The Immortal Game
How 32 carved pieces on a board illuminated our understanding of war, art, science and the human brain.
“Exploring the enduring popularity of this intellectually challenging game… he creates a true sense of the magic and romance of the game itself.”
‘Good Book Guide’
Chess developed along the Silk Road of sixth-century Persia. Drawing on skill rather than chance, it was enthusiastically spread by Islamic warriors until it was adapted in medieval Spain and became the game we play today.
David Shenk surveys the history of chess, a game that has shaped and changed the societies that have played it. It’s rules and pieces have served as a metaphor for society (to be found in the writings of Borges, Nabokov, Tolstoy, Canetti, Eliot), it has helped to form the military strategies that conquered civilisations, influenced the mathematical understandings that have driven technological change and served as a moral guide. It has been condemned by Popes as the devil’s game yet Benjamin Franklin used it as a way to promote diplomacy.
Chess’s role in influencing the intellectual advances of the twentieth-century is explored, from its role in modernist art to its crucial part in the birth of cognitive science and the development of artificial intelligence. David Shenk investigates the omnipresent role of chess in the evolution of civilisation.
This history of chess is structured around a description of the “Immortal Game” played between grandmasters Adolf Anderseen and Lionel Kieseritzky in 1851, the great example of ‘romantic’ chess. David Shenk includes Benjamin Franklin’s essay ‘The Morals of Chess’ and detailed analysis of games that illustrate chess’s rules.
This is an enriching history for all players, of any ability, who would like to be chess aficionados but don’t know where to start.
“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.”
“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’
The title refers to Anderssen-Kieseritzky, London 1851, and the moves of this famous game are used as milestones or bookmarks punctuating the story of chess through the ages… Shenk… (has) done his research well.”
‘British Chess Magazine’