“Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall – from America’s Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness” by Frank Brady
Chess, biography, non-fiction, history, Fischer, Spassky, Cold War
February 1, 2011
4 of 5 stars (very good)
No other chess match or game has captured the world’s attention more than the 1972 World Championship match between challenger Bobby Fischer of the United States and champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. After winning this match, Fischer became a huge celebrity and this extra attention also showed the world the other side of the man. His life both before and after this event is covered in this biography written by Frank Brady.
It illustrates a young man who was raised along with his sister by a single mother who was chasing dreams of her own. He would spend a lot of his free time at chess clubs or in the library learning as much of the game as he could and using a small chess set to simulate the games. Fischer’s ability to memorize and analyze thousands of games and game situations is well documented and helped him on the way to the championship.
What is also well documented and described is Fischer’s personality, which shows some bizarre characteristics as well. He would often make outrageous demands for business deals or for conditions before he would participate in matches. Most of the time, these demands were eventually met, but it showed his lack of negotiating skills, taking the “my way or the highway” approach.
It is also well-known that Fischer would engage in behavior or outbursts that were paranoid, anti-Semitic, or otherwise far from ordinary. These eventually caught up to Fischer and led him to isolationism, eventually landing him in Iceland where he settled after a nomadic life that had to end because he wore out his welcome in most nations. It is also important to note that he was facing tax evasion charges in the United States. His family was also regularly investigated by the FBI because of their connections with Russia – his mother for her studies and Fischer for his interest because chess was highly regarded there.
All of these are combined together to make a very intriguing and entertaining biography of a brilliant but troubled man. There is chess talk in the book as well, but not too far in depth. Therefore, a non-chess buff will enjoy this book as well as an enthusiastic player or fan.
Did I skim?
Did I learn something new?
Yes. Most of what I learned that was new was about his relationships with his mother and sister, as those were reported in the media as strained. While unusual, the book portrayed these relationships as loving, not estranged as was often reported. The regret that Fischer shows when he cannot attend his mother’s funeral or face arrest in the United States is a good example of this.
Pace of the book:
Very good. It doesn’t drag too slowly and the sections on Fischer’s important chess matches make you feel you are there in the chair next to him.
Outstanding research is evident in this book as many minute details of Fischer’s famous rants and demands from tournament officials are shared. The author was able to glean many minute and obscure details that made this very rich and vivid for the reader.
I would have liked to see more in-depth writing about the actual chess games in some of the matches. An example is during the second match with Spassky, many games toward the end ended in a draw as Fischer wrapped up the match early. Yes, these games may not have been key in deciding the outcome, but more than a simple sentence saying they ended in a draw would have been better.
Do I recommend?
Yes. Even if the reader is not interested in chess, Fischer’s biography is a very interesting tale and any reader who likes good biographies will enjoy this book.
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