A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science and the Human Brain
On Sale: September 5, 2006
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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 intellectual tool?
Nearly everyone has
played chess at some point in their lives. Its rules and
pieces have served as a metaphor for society, influencing
military strategy, mathematics, artificial intelligence, and
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 other popes, rabbis, and imams.
Marcel Duchamp was so absorbed in the game that he ignored
his wife on their honeymoon. Caliph Muhammad al-Amin lost
his throne (and his head) trying to checkmate a courtier.
Ben Franklin used the game as a cover for secret
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 aesthetic of
modernism in twentieth-century art, to its
twenty-first-century importance in 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.
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