In the summer of 1972, with a presidential crisis stirring
in the United States and the Cold War at a pivotal point, two men—the Soviet
world chess champion Boris Spassky and his American challenger Bobby Fischer—met
in the most notorious chess match of all time. Their showdown in Reykjavik,
Iceland, held the world spellbound for two months with reports of psychological
warfare, ultimatums, political intrigue, cliffhangers, and farce to rival a
Marx Brothers film.
Thirty years later, David Edmonds and John Eidinow, authors
of the national bestseller Wittgenstein’s Poker, have set out to
reexamine the story we recollect as the quintessential Cold War clash between a
lone American star and the Soviet chess machine—a machine that had delivered
the world title to the Kremlin for decades. Drawing upon unpublished Soviet and
US records, the authors reconstruct the full and incredible saga, one far more
poignant and layered than hitherto believed.
Against the backdrop of superpower politics, the authors
recount the careers and personalities of Boris Spassky, the product of Stalin’s
imperium, and Bobby Fischer, a child of post–World War II America, an era of
economic boom at home and communist containment abroad. The two men had nothing
in common but their gift for chess, and the disparity of their outlook and
values conditioned the struggle over the board.
Then there was the match itself, which produced both
creative masterpieces and some of the most improbable gaffes in chess history.
And finally, there was the dramatic and protracted off-the-board battle—in
corridors and foyers, in back rooms and hotel suites, in Moscow offices and the
The authors chronicle how Fischer, a manipulative,
dysfunctional genius, risked all to seize control of the contest as the
organizers maneuvered frantically to save it, under the eyes of the world’s
press. They can now tell the inside story of Moscow’s response and the bitter
tensions within the Soviet camp as the anxious and frustrated apparatchiks
strove to prop up Boris Spassky, the most un-Soviet of their champions—fun-loving,
sensitive, and a free spirit. Edmonds and Eidinow follow this careering,
behind-the-scenes confrontation to its climax: a clash that displayed the
cultural differences between the dynamic, media-savvy representatives of the
West and the baffled, impotent Soviets. Try as they might, even the KGB couldn’t
A mesmerizing narrative of brilliance and triumph, hubris
and despair, Bobby Fischer Goes to War is a biting
deconstruction of the Bobby Fischer myth, a nuanced study on the art of
brinkmanship, and a revelatory cold war tragicomedy.
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