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. 4 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. 4 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ciro

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

  6. 5 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Hirsch

    I love these niche history books that document events through a different lens. In this book, you start by learning the origins of chess that take you nearly 1500 years back to Persia, and watch it quickly migrate to the European continent during the Islamic Renaissance. From there it undergoes a few notable changes (swapped out the elephant for the bishop because no one knew what an elephant was in northern Europe; and swapped out the minister for a Queen thanks to the highly revered Queen Adel I love these niche history books that document events through a different lens. In this book, you start by learning the origins of chess that take you nearly 1500 years back to Persia, and watch it quickly migrate to the European continent during the Islamic Renaissance. From there it undergoes a few notable changes (swapped out the elephant for the bishop because no one knew what an elephant was in northern Europe; and swapped out the minister for a Queen thanks to the highly revered Queen Adelaide. The queen’s piece power was then expanded thanks to several extremely powerful queens at the same time – most notably Isabella of Spain and Mary Queen of Scots). In between these slivers of historical context, the author methodically took you through each move of “The Immortal Game” – in what began as an unassuming game played in a London pub in 1851 quickly turned awe-inspiring when an absolute madlad sacrificed 2 rooks, a bishop, and a queen to win a game against one of the worlds greatest!! The book also touched on how chess has been used as an instrument to teach things like geometric progression, abstract thinking, and game theory. It depicted studies that analyzed how the mind of a grandmaster thinks; and the author argues, in which I fully agree, that chess in its purest form isn’t brute memorization of openings and endgames but it is an art. All in all, this was probably the easiest 5 star review I’ve given this year.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Coltyn

    Cried at the end bc he talked about sitting in on a middle school chess club and it was so sweet I’m crying again Writing this. 5 stars

  10. 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.

  11. 5 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 4 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 4 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!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Roozbeh Zabihollahi

    My favorite quote of this book: "The game of Chess is not merely as idle amusement ... Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it ... For life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with" said Benjamin Franklin. During the pandemic, I have started playing chess. As my birthday gift, I have received this book from my dear friends, and read it quickly. This b My favorite quote of this book: "The game of Chess is not merely as idle amusement ... Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it ... For life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with" said Benjamin Franklin. During the pandemic, I have started playing chess. As my birthday gift, I have received this book from my dear friends, and read it quickly. This book briefly goes over the history of this amazing game, and how it has been developed over time from different cultures. The book also talks about how recently computers are playing chess, and how folks believe that computers has passed Turning test. At the same time, while browsing through history, the book also walks the reader through one of the historic chess games of nineteen century. Mr Shenk discuss each move precisely and the strategic thinking behind each of them. He also mentions why a chess enthusiast should read a chess book :-) I have also learned that a lot of famous people used to play chess. Franklin obviously, Napoleon, Bill Gates, Turing, Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger and so many others. The book also discusses the benefits and at the same time drawbacks of playing chess, which I found useful. I think it is a very easy read, and as somebody who have recently built up an interest in chess, I loved it.

  19. 5 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.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jared Nelson

    I have always been intrigued by the game of Chess. This book presented the history of chess from its earliest beginnings to the present day in a compelling way and in context the way I like it. The comparison of chess to the way we as humans abstract diplomacy, warfare, and finances is very useful. But the most useful nugget of thought I received from the book more than any other was the assertion that so-called chess savants are not born, rather they are trained. Each superior chess player in the I have always been intrigued by the game of Chess. This book presented the history of chess from its earliest beginnings to the present day in a compelling way and in context the way I like it. The comparison of chess to the way we as humans abstract diplomacy, warfare, and finances is very useful. But the most useful nugget of thought I received from the book more than any other was the assertion that so-called chess savants are not born, rather they are trained. Each superior chess player in the world's history spent thousands of hours learning and studying. Yes, many learned the game and its nuances better than others, but one thing all grand masters have in common is their dedication of thousands of hours to the study of the game. Anyone who spends 10 or 20,000 hours learning anything is going to be VERY good at it. Solid 4 stares

  21. 5 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.

  22. 5 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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Yesmo

    Yeah, I liked it.

  24. 4 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.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ed Smith

    One of the few books on chess that can be enjoyed without having to be hunched over a chess board. This one is cool not only for its format (which is to present each of its major focuses or vignettes around one move of the famous game of the title) but also for its survey of topics that feed the chess curious. I especially enjoyed the discussion of the various eras of chess play (e.g., Romantic period, Scientific era, Hypermodern era...). This one is particularly welcome for being one of the few One of the few books on chess that can be enjoyed without having to be hunched over a chess board. This one is cool not only for its format (which is to present each of its major focuses or vignettes around one move of the famous game of the title) but also for its survey of topics that feed the chess curious. I especially enjoyed the discussion of the various eras of chess play (e.g., Romantic period, Scientific era, Hypermodern era...). This one is particularly welcome for being one of the few chess narratives that doesn't require the reader to accompany the author through a tale of psychological and mental torment that can often characterize books such as this, what with their excessive focus on figures like Paul Morphy and Bobby Fischer. Fun, light, insightful read.

  26. 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.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jonny Fuchs

    Such an interesting phenomenon, chess is. To think a game featuring 64 squares has more possible outcome combinations than there are electrons in the universe is remarkable. The anecdotes explained about how chess has shaped civilizations, children’s classrooms, and international relations just truly show how universal and important this game is. Some of the tangents in the book are a bit too off-topic, but overall a fascinating read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Smokin Joe

    It's okay. Not great but worth the read. The narrator takes you through the history of chess and the game's role in different eras and cultures. Every second chapter he goes through one move from "The Immortal Game" played between Andersen and Kieseretsky in 1852. It's okay. Not great but worth the read. The narrator takes you through the history of chess and the game's role in different eras and cultures. Every second chapter he goes through one move from "The Immortal Game" played between Andersen and Kieseretsky in 1852.

  29. 4 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.

  30. 4 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.

Add a review

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

Loading...