendation from Stephen Dubner's Freakonomics blog. I've always had a fascination with chess as a cultural phenomenon, although I've never been more than an occasional, mediocre player. Anyhow, this is a really fascinating history of chess, told in that post-modern way of jumping back and forth in time, between the ""straight"" historical account, the author's own experience with the game, and a move-by-move account of a famous game -- the so-ca I picked this up (from the library) based on a recommendation from Stephen Dubner's Freakonomics blog. I've always had a fascination with chess as a cultural phenomenon, although I've never been more than an occasional, mediocre player. Anyhow, this is a really fascinating history of chess, told in that post-modern way of jumping back and forth in time, between the ""straight"" historical account, the author's own experience with the game, and a move-by-move account of a famous game -- the so-called ""Immortal Game"" between Anderssen and Kieseritzky in a London cafe in 1851. Along the way are dozens of neat anecdotes and analyses of chess in history. How did the game evolve over time? How did the Russians and Nazis both attach cultural significance to the game? Why did so many Jewish players make seminal contributions to the game? In a way, this book becomes one of those fun kinds of history books; we meet figures from Marcel Duchamp to Benjamin Franklin, as well as several Middle Eastern kings. It's history told through a narrow lens, which we've seen before in books like ""Cod"" and ""Salt"" and a bunch of others, but because of Chess' more broad penetration (Chess is today known in every corner of the Globe, says Shenk) it comes across as a more useful perspective than some others.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    For the next six weeks, I'll be teaching chess to elementary students as part of an after-school program. Since I'm not much of a chess player, I decided to take a crash course in the game and familiarize myself with some of its broad concepts. This book is pretty much exactly what I needed. Shenk tells the stories of chess from its origins (probably in Persia, maybe in India) to the present day (and beyond). His touch is light, which lets him cover a huge amount of information without bogging do For the next six weeks, I'll be teaching chess to elementary students as part of an after-school program. Since I'm not much of a chess player, I decided to take a crash course in the game and familiarize myself with some of its broad concepts. This book is pretty much exactly what I needed. Shenk tells the stories of chess from its origins (probably in Persia, maybe in India) to the present day (and beyond). His touch is light, which lets him cover a huge amount of information without bogging down at all. The role of chess in world history is maybe a teensy bit overstated, but, as the showdown in '72 between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky suggested, the immortal game continues to be a perfect metaphor for conflict, debate, intrigue, a battle of minds - you name it. And, conveniently, Shenk spends a little time in a classroom at the end of the book, observing a chess teacher explain the game to a group of elementary students as part of an after-school program. So yes, pretty much exactly what I needed.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Yikes. If it hadn't been for the glowing reviews, I probably wouldn't taken the chance on this. Chess certainly can be overexposed, but this promised good writing with fresh incites that revitalized our perspective on the game. Me? At best is was an ok magazine article. Not that the subject isn't worthy. I just found the writing thin, without the author bringing much to the table then his own family history's link with chess and his recent attempts to retake up the game. All the relevant material Yikes. If it hadn't been for the glowing reviews, I probably wouldn't taken the chance on this. Chess certainly can be overexposed, but this promised good writing with fresh incites that revitalized our perspective on the game. Me? At best is was an ok magazine article. Not that the subject isn't worthy. I just found the writing thin, without the author bringing much to the table then his own family history's link with chess and his recent attempts to retake up the game. All the relevant material was drawn from previous books, without any new conclusions based on this collected information. At times it felt more like a book report: this book talks about this, this author writes that, therefore, I think so too. Blah. It was the type of book that made you want to read the sources to get to the real meat. Call it a chess beach read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Colin Gooding

    This was a surprisingly fantastic book. I love the way it's written, something about the language just made my want to keep reading and the structure of using parts of the Immortal Game to introduce new topics and aspects of the game of chess was a really neat device, and the way he described the Immortal Game itself made me keep reading through the beginning of the next chapter before stopping for the night. It also helps that the author seems to have the same outlook on chess as I do: He finds This was a surprisingly fantastic book. I love the way it's written, something about the language just made my want to keep reading and the structure of using parts of the Immortal Game to introduce new topics and aspects of the game of chess was a really neat device, and the way he described the Immortal Game itself made me keep reading through the beginning of the next chapter before stopping for the night. It also helps that the author seems to have the same outlook on chess as I do: He finds it fascinating, but daunting. He'd like to be good at it, but he wants to play without studying opening moves and established strategy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This is a great book that is accessible to all, not just chess nerds. The author structures it around the most famous game of chess maybe ever(the Immortal Game). This is a clever technique and I highly recommend this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    robomatey

    I've recently become geeked out about chess. Most of the stuff I've read has felt as grueling as a textbook, but Shenk's book is engaging and enthusiastic. I've recently become geeked out about chess. Most of the stuff I've read has felt as grueling as a textbook, but Shenk's book is engaging and enthusiastic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sunil

    On my last trip to the library, I did something I almost never do: I chose a book simply because it sounded interesting. (Because I can only accept so much spontaneity, however, I did verify that it had a decent Goodreads rating before taking a chance on it.) I wanted to listen to some nonfiction, so why not a history of a chess. Reader, I made the right choice. David Shenk finds that he has a personal connection to the game of chess, as one of his ancestors was a chessmaster. And so he delves int On my last trip to the library, I did something I almost never do: I chose a book simply because it sounded interesting. (Because I can only accept so much spontaneity, however, I did verify that it had a decent Goodreads rating before taking a chance on it.) I wanted to listen to some nonfiction, so why not a history of a chess. Reader, I made the right choice. David Shenk finds that he has a personal connection to the game of chess, as one of his ancestors was a chessmaster. And so he delves into the history of the game and we are all the more enlightened for his sharing of his findings. Shenk begins at the beginning, sifting through multiple origin stories, none of which can be the whole truth but all of which come together to evoke an appealing narrative of how the game was born, be it in India or Persia or both independently. We follow the game as it reaches Europe and evolves in the sort of cultural appropriation (I would say cultural exchange, but it's not like the Europeans gave anything back to the brown people who invented the game) that has peppered world history in the...best way? Shenk does not interrogate this aspect of the history of chess too deeply, though he does make an ironic observation about Christians playing chess during the Crusades to relax after slaughtering the Muslims who invented the game. Tracking the game throughout world history was fascinating enough, but a large chunk of the book focuses on what the game means beyond those 32 carved pieces on a board. The obvious metaphorical implications and its connection to war. The strategies involved and how it helps us understand how the human brain works (did you know chess is responsible for cognitive science as a field). The basic philosophies of chess and its interpretation by artists in various media. It's just a simple game, but, as Shenk points out early on, what other game has endured for 1400 years? To tie the book together with a narrative backbone, Shenk takes us through the titular Immortal Game, a famous chess game played by Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky in London in 1851. Move by move, he explains how and why each player does what he does, in addition to expounding upon the rules and strategies of chess and their evolution and study through the years (like entire books being written on opening moves [by which I mean a book on an opening move]). While John H. Mayer's audio recording is always engaging, finding the perfect balance of simple narration and personality, I did have some trouble following descriptions of chess moves; I assume the print book has accompanying visuals to guide the reader. Regardless, toward the end of game, I was literally cursing and shouting at the moves being made and screaming when a chapter ended on a cliffhanger. I've never been so fucking invested in a chess game, what the hell. For anyone looking for a great nonfiction book that highlights both individuals and culture and touches on art and science while also giving a greater appreciation for a topic you've never thought too deeply about, I absolutely recommend The Immortal Game. It made me want to play some fucking chess for the first time in years, and I can't think of a better endorsement.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ben Vogel

    I loved this book. Probably it is only 4 stars if you don't care much about chess and 3 stars if you don't know a bishop from pawn, but that is still saying something about how well done the book is. The history of chess and how an ancient game is interwoven with the development of so many other aspects of the evolution of thought, innovation, societal and cultural evolution, the understanding of human memory, and it's huge significance in the development and measurement of computing power and a I loved this book. Probably it is only 4 stars if you don't care much about chess and 3 stars if you don't know a bishop from pawn, but that is still saying something about how well done the book is. The history of chess and how an ancient game is interwoven with the development of so many other aspects of the evolution of thought, innovation, societal and cultural evolution, the understanding of human memory, and it's huge significance in the development and measurement of computing power and artificial intelligence was sort of astonishing to me. I was playing chess as a child further back than I can remember reading. I have very early memories of discovering new tactics losing to my older brothers and my Grandmother, who played so fiercely with her knights that she would happily sacrifice her queen to preserve them. So I largely have taken Chess for granted. This book, which I picked up by chance at Half Price Books after playing more frequently with my son, has given me new appreciation. The author's great great grandfather was a legendary player in France in the 19th Century. He was one of those astonishing masters who would play a roomful of people simultaneously while blindfolded. While not a focus of the book, that story is interesting too. Shenk weaves into the narrative of each chapter one of the most famous chess matches ever played, Anderssen vs Kieseritzky (1851), and it is a truly delightful way to demonstrate the beauty of chess as the book progresses. I hope to share this book with friends who have any interest in reading to see if they enjoy it even half as much as I did, which would still be a great amount.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brahm

    This was a great read! I learned how to play chess as a kid but never got that good. As soon as my little brother was regularly beating me (in chess) I stopped. Then several years ago, I think in the early-mid 2010s, a group of friends started playing app-based internet chess non-stop (including my little brother, who still consistently beat me). Like, sooo many concurrent and simultaneous games, sometimes multiple games against a single person at once. ... I think this book has re-ignited that This was a great read! I learned how to play chess as a kid but never got that good. As soon as my little brother was regularly beating me (in chess) I stopped. Then several years ago, I think in the early-mid 2010s, a group of friends started playing app-based internet chess non-stop (including my little brother, who still consistently beat me). Like, sooo many concurrent and simultaneous games, sometimes multiple games against a single person at once. ... I think this book has re-ignited that interest. This was a great little history of the game. The book is laid out as follows: chapter by chapter, Shenk walks you through the history of chess. At the end of each chapter, he walks you through a few moves of "The Immortal Game", which apparently was Adolf Anderssen v. Lionel Kieseritzky, played in London in 1851. The history was light, interesting and engaging and "playing out" the Immortal Game was an incredible way to create some tension in a non-fiction book! Shenk hinted at the outcome but I was eager to finish each chapter to see what the next moves were. For both the history and the game walkthrough, I think I was the right audience level, someone with an interest but no expertise. Shenk gives the beginner a primer on written chess notation, but there are pictures for every move, and he does a great job bringing the game to life and creating suspense around the outcome. Thanks @Joel for the rec!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Rose

    This book would be fascinating for anyone with an interest in human history. Of course, the book is ostensibly about the origins and impact of chess - but it is much, much more than that. This book weaves between some wildly disparate epochs. With David Shenk as their guide, the reader travels through ancient Islam, meets medieval European queens, learns about the life and times of Benjamin Franklin, and the role chess played in early 20th century modernism, the Cold War, and the development of a This book would be fascinating for anyone with an interest in human history. Of course, the book is ostensibly about the origins and impact of chess - but it is much, much more than that. This book weaves between some wildly disparate epochs. With David Shenk as their guide, the reader travels through ancient Islam, meets medieval European queens, learns about the life and times of Benjamin Franklin, and the role chess played in early 20th century modernism, the Cold War, and the development of artificial intelligence. The author's writing feels effortless. Of course, it is was not effortless at all - years of research went into the book's creation. In between chapters, the reader is treated to a chess game played in 1851, the eponymous "Immortal Game" played between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieserktzky. It's a game which chess aficionados might already be familiar with, but even newcomers will be able to appreciate it, thanks to Shenk's patient and careful commentary. A truly remarkable book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Opetoritse

    A brisk yet engaging tour through chess's long and storied history. Shenk gives ample attention to the intellectual, philosophical, and at times almost spiritual qualities of the game, accessibly illustrating how it has remained relevant for over 1,500 years. I was pleased that a fair amount of attention is given to the ancient Indian and Middle Eastern societies in which the game originated and flourished for the first third of its life. Shenk's inclusion of his personal journey with the game f A brisk yet engaging tour through chess's long and storied history. Shenk gives ample attention to the intellectual, philosophical, and at times almost spiritual qualities of the game, accessibly illustrating how it has remained relevant for over 1,500 years. I was pleased that a fair amount of attention is given to the ancient Indian and Middle Eastern societies in which the game originated and flourished for the first third of its life. Shenk's inclusion of his personal journey with the game further humanized the narrative, at times giving the impression that he is learning right along side you. His account of the eponymous Immortal Game is at times blended into the themes of the surrounding chapters, but at others feels choppy and of place. The appendix also contains many useful resources including Benjamin Franklin's "The Moral of Chess" and a selection of famous games.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Quick easy read, lacking in real meat, but not without interest. Don't regret reading it, but at the same time there must be better books on the subject. Has some good information. Despite being put off initially I came to enjoy the structure: immortal game vs. personal vs. historical – a little indulgent, but genuine. Flabby writing to the point I almost gave up, often overly adjectival and superlative. Quick easy read, lacking in real meat, but not without interest. Don't regret reading it, but at the same time there must be better books on the subject. Has some good information. Despite being put off initially I came to enjoy the structure: immortal game vs. personal vs. historical – a little indulgent, but genuine. Flabby writing to the point I almost gave up, often overly adjectival and superlative.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Yesmo

    Yeah, I liked it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rick Perry

    Great little book on the history of chess! Also includes a move by move analysis of several important historical games.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jurij Fedorov

    There is a short intro with some interesting anecdotes from all over the world. It's a fine intro about the lasting effect of chess, but nothing deep. I. OPENINGS (Where We Come From ) 1. “UNDERSTANDING IS THE ESSENTIAL WEAPON” Chess and Our Origins 6/10 Chess was seen as the new game of intellect instead of chance so there are a lot of myths about some rational genius having invented it to explain something rational about real life. This chapter is good, but it jumps from society to society and y There is a short intro with some interesting anecdotes from all over the world. It's a fine intro about the lasting effect of chess, but nothing deep. I. OPENINGS (Where We Come From ) 1. “UNDERSTANDING IS THE ESSENTIAL WEAPON” Chess and Our Origins 6/10 Chess was seen as the new game of intellect instead of chance so there are a lot of myths about some rational genius having invented it to explain something rational about real life. This chapter is good, but it jumps from society to society and year to year so it's hard to fully engage in one single story here. 2. HOUSE OF WISDOM Chess and the Muslim Renaissance 8,5/10 This is great stuff. It's exactly what I asked for in the last chapter. Narrow focus and lots of details about one single setting. The Muslim chess history is maybe the most interesting one to know about too as it's the mysterious time where Islam was great. I do wish we knew more about their play style and personal stories. How important was competition? Did they play outsiders? 3. THE MORALS OF MEN AND THE DUTIES OF NOBLES AND COMMONERS Chess and Medieval Obligation 7/10 Still focused history, but less focused on chess. This is about how Medieval Europe used chess to illustrate how society worked. They are fascinating points, but it's not much info. We just understand that the common folk were symbolically seen as pawns by some people. And of course the king and queen symbolised the ruling class. There is also a point about romantic love being invented at that time. A silly notion not explained. You can't invent an emotion. I think he meant to say that romance plays became popular. Love is not an invention. 4. MAKING MEN CIRCUMSPECT Modern Chess, the Accumulation of Knowledge, and the March to Infinity 6/10 Not too much chess history here. Rather the chapter is largely focused on often assumed metaphors. According to the author the queen may have been made into a stronger chess piece as strong queens were common in Europe at that time. This to me seems a bit too wishy-washy and hypothetical. Chess is a game and is supposed to be fun. The new universal standards surely didn't appear to please bishops and queens. Did they luck into making the best board game ever by trying to appease rulers? Maybe, but I frankly don't know of any game changed this way. He doesn't really give us much evidence for anything. The book also has short passages from a chess game called The Immortal Game after each chapter. I like them, but they should have been combined into one single chapter. They are somewhat a drag to read between chapters. II. MIDDLEGAME (Who We Are) 5. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S OPERA Chess and the Enlightenment 7/10 Benjamin Franklin was the best player in USA. It's about how he played chess in Europe and how the European scene developed. Unfortunately the author yet again applies his loosey goosey theory about how chess influences real politics. Again without evidence. Chess analogies are in fact used to describe the real world yet it doesn't mean the new chess tactics are creating democracy. I feel like he thinks chess created historical events and modern politics. 6. THE EMPEROR AND THE IMMIGRANT Chess and the Unexpected Gifts of War 6,5/10 Napoleon was an avid chess player who loved the game, but wasn't ever great at it. This chapter goes into the French chess scene and how French attacking chess spread to the rest of Europe and made cities like London the best in the world at chess. It's curious to read about the popular French chess cafe where all the best chess players turned up to play and foreigners traveled to to experience. Yet the chapter feels short. You don't quite get to smell or taste the setting. It pops up and disappears just as fast. 7. CHUNKING AND TASKING Chess and the Working Mind 5/10 As a non-historian I can't judge the validity of the history claims in the book. I just read and enjoy them thinking they are mostly valid. As a psychologist I can in fact judge this chapter, and the author's understanding of psychology is very weak and even at times pseudoscientific. He applies his big and loosey goosey holistic thinking to explain how chess is basically a purely environmental skill and that talent plays basically no role in it. So Bobby Fischer was lucky to have good teachers and wasn't ever a huge talent. He just trained hard. This goes counter to actual studies on IQ and chess skill correlation, studies on talent, and other findings from psychology. Instead the author ignores all research and uses chess anecdotes to make a case for his claim. This wouldn't even pass a high school psychology exam. He for example says that the psychologist Laszlo Polgar promised to make his kids geniuses before they were born and then did just that as he made them into chess geniuses. The author doesn't understand that this anecdote largely shows us that parents get kids that are biologically similar to them. If a genius, like Laszlo Polgar, says he will get genius kids it's a pretty safe prediction as intelligence is one of the most heritable cognitive traits. It doesn't really tell us anything about how "well" his environmental influence plan succeeded. That's why we rely on randomized studies and adoption studies and not singular anecdotes. It would at least be somewhat an interesting anecdote if he had adopted 3 random girls from various places of the country and made all 3 into grandmasters. As of now the anecdote just shows that clever people get clever kids. These kind of very simple logical errors should make anyone question the whole book, unfortunately. If he released a second edition and corrected this chapter it would likely save the prior chapters. 8. “INTO ITS VERTIGINOUS DEPTHS” Chess and the Shattered Mind 4/10 Yet again he presents pseudoscience. Now he alludes to the theory that chess made Paul Murphy and Bobby Fischer go insane. The same way it destroyed many other top players. So, does he use stats? Quotes studies? Brings up adoption experiments? Nope, yet again he uses single anecdote examples to prove that the chess made them go crazy. Of course we don't read anything about schizophrenia being highly heritable and that this stuff runs in families. Could the same phenotype be responsible for schizophrenia and chess skills to some degree? This idea is not even explored. It must be environment because it's the only thing he can talk about without using studies. This chapter may even be worse than the last chapter as it's largely about this theory while the last chapter at least had some pages about Binet and his memory studies that did follow good research practises. 9. A VICTORIOUS SYNTHESIS Chess and Totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century 8/10 We yet again get a repeat of the statement that chess made Bobby Fischer go insane. Despite that this chapter is quite good. It's a short look into Nazi and Soviet chess. Not much is said here, but it's a quick overview and an engaging one. It's weird how modern history, so far, is the most interesting one in the book. It's weird that the old history, I'm most interested in, is not as exciting here. This just feels more detailed and emotional than the past chapters. I'm glad his pseudoscience didn't take over this chapter. But it's still visible at times. 10. BEAUTIFUL PROBLEMS Chess and Modernity 5/10 Weak chapter where the author yet again feels the need to string together his pseudoscientific theory about how chess influences the mind to make it more rational, scientific, artful, creative and crazy. It's a shame he writes this much about psychology without quoting a single actual study. How is this fine unless you tell the reader it's your personal guesses and not some great idea? It's not even stuff anyone regular social scientists would agree with. At least if you say that small boys like to mate with their mothers you'll refer to Freud. Here he doesn't pick up any theory mantle, but creates his own new theory without being careful in his claims or arguments. Basically everything he assumes about the brain is wrong. But you may still enjoy this low-tier philosophy if you don't understand why it's wrong. Besides this the chapter is about marginal chess players, again, so it feels irrelevant historically. It's just that he forces it to be relevant by assuming the huge chess influence. III. ENDGAME (Where We Are Going) 11. “WE ARE SHARING OUR WORLD WITH ANOTHER SPECIES, ONE THAT GETS SMARTER AND MORE INDEPENDENT EVERY YEAR” Chess and the New Machine Intelligence 7/10 Good chapter on chess AI history with some focus on the hypothetical ideas behind it and how chess computers started to beat human beings. One negative factor here is how he still uses his magic/blank slate concept. So there are some statements about how even the old chess AIs passed the Turing test as the computer could act like a human on the board. The author overlooks bots and AI in video games that can be 100 times as impressive, but are never really seen as passing any Turing test, even though they can play like human beings. You can easily program a first-person shooter AI that can defeat a whole team of human players. Yet it's not really "smart" as such. It won't even audio communicate or chat that well. Same way a chess AI can't do that either. To pass the Turing test the chess computer has to sit across from us and act as a human chess player not just tell us what moves it wants to play. Yet this is not a serious issue with the chapter as such. 12. THE NEXT WAR Chess and the Future of Human Intelligence 3/10 Pointless, boring and misleading last chapter. Here he not only assumes chess is unrelated to actual intelligence (something he is wrong about), but he states that it actually influences intelligence and makes us great thinkers. So it's not talent making some people naturally gifted. It's apparently some magical element in chess that makes people and societies smarter, more rational and wiser. Of course it's never explored if chess societies are smarter than non-chess societies or if chess has shown to even increase IQ (it hasn't). Besides that the chapter doesn't tell us anything about chess history. It's just about how chess is used to make school students and prisoners wiser. Not because it's a technical game, but because the chess symbolism is supposedly so strong that it can make cruel states democratic or regular people wise. This book overall is a letdown. It started out very fine. Not great but good chess history that is badly presented, not always well-written, and too unfocused, but still curious history. Yet from the start the book is about how chess molds the brain and societies. This just becomes very clear later on and ruins the book for any critical reader. It's not really a chess history book as such. It's for people who want to read a theory about how the mind works from someone who clearly has never even read a single paper modern in psychology. The first history chapters are still worth reading if you can't find a better chess history book. But since it's not that well-written I assume there are plenty of better intros out there. If you remove the 3 pseudoscience chapters it could easily get a 4 star rating. As a complete package it's not really worth reading. You can easily find history videos about chess on YouTube or in other books. It's hard to really rate or like a book that's half good and half a huge miss. 2,5 stars. I need to consider what star rating to give it. I did learn something from the book, but overall it's a letdown.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Beau

    An excellent an indispensable history of the game. The author weaves together his centuries-long narrative with the moves played in 1851 in London between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritsky that journalists quickly and presciently dubbed "The Immortal Game." Thanks for the book, Josh. An excellent an indispensable history of the game. The author weaves together his centuries-long narrative with the moves played in 1851 in London between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritsky that journalists quickly and presciently dubbed "The Immortal Game." Thanks for the book, Josh.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Augusto Bernardi

    I enjoyed this book so much. How can a book about chess be so thrilling to read and not play. Well with masterful writing by David Shenk. I didn't know David before this book unfortunately but I am forever a fan of his writing. I was hoping for a book about the history of the SPORT of chess but this book was so much more than that without dragging on for ages. Shenk covers the entire history of chess. Going back over a thousand years ago, travelling through continents, slowly evolving, all the w I enjoyed this book so much. How can a book about chess be so thrilling to read and not play. Well with masterful writing by David Shenk. I didn't know David before this book unfortunately but I am forever a fan of his writing. I was hoping for a book about the history of the SPORT of chess but this book was so much more than that without dragging on for ages. Shenk covers the entire history of chess. Going back over a thousand years ago, travelling through continents, slowly evolving, all the way to the future which is insane. In a nutshell, the core of this book was history and culture influenced the rules of chess and the styles of chess strategy. BUT the book is also about how chess influenced history and culture itself too. On top of that, parallel to all of this historical information, Shenk plays out the step by step moves of the Immortal game. An informal chess match in 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. A match where Anderssen sacrifices a bunch of pieces, including both rooks, a bishop and his queen only to checkmate his opponent with the minor pieces. This is by many considered the greatest chess match and chess achievement of all times. The brilliant genius to have the book structured in this way was mind-blowing to me and I could finally enjoy and appreciate chess in literature to a whole other level. I could appreciate the risk taking, the strategy and the intellectual battle behind great chess. In the earlier chapters Shenk talked about the very early years of ancient Chess in Asia in India and Persia. The simple point of the primitive version of chess was to be able to grasp complex concepts like the Indians had invented the concept of Zero. I was fascinated how the the evolution of chess is closely tied to the silk road as chess came to the middle east, shortly after the death of the prophet Muhammed, when Islam was really starting to take shape among the followers and successors of Muhammed. There was a lengthy chapter in regards to the influence that Islamic rules in regards to depicting images on the chess pieces. Later Shenk talked about when chess evolved in Europe. Having the artistic and poetic influence which introduced other pieces and replaced others like the former elephant. It got the black and white checkered board and also the mixing with dice which was another popular gambling element that made the game a little faster and more dynamic which it needed to grow in popularity at the time. The dice were eventually taken out again and the queen eventually was made so that she was unquestionably the strongest piece on the board. That again was an essential step to keep the dynamic strategy in chess for it to continue throughout history. Throughout the book Shenk talks about many major historical figures that weren't necessarily well known for chess or played chess at all but their influence or the influence that chess had on them impacted history and the history of chess. Three great examples that Shenk extensively focuses on is the great French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, the American founding father Benjamin Franklin, and lastly the bizarre French artist, Marcel Duchamp. All three were not professional chess players but Napoleon's fascination over the strategic and combat parallel is essential to appreciate in Chess. Franklin's use of the structure of chess and how it parallels politics is another important element to understand the importance of chess in history. And lastly, Duchamp influence on art with chess or vice versa. Now all three of these figures are not important people in the grand scheme of chess history but they are relevant examples in regards to chess throughout history. More relevant to chess and to my delight was when Shenk talked about the great chess players of history and the major chess movements. If I'm going to split hairs, I would have actually liked it more if Shenk would have talked even MORE about the great chess players like Tal, Capablanca, Lasker and Alekhine but that was not to be. The 4 eras of chess were the Romantic period, the scientific, hypermodern and lastly the New Dynamism. I was intensely interested in the use of chess by these authoritarian regimes like the Soviet union. How the soviets used chess as a tool to show how intellectually superior they were to everyone else. Great Soviets like Stalin, Trotsky, Lenin also were fans and so was Karl Marx. It was a cheap sport or activity to do which then could allow the government to get behind it and finance chess players to the point where half the chess players in the entire world were in the Soviet union. That is why a lot of the chess champions were Soviets and Russians. And that is how they wanted to keep that. A fascinating comment in the book confirmed something I had been suspecting lately which was that the Soviets would purposely draw early or let other Russians get through to the finals easier so that they would be less mentally exhausted by the time they had to verse other countries. This is something I had heard Bobby Fischer say before. Bobby Fischer was another figure that Schenk talked in length about as he is one of the most important chess players in the 20th century. I never really understood why Bobby Fischer is regarded so highly because his achievements seem to pale against those of any of the previous Soviet player. Yet it is precisely the fact that he did beat the Soviets as an American by himself, IS what makes it an impossible and unparalleled achievement. A big chunk of the latter part of the book was that of the legendary Russian, Azerbaijani born chess player, Gary Kasparov. Kasparov although statistically speaking is the most successful player of all times, he is most well known for one of his very few losses. It was against the computer program Deep Blue. I had already known about this famous match and I already knew it's significance in the history of humanity itself. It's true that you do have to be careful in not blowing this out of proportion and lose your mind with this loss and Noam Chomsky wouldn't find it significant at all, comparing it to a crane lifting a heavier object than a human could. But after reading this book I actually think that this loss might be the significant milestone in human history and the history of AI evolution. I was deeply fascinated that Kasparov actually won the first match in the rematch which goes to show how brilliant and smart his understanding of thinking and how a computer thinks. Unfortunately the story turns dark for humanity as he eventually losses another match and purposely draws the rest because of the sheer pressure of not to lose. In a very real way, this is a victory for artificial intelligence as Kasparov admitted on purposely drawing the match because of the pressure required for him to win. AI does not have feeling and this was the deciding factor in the match. Shenk even explains the Turing test and how intelligence developed. With such a wide range of subjects and interesting characters somehow attached to chess, I am glad to say that this was a masterpiece of chess literature.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lew Watts

    There are more books with the title "The Immortal Game" than seems possible, but this is the one you should choose...that is, if you are into chess, its history, and its beauty. Like many, I went through a chess phase in my late teens, about the time I would read poetry books in public places and wore clear-lensed spectacles to 'impress' my intellect and seriousness on strangers. But even then, despite a shallow understanding of chess, I'd heard and read about the "immortal game" that took place There are more books with the title "The Immortal Game" than seems possible, but this is the one you should choose...that is, if you are into chess, its history, and its beauty. Like many, I went through a chess phase in my late teens, about the time I would read poetry books in public places and wore clear-lensed spectacles to 'impress' my intellect and seriousness on strangers. But even then, despite a shallow understanding of chess, I'd heard and read about the "immortal game" that took place 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, a warm-up game that featured increasingly daring and outrageous moves until the stunning finale. Reading David Shenk's book brought all that back and more. If you are not into chess, however, you are likely to be disappointed. Beyond the game itself, there seems to be a lack of energy and the personal, although how difficult it would be to shine against the brilliance of the match itself.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Jones

    A successful juggling act. I don't know why I picked up this book had doubts on whether I'd read it. The title and opening were significant enough hooks to keep me reading until the narratives started to unfold. The time spent on earlier civilizations, gave me a vested interest. I am not a chess player. From early in my youth I purposefully disdained from chess playing. I had access to books and willing adversaries. But it was not an easy thing. From the first game it became apparent that being go A successful juggling act. I don't know why I picked up this book had doubts on whether I'd read it. The title and opening were significant enough hooks to keep me reading until the narratives started to unfold. The time spent on earlier civilizations, gave me a vested interest. I am not a chess player. From early in my youth I purposefully disdained from chess playing. I had access to books and willing adversaries. But it was not an easy thing. From the first game it became apparent that being good would take work. Like the writer I was lazy. There were so many other things to engage my time with then spend endless hours in becoming mediocre in a game that meant nothing. I, at the time of reading, felt inspired for the first time in my life to learn something of chess. Maybe it is the history. The richness of the metaphors that have evolved to fit the politics of the time. Perhaps the passion and grandness he bestowed on not just the game but specific games. Chess, in this book became more then a noun. It became the protagonist. I was rooting for it when Muslims were trying to ban it. When time and ideology seemed on the brink of burying it. By midgame I had given the game, an intellect, a personality. It was simultaneously the Turing test and it had passed.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nv

    The mood of this book takes a dark turn, from marveling at human ingenuity and a divine predilection for abstract thought, a sense of wonder, connection and continuity of an ancient tradition that has found historical relevance and psychological utility in societies and individuals otherwise totally unrecognizable to us, an excitement that comes from discovering powerful tools like learning a new language or understanding calculus or formal logic for the first time, to something much darker, an The mood of this book takes a dark turn, from marveling at human ingenuity and a divine predilection for abstract thought, a sense of wonder, connection and continuity of an ancient tradition that has found historical relevance and psychological utility in societies and individuals otherwise totally unrecognizable to us, an excitement that comes from discovering powerful tools like learning a new language or understanding calculus or formal logic for the first time, to something much darker, an Escherian switch from giddying heights to gaping abyss, a vertiginous downward spiral into inevitable despair, obsession and madness. I come away from this book feeling justified in my own fear of unstoppable descent, my own maze-making Daedalus and essence-destroying Minotaur, and no Ariadne or thread or even will to escape. The terrifying extrapolation of the Machiavellian hypothesis for human intelligence that cannot but end in schizoid apophenia. I wish this book had emerged through the fog of psychosis to show us there is indeed sunshine on the other side, breaking through the dark clouds of winter fallout, that for every Schachnovelle protagonist and Fischer we have, perhaps a Magnus Carlsen, who uses the very same intelligence to pull our consciousness out of its self-created psychosis, an inspiring example and roadmap for well-adjusted superintelligence. Admittedly life wasn't at its best when I read this, so the cautionary note of darkness in this book might simply be a gratuitous imposition. Notes Chaturanga first time no randomizer (dice), coincided with new numeral system. 0. Decimal. Negative. Abstractions. A To teach math. Al-Adli, master, used it as an abacus. Used across China/Europe for calculations. Finances. Hence, chancellor of the exchequer. Abstractions always existed, chess, such a physical visual medium, organized it and brought it to life. Understanding is the ultimate weapon. Difference between chess problemist vs player = Beethoven composer vs Yo-Yo Ma performer Islam made Arabia an instant superpower. Transformative. In 2 decades after Muhammad’s death in 632, Islamic empire stretched Africa to Asia Minor. Harun ar-Rashid was warrior as well as intellectual. A chess player. Islamic renaissance. Science, culture. Cream aliyat ‘grandmasters’ could see 10 moves in advance. Next rung, much much fewer. Gambit, from Italian meaning ‘tripping up of heels’ is my offering up of a sacrifice to you. King’s Gambit, sacrificing the pawn next to King’s pawn, freeing up path in front of him, center line. Myths, said Joseph Campbell, “represent that wisdom of the species by which man has weathered the millenniums.” The sixth Abbasid caliph, victor in his final chess game, was swiftly beheaded. Chess is a teaching and learning instrument older than chalkboards, printed books, the compass, and the telescope. But every once in a while, often when it is least expected, a pair of players stumble into a game of true grace and beauty, danger and cunning, temptation, treachery, and surprise after surprise after surprise. one of seven essential skills for every knight (along with riding, swimming, archery, boxing, hawking, and verse writing). King Louis VI suddenly found himself seized by an enemy knight. “The king is taken,” shouted the knight. “Ignorant and insolent knight,” replied the king. “Not even in chess can a King be taken.” Aristotle considered symbolic metaphor a tool so powerful that he urged the state to regulate its use. Slaves, he warned, should not be permitted to utilize it. If Otto I’s Queen Adelaide had likely been the original inspiration for changing the piece from Minister to Queen in the tenth century, the substantial boost in the Queen’s power appears to have been inspired by Isabella, who for decades in the latter half of the fifteenth century reigned over the Castile and León regions of Spain in an extraordinary cosovereignty arrangement with her husband, King Ferdinand. Jacques Barbeau-Dubourg insisted in a letter to his friend Benjamin Franklin that chess “tires the spirit instead of rejuvenating it, [and] shrivels and hardens the soul.” “A nameless excrescence upon life,” H. G. Wells wrote of chess in 1898. “It annihilates a man.” “The exquisite purity and exactness of the right moves,” he said, “…[and] sense of overwhelming mastery on the one side matches that of inescapable helplessness on the other. It is doubtless this anal-sadistic feature that makes the game so well adapted to gratify at the same time both the homosexual and the antagonistic aspects of the father-son contest.” The danger lies in what Krauthammer calls vertigo, the cognitive disarray one encounters when facing limitless depths, physical or virtual. Not many chess players come close. “The amateur sees pieces and movement,” writes Krauthammer. “The expert, additionally, sees sixty-four squares with holes and lines and spheres of influence. The genius apprehends a unified field within which space and force and mass are interacting valences—a Bishop tears the board in half and a Pawn bends the space around it the way mass can reshape space in the Einsteinian universe.” As with Wittgenstein and Feynman, chess for Calvino was a window into grasping complex systems. For anyone interested in language or mathematics or geography, what really mattered wasn’t the catalogue of individual words or numbers or alleyways so much as the system that bound them together. Rules, governed by logic, were the key to understanding and administering complex worlds. Beckett, one of the most pessimistic writers of the century, was fascinated by the futility of human action and by human interdependence, among other matters. He also consistently worked to undermine every possible aspect of conventional narrative, and once remarked that the ideal chess game for him would end with the pieces back in their starting positions.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    not the best history, but a good primer for beginners like me. It has a very interdisciplinary approach, which I liked, and the play-by-play of "the immortal game" (a chess game between two blokes in mid-19th century London) is nail-biting. Go figure. not the best history, but a good primer for beginners like me. It has a very interdisciplinary approach, which I liked, and the play-by-play of "the immortal game" (a chess game between two blokes in mid-19th century London) is nail-biting. Go figure.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Graham Lee

    Enjoyable, but much too brief. I feel like every chapter could've been deeper and longer and it would still be an engaging book. Enjoyable, but much too brief. I feel like every chapter could've been deeper and longer and it would still be an engaging book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Erik Hanberg

    A quick read about both the history of chess and a single game in London in the 1800s. I enjoyed it a lot.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chris Esposo

    First to preface this review, the audiobook I got is apparently abbreviated, as it’s run-time was just about 7 hours, and according to Amazon, a different version of this audiobook exists with a run time of about 8+ hours. So I am clearly missing some significant percentage of the book, and I’ll update this review once I’ve read either the text physically. The book gets its name from a famous chess game in the 19th century between two highly accomplished masters, Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kies First to preface this review, the audiobook I got is apparently abbreviated, as it’s run-time was just about 7 hours, and according to Amazon, a different version of this audiobook exists with a run time of about 8+ hours. So I am clearly missing some significant percentage of the book, and I’ll update this review once I’ve read either the text physically. The book gets its name from a famous chess game in the 19th century between two highly accomplished masters, Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseriztky. As someone who does not play (nor is steeped in the history or lore of chess), I cannot comment on the beauty of this match, and a reader does not need to have any talent (or prior knowledge) on chess to appreciate this book. In fact, the match itself, although important to the narrative, is not really the main course of the story. As the author (who himself is a former chess enthusiast), explains, there are two main motivations for writing this book: 1. To become reacquainted with chess, it’s history, and it’s place in our society 2. To use the time he spent researching the book to better know his ancestor, Samuel Rosenthal, a famed Chess savant in the late 19th century, who also competed with Adolf Anderssen from the famed “Immortal Game”. In accomplishing the above two goals, the author hoped he would construct a written artifact that would be both readable and interesting to the general reader. In this enterprise, he succeeded. What I like about this book, which is the audible abbreviated variation, is that it spends much time focusing on the utility of chess throughout the ages, as both a model of warfare, but as a computing tool to refine purposeful and concentrated thinking. Chess, by it’s nature is a combinatorial game, as the author points out, much of the strategy of IBM’s DeepBlue and it’s successor, DeepJunior was not so much building a model of the human way of thinking of chess, but of refining algorithmic search-procedures that could constantly scan through alternatives of next-moves based on the current and previous board-states of a match, and finding a way to intelligently weight those alternatives. However, the true challenge with this is that a player steeped in the tradition and practice of chess will be able to sieve alternatives potentially faster by leveraging context (and “intuition”) to faster select their next moves, with far less calories spent on the computing process that informed that decision. It is this deep nature that stems from the combinatorial property of the game that makes it a great practice for deep and focused thinking, and the author outlines the historical instances where this observation has been made across the various civilizations and societies that have encountered the game, which includes at least most, if not all literate societies in human history, and I suspect this were also true of some of the preliterate societies that interacted with any element of the silk-road/indian-ocean trading world prior the Western ascension. The connection between chess and war is immediately apparent to a modern person. The notion that the knight piece can take an “L” shaped move across the board will immediately remind one of the way cavalry was used in pre-modern warfare as a flanking force, or a force of high mobility to surprise and to shock an opposing army. The author goes deeper into this thread by explaining how chess was used not only as a sort of ‘simulation’ of the tactics practiced in antiquity, but as a way to broaden the horizon of the elites who played it, to think of the world more spatially, and to understand the intricate system-nature of the societies they lived in, by using chess to illustrate the relationship different members of society had with each other as an example. And whether it’s chess in history, war, or computing, the author does a fine job seamlessly moving between these broader topics and connecting them each to each other via the construct of chess. The one thing that sort of annoyed me (but minor) is he uses the term ‘infinite’ several times to explain the order of chess, that is the “size” of chess in some meaningful way. He does admit chess is not literally ‘infinite’, but it is ‘practically’ infinite. Yes chess does not literally have an infinite order, but even practically, it is not really “close” to infinite (and of course it makes little sense to even say whether a non-infinite number is “close” to infinite mathematically). There are several modern and ancient board games that are much larger than chess in order, including the Chinese game of Go (probably Hex as well?). In any event, this strange nomenclature is at most a minor distraction. Overall, I loved this book, I can only dock it for being too short. There is room for a much more expanded version of this book (maybe 3 or 5 times the length) that goes deeper in the respective topics covered here. I hope the author considers writing that book in the future, I would definitely read it. Recommended.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.