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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Chess enthusiast exaggerates importance of the game in shaping global politics., 27 Jan. 2008
This review is from: White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chessboard (Hardcover)
The author is a chess enthusiast who wants to show how important chess was in shaping the Cold War. This book is a labour of love and provides descriptions of some fascinating characters. The most apposite story concerns the late lamented Bobby Fischer who won the world championship for the USA against USSR in 1972. The match was played at the height of the Cold War and achieved considerable media interest as a political metaphor. The book repeats the commonly-held view that Fischer was the product of the west. The author sees the ultimate outcome of the Cold War as discrediting anything that the Soviets did - including chess. The book fails to make this argument persuasive.

The paradox is that Bobby Fischer was really playing for himself and not the USA. The free-thinking Fischer was a singular genius. He had prepared for the match by consulting Russian chess research. He didn't participate in any national celebrations upon his victory. Fischer eventually lost USA citizenship after becoming mentally unstable. Fischer was always his own man which is why he was as admired as much in the Soviet Union as he was in the west. The former Soviet empire still dominates chess although this is beginning to change not in favour of the west but because of the rise of India and China.

The book does not show that the Fischer chess match or any other match made any material difference to the outcome of the Cold War. The major factors determining the outcome of the Cold War included the comparative success of market economies, the technological advances by the west and the globalisation of democracy. The author does not refer to these historical mechanisms but instead gets diverted into a plethora of chess anecdotes. Even the discussion on Nathan Sharansky and Gary Kasparov is stretched beyond credulity in connecting with the Cold War. Sharansky used chess to keep his mind active whilst in the Gulag. Kasparov became famous as a great chess player and then retired to take up politics full time. However, any celebrity starts at an advantage in gaining public recognition. Perhaps Kasparov is regarded as having formidable intellectural powers on account of the cerebral nature of chess. Yet this is a thin political justification for holding out chess as having a special status in the former Soviet Union.

Read this book if you are a chess enthusiast who likes weird and wonderful anecdotes. Other books tell better stories about Fischer and other chess greats, but this one tries to pull the various stories into one narrative. Stand by to be disappointed by the absence of any chess diagrams or notation. Perhaps the publisher felt that the market was wider than for chess players and did not want to frighten away other readers. Stephen Hawking omitted equations from his Brief History of Time because it would reduce readership. If you are a historian interested in the Cold War then you can safely exclude this book from your reading list. If you are a general reader, then be prepared for curious diversions, leaps of logic and unabashed anti--Russian propaganda.
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Location: Kingston-upon-Thames, England.

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