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The Immortal Game [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio CD]

David Shenk
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Sep 2006
A surprising, charming, and ever-fascinating history of the seemingly simple game that has had a profound effect on societies the world over.

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 thirty-two figurative pieces, moving about its sixty-four 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 educational tool?

Nearly everyone has played chess at some point in their lives. Its rules and pieces have served as a metaphor for society including military strategy, mathematics, artificial intelligence, 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 different popes, rabbis, and imams.

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

Indeed as Shenk shows, some neuroscientists believe that playing chess may actually alter the structure of the brain, that it may for individuals be what it has been for civilization: a virus that makes us smarter.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Assets; abridged edition edition (5 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739340042
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739340042
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 14 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

More About the Author

David Shenk is a bestselling US author, and contributor to magazines such as 'New Yorker' and 'National Geographic'.

Product Description


"Shenk offers a free-form history of chess that juxtaposes a macro-level narrative of its spread from India and the Middle East to the courts of medieval Europe with a micro-analysis of a famous game played in London in 1851." --'Guardian'

"The game acts as a microcosm for wider social issues… A broad historical narrative, ranging from the earliest records to the latest development in computer chess… That David Shenk is a self-confessed chess amateur does not hold him back as a guide." --'Financial Times'

"David Shenk juxtaposes a move-by-move analysis of the game… with a general history of chess, from its origins in 6th-century Persia to its importance for the development of artificial intelligence in the 21st century." --'London Review of Books' --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Shenk is a bestselling US author, and contributor to magazines such as 'New Yorker' and 'National Geographic'. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Place to Start 4 Sep 2008
I found this book quite interesting, never having read a book (or other material) on the history of chess before. It was however, different from what I was expecting and seemed a lot shorter than it appears to be for some reason.

It will give you a good overall sense of the history of the origin of the game, with some very interesting facts and stories. Throughout the book it is paralleled with society and how it reflected changes in culture. This was interesting, though sometimes felt a slight bit stretched. What was more interesting, as the book gets into the more recent history, were the discussions of the usefulness of chess (in maths, logic, language, artificial intelligence etc.). But none of these discussions went very deep and I was left wanting to know much much more.

I would recommend this book as a casual introduction to chess history, and an enjoyable book for a rainy afternoon. It will probably spark your interest in further reading (as it did mine).
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
This is a very special book that will appeal to Chess Players, to History Lovers and Collectors. Any one with a passion for the game of chess will find this book to be a very enjoyable reading, that will open your eyes to a different aspect of the game: its origins, its traditions, the philosophy and everything that makes chess much more than a simple game, a hobby or a past time. Even those not familiar with chess will find here a wonderful introduction and will understand why chess player are so passionate about its practice.

All in all the book offers a very pleasant and interesting reading, not just for chess players but also anyone interesting in learning about the game. Just be aware that this is not an instructional book on chess practice.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars 11 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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5.0 out of 5 stars Immortal 18 Sep 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'd read the book from the Library when I decided to buy a copy for my son.
The book is one game of chess interleaved with the history of chess.
Well enough written (the history is more insightful than the notes on the game) but together it's a must read for anyone interested in chess and the game is a wonder from an earlier time. Loved it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  71 reviews
439 of 451 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Well Written History of Chess 1 Oct 2006
By Robert M. Snyder - Published on
"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 contact 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 match 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.
165 of 172 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Psychological, historical and culture review by novice chess player 7 Oct 2006
By Patrick D. Goonan - Published on
I liked this book because it was an excellent story written in the spirit of great fiction. It was well-organized and wove together many different threads from a variety of areas including psychology, history and culture.

The Immortal Game gives a history of chess and also presents interesting highlights of world history along the way with many insights into man's psychological constitution, proclivities, etc. It is also a cultural commentary and uses the game of chess as a metaphor. I think it's a quite clever concept for a book.

The parallels between chess as war and various military campaigns and personalities is used a lot to bring in a world history perspective. I like the way he used this theme throughout the book and he relates it back to psychological and sociological evolution in interesting ways. He also highlights the influence of the game on various world leaders throughout history.

This book is primarily geared toward novice players. This makes the book an easy read for everyone, but perhaps serious chess players would appreciate more in-depth chess specifics. There are other reviews below that place more emphasis on this dimension of the book's contents.

This thought provoking book also makes reference to some good research material on neuroplasticity, strengthening cognition, etc. The author relates some of this research to chess and speculates that chess improves memory and cognition. This is good speculation in my opinion and quite likely true. He also talks about computers and chess and references a few of the famous matches between humans and computers.

In short, this is good writing. I recommend this book highly. It is great food for thought and engages the mind in many imaginative, entertaining and informative ways. Even if you are not a chess player, you are likely to enjoy it and perhaps develop an interest in learning the game yourself.

Chess popularity didn't endure all these years for no good reason. It captivates the imagination in ways no other game ever has. There are many reasons for this which this book explores thoroughly.

I notice some people haven't been marking this review as helpful, but they haven't been leaving me a comment. If you dont' find this review helpful, maybe you can give me some suggestions on what you feel is missing, so I can update it to be more useful. My intention in writing this review was to be very concise, augment other reviews and convey the spirit of the book to the average reader.
56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you are curious about chess,then read this great book!! 18 Nov 2006
By Timothy G. Forney - Published on
I really enjoyed reading this book.It is a nice introduction to chess history and the game itself.It goes move by move with diagrams ,through the Immortal Game, played by Adolf Anderssen. It teaches you algebraic chess notation,which is the language of chess.It also teaches you the ideas behind each move.This book takes you on a journey of the game of chess, through time and many cultures .It tells of the dark side of chess ,its obsession and its madness. It also tells of the light side of chess ,its creativity, and its positive influence on human beings. He writes about its influence on children and the elderly.I could not put this book down and read it in 2 days.I found one minor notation error.This would make a great gift for a friend who may want to learn chess.I highly recommend buying this book.
48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and enlightening 2 Nov 2006
By T. M. Leonard - Published on
As a chess player and traveler (To move or not to move, is the question!) this book gives you a solid historical perspective on the development of the great game. Curiosity drove me quickly through the book discovering new fascinating facts from geography to social and political systems. The metaphors are all there and David did his homework. It's presented in an easy mix of famous games, basic instruction and chess insight. Check it out.
46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book...quick, brilliant read. 3 Oct 2006
By Richard Matheson - Published on
You do not have to be a chess player to enjoy this book. In my case, however, I am a chess player and enjoyed it immensly. I read this book cover to cover in about six hours...I have never read another book so fast in my life. The story was enthralling, the writing was captivating, and the points made about Chess and its impact on our world's culture and history were quite well made.
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