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Extended Audio Sample The Immortal Game: A History of Chess Audiobook, by David Shenk Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (561 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: David Shenk Narrator: John H. Mayer Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2006 ISBN: 9781415933558
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A surprising, charming, and ever-fascinating history of the seemingly simple game that has had a profound effect on societies the world over.

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 educational tool?

Nearly everyone has played chess at some point in their lives. Its rules and pieces have served as a metaphor for society including military strategy, mathematics, artificial intelligence, 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 different popes, rabbis, and imams.

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 new aesthetic of modernism in 20th century art, to its 21st century importance to 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.

Indeed as Shenk shows, some neuroscientists believe that playing chess may actually alter the structure of the brain, that it may for individuals be what it has been for civilization: a virus that makes us smarter.


From the Hardcover edition. Download and start listening now!

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Quotes & Awards

  • Shenk, a spry writer . . . [offers] a strong case for the game's bewitching power. The New York Times
  • Fresh and fascinating . . . a world-spanning story [Shenk] relates with skill and verve. Chicago Sun-Times
  • "Elegant . . . a true page-turner, and a superb introduction to the game of chess. Wall Street Journal
  • A GLOBE & MAIL BEST BOOK OF 2006
  • I loved this book. Full of burning enthusiasm for the greatest intellectual game in the world, it shows just what can happen when an accomplished author, full of fire and passion, tackles a most wonderful and intricate story. Like a great chess game, this is an achievement that will be talked about for many years to come. Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman
  • Even dedicated players will find much to learn here. Chicago Sun-Times
  • A valuable review of the modern intersection of chess and artificial intelligence. . . . Rich in information and clearly written. . . . This is a welcome addition to any chess library, written by a smart and competent outsider. The Hamilton Spectator
  • Before reading David Shenk’s wonderful new book, I had at best a casual interest in chess. It seemed too ancient to untangle, too complex to decipher with any real appreciation. But Shenk, in a book filled with daring moves and cunning patience, has made a believer out of me. Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics
  • David Shenk takes us millennia back and light-years ahead. The Immortal Game is an insightful look at chess, the icons of culture it has inspired, and the surprising part the game plays in the narrative of the modern world. Bruce Pandolfini, legendary chess instructor, author of Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess
  • It’s audacious enough to write a book about the world’s most written-about game. To say something fresh and smart seems almost unfair. But that’s just what David Shenk has done. With the depth and insight of a grandmaster, The Immortal Game explores and explains not only the addictive power of chess but its shockingly important, Zelig-like role in the history of humankind. Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players
  • "A bravura demonstration of the art of storytelling. The Globe and Mail
  • [A] fine book . . . enjoy the author's engaging prose, honest self-deprecation, and the charm of his personal connection with the game. Washington Post
  • Fascinating . . . [Shenk] writes about chess history with contagious zest. Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • An enriching and inviting prism through which to view and better understand history in general. Albuquerque Journal
  • Everyone, from expert to patzer, will find something to admire about Shenk's investigation into our most-beloved board game. Wichita Eagle

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Spencer Sloe | 2/19/2014

    " A wonderfully written and engaging work about the daddy of all board games. I love the historical narrative interspersed with a recap of a famous game from the 1860s. Delves into the influence and impact the game had on various schools of thought and historical figures throughout the ages. Really got me interested in chess again. Recommended. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Charles | 2/12/2014

    " Great chess book. This isn't just a dry history book, here history chapters are seperated by a captivationing narative of the Immortal Game between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. The history chapters themselfs show how chess and culture affected each other trough out time giving as a vividly readable book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Martin | 2/10/2014

    " I read this book upon a friend's insistence, and was happy I did. The book details the history of chess quite finely, and does it through the lens of a much-heralded match in the game's storied past. There were two bits of information I found illuminating: 1) The queen increased her power via new moves in response to historical female figures gaining and exertion of power, 2) the "en passant" move, which I had not previously known. While reading the book, I played some chess games online and downloaded an app, and summarily got my keister whupped. I still enjoy chess, but mastery is far off. I'll continue my quest for domination in the Scrabble realm. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Douglas | 1/21/2014

    " Interesting as a history of chess. Sometimes seems as though it is trying to be much more than that, ie a complete history of Western Civ. At this, it fails magnifcently, being much too short and cliched. To be fair, a considered history of Western Civ is much too broad a subject for just one book. [ "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Benjamin | 1/19/2014

    " Fun, informative history of the game. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Mike Rogero | 1/9/2014

    " It was interesting enough to rekindle a long smoldering love of the game. Recommended for those curious on why chess is so well loved. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mike Angelillo | 1/6/2014

    " If you enjoy the game at any level you will love this book "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Rori | 12/15/2013

    " Excellent history of chess book! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jcooper Cooper | 11/5/2013

    " Great writing, clever layout, weaving history through the telling of a painfully gorgeous game, play by play, and a fun romp through Persian castles, rumors about why the Vizier piece became a Queen, seas of interesting anecdote, and Shenk's own familial relationship with the game. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Elsa | 10/2/2013

    " I wanted to learn about chess history but got a tad disappointed. The most exciting part of the book concerns the game played between to chess Grandmasters back in 1850. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Lizzy | 7/13/2013

    " Great book. Made me love the game again. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Doppelganger | 6/16/2013

    " A very interesting book covering all historical aspects of the game, right down to its political impact, evolution of playing pieces and rules throughout the years. Who would've thought this game could impact the important history of so many different cultures? "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ian | 4/17/2013

    " Good overview of the history of the game, the secrets of its lasting attraction and role in the development of cognitive science, AI, etc. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jennifer | 8/24/2012

    " This COULD be an interesting history. However the author has muddled it up so much and jumps around so often that the book is hard to follow and there's little sense of chronicity. Not one of the better examples of non-fiction I've run across. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Masymas | 5/12/2012

    " I'm only into chapter 3 and I LOVE this book. I don't play chess, and not sure if I will start, but this is a fascinating tour of history through a game. It touches on the development of Math, political systems, empires, morality, reason.... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Michael | 4/23/2012

    " A really great book that I read sometime ago: because of my interests in chess and history I fully intend to reread this someday and once again enjoy Shenk's examination of the far reaching influence that the game of chess has had throughout it's long history. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Osvaldo Ortega | 11/13/2011

    " Awesome book if you are into chess, a great history of the great game. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mark Stephenson | 10/6/2011

    " Very enjoyable account of the history of Western chess, framed in a blow by blow account of a famous encounter between Adolph Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritsky in London (1861). "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Anthony | 6/30/2011

    " Fascinating subject. It's a shame this book was written by a talentless hack. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Wes | 3/29/2011

    " I loved this history of chess that is tied to the "Immortal Game". The way he walks through the game at the beginning of each chapter to bring the "Immortal Game" to light was great. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jcooper | 1/13/2011

    " Great writing, clever layout, weaving history through the telling of a painfully gorgeous game, play by play, and a fun romp through Persian castles, rumors about why the Vizier piece became a Queen, seas of interesting anecdote, and Shenk's own familial relationship with the game. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Brett | 1/10/2011

    " Enjoyed it. Shenk creatively weaves a narrow history of chess with an account of the Immortal Game between Anderssen and Keiseritzky. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Benjamin | 1/4/2011

    " Fun, informative history of the game. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ian | 10/27/2010

    " Good overview of the history of the game, the secrets of its lasting attraction and role in the development of cognitive science, AI, etc. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Michael | 8/4/2010

    " A really great book that I read sometime ago: because of my interests in chess and history I fully intend to reread this someday and once again enjoy Shenk's examination of the far reaching influence that the game of chess has had throughout it's long history. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 ???? | 3/13/2010

    " SMART ENOUGH !! !
    LIKED IT AND THE WAY HE TALKS ABOUT CHESS !! LUVD IT :D "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Osvaldo | 11/3/2009

    " Awesome book if you are into chess, a great history of the great game. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Doppelganger | 8/28/2009

    " A very interesting book covering all historical aspects of the game, right down to its political impact, evolution of playing pieces and rules throughout the years. Who would've thought this game could impact the important history of so many different cultures? "

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About the Author
Author David Shenk

David Shenk is the author of five national bestsellers including The Forgetting, Data Smog, and, most recently, The Immortal Game. He is a contributor to National Geographic, Slate, Gourmet, Harper’s, the New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.

About the Narrator

John H. Mayer is a writer, actor, and audiobook narrator. In 1973, he cowrote Radio Rocket Boy, an award-winning short film. He also has narrated dozens of audiobooks, including American Lion and The Wolf Tree, among many others.