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Monday, July 09, 2007

The Chess Machine



Lohr, Robert. The Chess Machine. Lohr has written a fascinating fictional account of historical events. In 1769, Wolfgang von Kempelen created a machine that could play chess , a thinking machine. Except, of course, that it was a deception that required a real person to think and play chess. Kempelen and many of the minor characters existed, but Lohr has fashioned an intriguing story around Kempelen's invention by including Tibor, the dwarf who is recruited to operate the machine in the fictional version, and Jacob, the cabinet maker who builds the automaton and cabinet.
Jacob and Tibor, both social outcasts, add humanity and interest to the factual and imaginative elements of the narrative. Tibor is a chess prodigy, and when Kempelen hears about Tibor's ability, he searches him out to become the brains of the Mechanical Turk. While Tibor's life improves in many ways, he is kept in seclusion as nothing must reveal the truth about how the Mechanical Turk plays chess. Tibor's isolation wears on him, but thanks to his friend Jacob, he eventually finds ways to leave Kempelen's compound on occasion. Jacob, a Jew with a lively sense of humor and an irreverent view of life, is largely responsible for Tibor's growth as an individual.

The novel has mystery, murder, love interest, social commentary, and suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My copy (thanks again to Brian Yingling) is an Advanced Uncorrected Proof.
Aside: the chess machine played the likes of Benjamin Franklin and in a definitely funny incident, Napoleon.


An articled written by Edgar Allen Poe in 1836: Maelzel's Chess-Player (Maelzel purchased the machine from Kempelen).

Fiction. Historical novel. 2007. 344 pages.

13 comments:

  1. After seeing several reviews of this I had to start it as well (I also got an uncorrected proof). It has been easy to get into, and the writing is very good. Thanks for the links--it's interesting to see the recreation of the machine!

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  2. Glad to see that you enjoyed the book, Jenclair. I still think about it every so often because it opened up a whole new world for me. I'm curious now about the close relationship that science had with the entertainment of the day back then and I'm looking for more on the subject.

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  3. This sounds really interesting. I love books like this, fictional accounts of historical events. I'll have to check it out!

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  4. You always end up reading the most interesting titles. I'll have to look for this one. Thanks, Jenclair! Excellent review, as always.

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  5. Once again, this sounds really interesting. I believe I first heard of this machine in The Illusionist and thought it was fascinating.

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  6. Danielle - I think you will enjoy it. I found the link to the machine after reading the novel, and it was much larger than I'd imagined. Still, playing chess by using a pantograph and a candle in such a small enclosed space must have been quite an ordeal!

    Sam - Much of science still seems like magic to me! I can imagine how fascinating it must have been to audiences hundreds of years ago to see science in action without a clue to how things operated. And how much entertainment was passed off as science...

    G.R. - It was really interesting for both factual and fictional reasons!

    Bookfool - The title is interesting and even more so because the Mechanical Turk actually existed. Lohr's imagined version of events kept me involved throughout.

    Kim - I missed the reference to this in The Illusionist, but what an appropriate place to mention another magical deception. I did pay attention to the stuff about Tesla in The Illusionist because I'd read The Lightening Keeper by Lawrence Starling.

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  7. Kim - Ooops! I was confusing The Illusionist with The Prestige!

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  8. This really does sound good! I first read a review on Sam Houston's Blog. I may just have to pick this one up sometime soon!

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  9. Another one for my TBR pile. Sounds like a fun novel and isn't that cover pretty? Reminds me of Silhouette cuttings.

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  10. Stephanie - The book was on its way to me when I read Sam's review...which is why I read it immediately instead of putting it aside. Sam's review really increased my interest!

    iliana - Yes, I love the cover. You and I are "cover susceptible" aren't we? A good cover just adds to the pleasure and is a good tool for memory. I can often recall a favorite cover before my mind can come up with the title!

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  11. This sounds really good! I see that it is now available at Borders, so I may pick it up this weekend.

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  12. ex libris - I've always enjoyed works that blend historical events with a good narrative. Lohr has succeeded in interesting me in the factual aspects of the chess machine and the characters he created to accompany the historical figures involved.

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  13. I'm adding books to the TBR list much faster than I'm reading them. But this one has to go on it. Great review.

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