Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: 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- David Shenk

     This was a great book that I waited way too long to listen to because I was afraid it would be dull or hard to follow.  As an audiobook it was difficult to follow the notation he used as he described a match between Adolf Anderson and Lionel Kieseritzky known as The Immortal Game.  I did however take a moment to read the Wikipedia article about it and watch a quick YouTube animation of the game.  The game is an amazing one as Anderson (white) sacrifices a bishop, both rooks, and a queen to establish check with a bishop and two knights while almost the whole game looking like he was down.  The author interwove their match within the text of the book, which leads to my biggest complaint with the book- it is not in chronological order which made it more difficult for me to follow.  However, he mostly arranged it by topic.
     He started with a history of the game itself including its predecessors from China and India, but essentially the game has been around in its modern form for 1500 years.  Furthermore, it was always meant as a symbolic game, but Islam forced the pieces to be symbolic as well since pictorial representations were seen as idols.
    The game has severed not only military and strategy purposes though, it also has assisted researchers in computers and artificial intelligence, brain research and psychology, the arts and humanities, and been a staple of much of human history.  The author, maybe at times, puts too much importance on chess and its actual influenced versus its simultaneous presence to actual events, but I think he tried very hard to be fair and balanced and to point out that although the presence of chess may have been influential it certainly was not the sole instrument.
     The author also happens to be a 5th or 6th generation descendant of a famous Chess Master and became interested in the game in adulthood as well as how to learn the game.  For me, he reinforced my interest in learning the game and how to best teach it to others.  He also finished by looking at some efforts in New York City and elsewhere that attempt to use chess as an instructional tool for at-risk youth and the benefits it has bestowed.  Chess can be all-consuming or it can be fun and social; either way it can teach useful cross-over skills and benefit those who learn to play this complex game of simple pieces.

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