Top critical review
Good in parts
9 April 2018
A mixed bag. I think while parts are an enjoyable enough read, the book lacks focus. Is this a personal odyssey, a history book, a book of chess philosophy? I did find parts of the book seemed to drift off at a tangent at times.
The problems start early, with a somewhat cringeworthy beginning. If I had been the editor I would have removed large chunks of this. Bring the focus back onto: who is this guy, what is he trying to achieve, what are his goals, how is he going to get there?
As we started on the journey I was not really clear on where the author was coming from, what his objectives were, or how we would known when we arrived. It is telling that in the last chapter of the book the author's coach says something along the lines of "I forget what your objectives were now". He was not the only one, and were they ever clearly stated in the first place?
I was also a bit confused about the timeline at different points in the book. At one point the author mentions to an opposing player he'd gotten back into chess 8 or 9 years previously, but I believe the book only covers the last three or so years of that.
I could definitely relate to those horribly depressing venues and tournaments - one of the reasons I almost exclusively play online these days. I thought those parts of the book were very well described.
The author seemed well connected, and in fact quite privileged, but I'm not sure he leveraged those connections well to improve his chess.
I thought having a selection of his games, annotated by his coach, was a useful addition to the book. I worked through the first game and it was an interesting exercise.
Like anything, you will get out of chess what you put into it. The author realizes this, and is told it often enough, but never really seems to knuckle down, and as a result never really improves (at least, probably not enough to warrant a memoir). This also comes back to another issue that the author didn't cover - the question of innate chess talent, its link to geo-spatial IQ and whether there's a built-in hard stop on chess ability. It would have been interesting to see some discussion of this, as this would impact on what progress might be expected by the author.
In summary, I enjoyed parts of the book - in fact there were parts where I found it hard to put the book down. But in the end I found things a little repetitive, drifting in places, and often depressing.