I looked into this title many times before finally giving in and purchasing it. With my commute, it served as a nice mix between thought-provoking and occasionally mindless. The narrators are both good, but the older Jacob is FANTASTIC. I found myself looking forward to the next chapter just so I could get back to his devastatingly realistic portrayal of an old man stuck between comforting reminiscence and disparaging experiences in the now.
The story itself was entertaining and sometimes had some depth to it that left me pondering, but it was not a book that I would recommend to someone looking for any kind of a head-scratcher. The look into old-timey circus life was apparently informed by Gruen's research, which lent it much credibility as I was listening, but the characters themselves were mostly average in their ability to maintain my interest. I was drawn into the characters of August, Marlena, and Walter, but not nearly as much into characters such as Uncle Al, Camel, and even the young Jacob, who served as the protagoinist but not with a great deal of depth. The older Jacob, however, had a great deal of depth and nuance, which is why I mentioned before my tendency to look forward to his chapters.
I recommend this book, but know a couple things. It's more of a romance story than "literature", and the ending is one that you will likely either love or hate. For me, a bad ending ruins a book. This ending, well, I appreciated it on some levels and hated it on others. That's all I'm willing to say.
I am a very dedicated amateur chess player and loved soaking up the historical information in this audiobook. There is an abundance of biographical and political discussion, and very little talk of the chess games themselves, apart from how the two players battled psychologically throughout the match. I was highly intrigued by the extent to which the American and Soviet governments got involved in and placed such value in the outcome of the match. That being said, I would not recommend this book to any of my friends who don't play chess. I think it's a prerequisite for appreciating the mystique of the match. The narrator is somewhat bland and the recording sounds as if it's decades old, but it's not - which makes my previous point even more important. Chess players interested in a fascinating chapter in chess history (and American history as well), you won't be disappointed.
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