The Mechanical Turk: The True Story of the Chess-playing Machine That Fooled the World Paperback – 6 Mar 2003
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"A fascinating account." -- Daily Telegraph
"Excellent." -- Time Out
"Filled with delightful stories...a subject that is not only fascinating, but which also resonates with contemporary issues." -- The Guardian
"Gripping...a rattling good yarn told by a natural entertainer." -- Daily Mail
"This is fascination, obsession, inquiry, storytelling and literary magic at it very best." -- Simon Winchester --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Tom Standage is science correspondent of The Economist in London and author of "The Victorian Internet: the remarkable story of the nineteeth century's online pioneers" (1998) and "The Netune File: planet detectives and the discovery of worlds unseen" (2000). He lives in Greenwich.
Top customer reviews
Perhaps to Kempelen's surprise, the empress took him at his word and gave him six months to produce the machine, during which period he was relieved of his official duties. When it was demonstrated to the empress, there was no anti-climax, for what Kempelen had devised was a chess-playing automaton - or so at least it appeared. Over the next thirty five years, the machine toured the capitals of Europe, and could be beaten only by the greatest players.
After Kempelen's death, the machine was bought by Maelzel, remembered today as one of the pioneers of the metronome. A brilliant showman, Maelzel exhibited the chess-playing machine in various countries including the United States.
The operations of the machine remained unknown until after Maelzel's death, and even today some details are disputed (unfortunately, having been donated to a museum in Philadelphia, it was destroyed by fire in the 1850s).
The story of The Turk, as the chess-playing automaton was called, is a remarkably colourful one, with cameos from Beethoven, Napoleon, Benjamin Franklin, Catherine the Great, Charles Babbage and Edgar Allen Poe. There have been many articles providing speculations and explanations as to how it worked, and also a full-length book (by Gerald Levitt).
Standage's account of the story is notable not for any original research, but as an excellent exposition and synthesis of this earlier literature. As usual, he achieves the Reithian goals of informing and entertaining.
As a minor quibble, one might question whether Standage's identifications of various historical figures are necessary. Thus we get 'the composer Ludwig van Beethoven', 'the Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci' and so on. (As opposed, one assumes, to the tap-dancer Ludwig van Beethoven and the Danish pig-farmer Leonardo da Vinci).
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