Sunday, July 15, 2007

Interview with David Shenk on "The Immortal Game"

Howard Goldowsky has written a book "Engaging Pieces" and one of his interviews, with author David Shenk, who wrote best selling "The Immortal Game", is excerpted at the Skittles Room at Chess Cafe. I've had "The Immortal Game" since November but have only recently begun reading it. It's a book I highly recommend - it's well written and engaging, and Shenk has managed to achieve just the right balance between scholarship, history and storytelling. Here's part of the excerpted interview (I don't know how long the Skittles Room link will be valid): Excerpt: Engaging Pieces Interviews and Prose for the Chess Fan by Howard Goldowsky HG: How did you convince your editors that a book about chess would sell, and who is your target readership? DS: This book is not solely for chess players. I dearly hope that all chess players will appreciate it, and I’m gratified by a number of recent comments from serious players that it holds their interest, but it’s also for anyone who loves to read about history and ideas. The history of chess is a spectacular lens on the history of civilization over the last 1,500 years. In the book, I tried to balance an appreciation for the game itself with an appreciation for how the game has influenced ideas over many centuries. In many ways, it’s impossible to understand the evolution of modern thought without chess as a crucial tool. For the insider, my ambition was nothing less than to write a formidable companion to Murray. Obviously, my book doesn’t have anything close to the level of detail or scholarship that Murray’s does. But I hoped that by fleshing out chess’s cultural and intellectual significance, and by conveying the power of the game, we’d have something that would sit nicely alongside his definitive history. For the more casual audience, who knows and cares nothing of Murray, the book has to stand on its own, which I hope it does. HG: Chess certainly has transcended many time periods and cultures. What, in your opinion, makes the game so addictive? DS: Chess’s cultural and historical transcendence is the single curiosity that drove this book. How could one game resonate with 7th century Persians, 8th century Muslims, 11th century Spaniards, and on and on up to 21st century school kids all over the world? The answer, I think, comes in two parts. First, the game itself has a magical combination of accessibility and near-infinite complexity. A five-year-old could learn to play, and yet the game could also occupy the full-time attention of an adult for many decades. Chess obviously touches on spatial and abstract qualities that tickle the brain; it’s fun to play regardless of one’s level of education, background or other interests. Secondly, there is a strong social resonance that seems to take place everywhere the game has traveled. People feel connected to it, because each army represents a social hierarchy. People reading the book will be blown away, as I was, by how popular chess has been as a social and political metaphor throughout the centuries. Chess actually helps us understand ourselves in all sorts of ways, and that has helped insure the game’s survival as other games have come and gone. More about "The Immortal Game." More about "Engaging Pieces."

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