Praise for David Shenk’s The Immortal Game
“Elegant . . . A true page-turner, and a superb introduction to the game of chess.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Clear, elegant, sophisticated and easy to understand. . . . Just the thing to get you in the thrall of this ancient game.” —Los Angeles Times
“Shenk, a spry writer. . . . [Offers] a strong case for the game’s bewitching power.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Shenk’s book possesses an almost inestimable advantage over the many other publications about chess. . . . You can be an utter novice, just a simple wood-pusher, and enjoy the author’s engaging prose, honest self-deprecation (he’s a lousy player), and the charm of his personal connection to the game.” —The Washington Post
“Fresh and fascinating . . . A world-spanning story [Shenk] relates with skill and verve.” —Chicago Sun-Times
Chess has been called "the gymnasium of the mind" and "the divine obsession," but however one defines it, you must acknowledge this "game of games" has captivated people like no other. Journalist David Shenk's The Immortal Game surveys the long, fascinating history of chess, paying generous tribute to its influence on nearly every arena of human activity. Like a grandmaster, Shenk juggles strategies, offering a medley of biographical stories, historical gambits, and side forays in mathematics, military strategy, neuroscience, and the development of artificial intelligence. Perfectly played.
Critics may point out that Shenk himself isn’t much of a chess player, as he readily admits. But a popular survey like this one doesn’t need a grandmaster, and Shenk, a spry writer who has also written books on Alzheimer’s disease, technology and other subjects, has a good sense of what might interest a general reader. Although the book’s subtitle promises a history of chess, its more interesting pages offer something closer to meditation, personal revelation and the exploration of what he calls "the deep history of chess’s entanglement with the human mind."
The New York Times
David Shenk recognizes all this romance, though The Immortal Game tends to emphasize chess's actual history and development. For most of us, Shenk's book possesses an almost inestimable advantage over the many other publications about chess: It isn't entirely made up of page after page of little chessboards, decorated with knights, pawns and bishops in seemingly random patterns, followed by arcane notations such as "N-QB3!!" In fact, you can be an utter novice, just a simple wood-pusher, and enjoy the author's engaging prose, honest self-deprecation (he's a lousy player) and the charm of his personal connection with the game: Shenk's great-great-grandfather was Samuel Rosenthal, once the champion of France.
The Washington Post
Those curious about chess and wishing to learn more about the game (but not too much more) will welcome this accessible, nontechnical introduction. Shenk (The Forgetting) succinctly surveys the game's history from its origins in fifth- or sixth-century Persia up to the present, touching along the way on such subjects as his own amateurish pursuit of the game, erratic geniuses like Paul Morphy and Bobby Fischer, chess in schools today, computer chess and his great-great-grandfather Samuel Rosenthal, who was an eminent player in late 19th-century Europe. To heighten the drama, Shenk intersperses the text with the moves of the so-called "immortal game," a brilliant example of "romantic" chess played between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky in London in 1851. Appendixes include transcripts of five other great games, along with Benjamin Franklin's brief essay "The Morals of Chess." Readers will come away from this entertaining book with a strong sense of why chess has remained so popular over the ages and why its study still has much to tell us about the workings of the human mind. 50 b&w illus. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In this compelling, accessible study, Shenk (The Forgetting Alzheimer's, 2001) ponders the question: Does playing chess require great minds, or are great minds formed by playing chess?The history of chess is the history of the dissemination of culture, notes Shenk, and he nimbly employs the various disciplines in history, anthropology and psychology to convey the importance and usefulness of the game over its 1,400-year span. His work is conscientiously structured around an actual game, from Openings (the origins of chess and its civilizing attributes), to Middlegame (from the Enlightenment to Soviet domination of the game), to Endgame (chess in the age of technology). Alternating sections illustrate and analyze the moves of one "Immortal Game," played June 21, 1851, in London between grandmasters Adolf Anderseen and Lionel Kieseritzky. From its evolution along the Silk Road as chatrang, the game drew on the use of skill rather than dice or chance. Thanks to its enthusiastic embrace by Muhammad, the new bloodless war game shatranj caught on in the Muslim world, where chess pieces were abstractions (due to religious strictures) rather than representational images. With its migration to medieval Spain, the game underwent some modifications: The Elephant figure became the Bishop, while the King's Minister was replaced by the Queen-inspired by the emergence of powerful female rulers such as Isabella. Chess became a metaphor for war, social ranking and human behavior. From history, Shenk moves into cognitive science, i.e., how chess can make us think, combining memory, logic, calculation and creativity. He acknowledges the great eras of chess play (Romantic, Scientific,Hypermodern, and New Dynamism) and offers respective strategies-his own forebear Samuel Rosenthal was a grandmaster. A concluding chapter of this comprehensive study explores chess and artificial intelligence as illustrated in Garry Kasparov's faceoff against the supercomputer Deep Junior. With appendices offering detailed game analyses, illustration of rules and Ben Franklin's essay "The Morals of Chess," this proves an enriching guide for lay readers who'd like to be chess aficionados but don't know where to start.