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

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

by David Shenk
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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 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
DuctorCE More than 1 year ago
"Think of a virus so advanced it infects not the blood, but the thoughts. But of its human host. Liver and spleen are spared; instead this bug infiltrates the frontal lobes of the brain, domination such prime cognitive functions as problem solving, abstract reasoning, time motor skills and, most notably, agenda setting. It directs thoughts, actions, and even dreams. This virus comes to dominate not only the body, but the mind." So begins David Shenk's The Immortal Game. The game of course is chess. If you have never played, never wanted to and have no interest in it; then neither this review nor the volume itself will hold any interest for you. Good bye - see you next time. However, if you are intrigued by the game, and the fact that after four moves there are 10 to the power of 120 possible moves (that is one with 120 zeros or one thousand trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion), then this slim volume will captivate you. Certainly the information about the trillion, trillion stuff, made me feel better about my own game; now I know why my computer keeps thrashing me with morbid regularity. Shenk's book is supported on two planks. One is the fact that his great grandfather, Samuel Rosenthal was a 'legendary chess master', and two, the friendly game between the German Adolf Anderssen and the Estonian Lionel Kieseritzky in London on June 21st 1851 known as the Immortal Game. Samuel Rosenthal was born at Suwtki, Poland 7 September 1837, and died, almost exactly 65 years later at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. He became a law student and moved from Warsaw to Paris during the Polish revolution in 1864. He settled in Paris as a chess professional and writer. The actual immortal game between Anderssen and Kieseritsky, was a 'warm-up' for the London International Tournament. Anderssen won; and walked away with the tournament, clutching the equivalent of half a million dollars in today's money. The tournament was propitious for Anderssen in another sense: he went on to be the leading player in the world until 1866 (save for a couple of years when he wasn't trying). Kieseritsky's life by contrast, ended two years later in a Paris mental hospital: very dead and very broke. It is said that not a single person attended the interring. Subtitling the chapters as move numbers in the Anderssen/Kieseritsky game, Shenk takes the reader on an extravaganza of chess history. From its origins in Persia in the fifth century, to an aid to education in today's America, Shenk misses nothing. There are answers here to all our ".I always wondered about that". Shenk's sources and notes are comprehensive and copious, as are his appendices. However, I thought Appendix I, pointless. If a reader didn't know the rules of chess, I doubt they would stay with Shenk for 244 pages. That said, appendix II and III are worth the purchase price of the book alone. If you love chess, you must buy this book. If you only know the moves - but enjoy the game, you must buy it. For everyone else - you should buy it too. Who knows, there could be a Grand Master lurking within you just waiting to come out.
MasterChessTeacher More than 1 year ago
I have only seen one other chess book on the History of Chess that is this book's equal ("The Chess Kings" by Olson). If you love chess and history this book is a must for you (If you don't play chess well, add "Chess for Everyone" to cover the material to understand Chess). This book is a very enjoyable read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jefferson_Thomas More than 1 year ago
I've played chess most of my life (I'm old enough to remember Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky at Reykyavik). Because I'm not quite as big a chess fanatic as some of this book's other reviewers, I didn't love this book as much as they did, but I still liked it. I especially like the Immortal Game itself -- who could have predicted that anyone crazy enough to sacrifice so many powerful pieces was going to emerge with a win so simple and elegant? It's all the more beautiful when you consider that, once the sacrifices start, you realize that something MUST be afoot, and, even though you're suspicious, you STILL can't seem to see what's about to happen, or stop the inevitable! Magnificent! I'm playing the other games at the end of the book out on a board as I write this, and they're pretty darned cool, too. As a history of chess, this book is good, and I recommend it. I also recommend "The Kings of Chess" by William Hartston, ISBN 0-06-015358-X. Be sure to search for this one by ISBN, because there is another book by the same name by William Winter, and it is the only one that comes up if you search by title. By the way, if you're a chess beginner, be sure to read "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess," one of the most thorough introductions to chess I've ever seen.
Justin2543 More than 1 year ago
It is an excellent source of information on the history of the game of kings and I recomend that anyone interested in the history of chess should get this book first.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Immortal Game' gives a different and intriguing insight not only into the history of chess, but points out how chess has had an impact in the lives of even non-chess players today (i.e. terminology and analogies taken from chess). It is obvious that the author (David Shenk - an established author outside of the filed of chess) has done his homework, and shows great appreciation for the 1400 year old game. His sources are documented in his sources and notes segment as well as the use of footnotes throughout the text. Is this a dry and boring history of chess? Absolutely not! You will find numerous interesting stories about some of the top chess players in the world, but also there is a heavy focus on famous people who play chess (who didn't gain their fame from chess). The author is quick to point out when something is a 'story' or 'legend' and that often a certain amount may contain some fact. Do you need to know how to play chess to enjoy and learn from this book? No! In fact as you go through the book, basic rules are pointed out. Though not intended to be a book that teaches chess, for an absolute beginner, you will be gently introduced to the basics. There are a nice number of diagrams, pictures, maps and complete games (with light analysis to make the book of interest to the casual chess player). Great detail with diagrams for every move of the 'immortal game' is given in segments throughout the book - an interesting way of going through the game - you can skip over the in between pages if you want to follow the game from start to finish with a diagram for each move (the pages with the game stand out and are easy to find). Interesting is also a look into the impact of artificial intelligence on chess and how chess is being used as a tool to teach children in school (improving math and reading ability). If you are looking for a history book on the mechanics of the development of the game in great detail then 'The History of Chess' by Murray is the classic work (from early chess to around the 18th century). If you are looking for a book with the major focus on the history and politics of top level chess players (with moderate number of well annotated games) over the last several centuries, the 'The Chess Kings' by Olson, Volume One has been released. If you are non-chess player or a chess player looking for a little bit of everything on 'Chess History' in a very well-rounded way that is scholarly yet not boring then 'The Immortal Game' should be your first choice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First of all, I'm a chess fanatic. Anyone who is a fanatic, will love it. Second, I love history. It's amazing to me how much this game was a part of history, is used to explain history, and even helped shape history. History buffs will enjoy this book. Third, Schenk writes very well. The stories he tells are captivating and interesting and enjoyable for broad audiences. I was fascinated by the one about the guy who prefers to checkmate his opponent instead of defending his city. The book opens with that story and it's intriguing right from the start. A very enjoyable read. Even if I were not a chess fanatic, I still would have loved this book. Very interesting!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great Book....telling the history of chess...around the story of a famous chess game from the past. It was enjoyable...and exciting the way he presented 'The Immortal Game' to you in pieces...allowing the reader time to study the board...and wonder...'what would I do??'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I purchased The Immortal Game recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. The part of the book that struck the strongest chord with me was the chapter, The Next War. (Some background first...) I went through my 'midlife crisis' a couple years ago. Instead of buying a Harley and heading for Sturgis, I decided to take up chess. Oh, I had learned the moves in my youth but, all my buddies were into baseball cards and Hardy Boys, so I never did much playing. I absorbed as much theory and general principles as I could handle and joined the local chess club. After many drubbings at the hands of the more experienced players, I won a few games which provided encouragement. About four months ago, I decided to take a break from chess and do a reassessment of the game and my relationship with it. My overriding question was 'why chess'? Dr. Viktor Frankl had picked up on Nietzche's quote about if a person had a why to their life, they could put up with almost any how. I didn't have the 'why' for continuing chess. In the chapter, The Next War, Mr. Shenk writes: 'One common response to our splintered, postmodern, slippery-truth age is not to think but to instead fall back on a fixed set of beliefs, a strict ideology. In consequence, we have -- inside the United States and worlwide -- a growing schism between enlightened, skeptical, thinking individuals and close-minded, fundamentalist ideologues. We are also literally in a war rooted in these differences. We must fight a real war with real weapons, of course. But we must also address the underlying schism. The single greatest danger to ourselves and future generations is to stop thinking, and it behooves us to do anything we can to encourage spinning skeptical minds. To do this, we will need powerful thought tools like chess that help our minds expand, grow comfortable with abstraction, and learn to navigate complex systems.' This book provided the answer for me. Those inspired words gave me the reason I was searching for to continue with all the frustrations, set backs, hours of study and rigorous analysis that chess requires. Chess surely is one of the sternest taskmasters. I would recommend this book to anyone that has a passion for pushing the wood and anyone else who has an interest in chess.