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Publisher's Summary

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 32 figurative pieces, moving about its 64 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 intellectual tool?

Nearly everyone has played chess at some point in their lives. Its rules and pieces have served as a metaphor for society, influencing military strategy, mathematics, artificial intelligence, and 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 other popes, rabbis, and imams. Marcel Duchamp was so absorbed in the game that he ignored his wife on their honeymoon. Caliph Muhammad al-Amin lost his throne (and his head) trying to checkmate a courtier. Ben Franklin used the game as a cover for secret diplomacy.

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 aesthetic of modernism in 20th century art, to its 21st century importance in 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.

©2006 David Shenk; (P)2006 Books on Tape

Critic Reviews

"Those curious about chess and wishing to learn more about the game (but not too much more) will welcome this accessible, nontechnical introduction." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

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Buy in print

A key element of this book is the chess boards that start each section and are scattered about. If you play, but a version where you can see the board. The Kindle version is great.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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a must-read for all chess lovers

if you love chess, you will love this book. the book's layout weaves together chapters addressing the moves in the casual (e.g., non-tournament) 1851 match between adolf anderssen and lionel kieseritzky (later dubbed "the immortal game") with chapters about the history of chess.

the immortal game's annotations are all over the internet, but to hear the match described in audiobook form brought it to life in a way that dry annotations cannot.

how can you not enjoy a match where someone gives up a bishop *both* rooks AND the queen to earn checkmate against an opponent who has only lost three measly pawns??

ok, ok...you will probably want to have a passing interest in chess before trying this book, but if you do have such an interest, listen in to one of the greatest chess stories out there.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • CLAREMONT, CA, United States
  • 06-26-12

Patzer's Review

Where does The Immortal Game rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Near the top.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The grandmasters who went nuts. Does chess make them nuts or do they have a predisposition?

Which character – as performed by John H. Mayer – was your favorite?

The Persian King who ignored his immanent doom to enjoy one last chess game with his favorite eunuch.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, but I liked it a lot.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Jt
  • Ipswich, MA, USA
  • 02-26-07

Delightful surprise

This book was indeed a delightful surprise. Not the dry recitation of moves or tactics, but rather a fun overview of the history and impact of the game on the world. There are some specific recitations of a specific historic game or two, but after evey few moves, the narrative continues. Ben Franklin, Freud, Queen Isabella, and many more are all connected by this tale.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Long and detailed

If your a fan of chess I think you'll get a kick out of this book. However if you are not than I believe a shorter summary would suffice. The book was a little long and a little too detailed, but had some very interesting information. The language was flowery and the information was thoroughly detailed to a point of exhaustion. I think if I were to suggest it to anyone I'd probably pick out a few chapters for them to read and not the entire book.

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Life changing and interesting look at Chess.

This book begins in the 6th century when chess "originated" and accounts for its tricky historic past in great detail. I loved this book and it made me love chess.

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  • Cepwin
  • Northern VA, USA
  • 12-04-16

Great history

Great history of chess. The story about chess in the schools was also very interesting.

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A magnificent insight into the brilliance of chess

This book was truly remarkable, and the narration was spot-on. I would highly reccomend it to any chess player not only as a guide to where we came from, but as a tool to rejuvinate your love of the game.

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Great Book for Chess Nerds

Being a Chess nerd myself, I can say that this book is great! If you only read 2 books about chess make them this book first and then Kasperov's "How Life Imitates Chess".

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Could not be better

If you are interested in the history of chess and the imoortal game itself, there could not be a better book written. Additionally, the narrator is excellent.

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  • Philip
  • 03-31-09

An enjoyable trip through chess history

Be warned, this is a book for anyone interested in chess history and not a book for anyone looking to improve their game play. As an amateur chess player, I really enjoyed it thoroughly and appreciated the authors gradual explanation of chess history and anecdotes, which are clearly aimed at the novice or uninitiated. I also enjoyed the way the book unfolds through the playing of an 'immortal' game of chess. A well written and well produced audio book for anyone interested in the story behind the game.

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