Friday, January 18, 2008

Chess: Poor View of History

Last November I posted a review by David Edmonds of Daniel Johnson's book, White King and Red Queen. Edmonds' review was largely favorable but in today's Australian Financial Review paper, I spotted another review written by Erik Tarloff that was a little more critical.


Johnson makes extravagant and ultimately unconvincing claims for the significance of the role played by the game of chess during the Cold War. "Chess provided a mega-metaphor," he says and later in the same paragraph tells us, "By providing the safety valve that kept the lid on the Cold War, chess helped save civilisations from itself." Really?

And he closes with:

Finally, though, the book is guilty of the same flaw that mars writing from the Soviet time, about chess and so much else. It views the world through an ideological prism, and slots messy complexity into neat ideological categories. It isn't always wrong, but a lot of nuance gets trampled along the way.

The review first appeared in Prospect magazine. I tried looking for a full version online, but I'm afraid that only this stub is available (unless you're a subscriber).

In any case, while performing this quick research I stumbled upon another, but related, essay by Daniel Johnson on chess and the Cold War. This one was written back in 2005, also for Prospect. Read: Cold War Chess.

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