Eminent Victorian Chess Players

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies by Tim Harding.

Tim Harding Eminent Victorian Chess Players

This book took me approximately forever to read. The prose style is clear and accessible; there’s just so very much information, and I was trying to appreciate it all at one go, interminably extended, as it turned out. Even so, I have not yet not much explored the appendices (of which the most entertaining promises to be Appendix VI on “The Career of Mephisto,” a chess pseudo-automaton sometimes operated by the player Isidor Gunsberg). Each biography contains an assortment of chess games actually played by the player under study, usually with annotations. I am a mediocre player myself, though I enjoy the game, and working through even a quarter to a third of these, as I think I did, hugely added to the time that I spent with this book. Beyond the diagrams for games, the book is extensively illustrated in black and white with photo and sketch portraits, and reproductions of primary documents.

Eminent Victorian Chess Players embraces a wealth of detail. The editorial apparatus is bracingly thorough, including multiple indices. The included games are all indexed by opening! The ten players treated are Evans, Staunton, Loewenthal, Bird, Skipworth, Steinitz, Blackburne, Zuckertort, Burn, and Gunsberg. Each of the biographies is a considerable work, reflecting extensive research. Although providing ample biographical context in each case, these are accounts of the men as players, teachers, and organizers of chess, with details on their other employment and their family lives all as a background to their chess accomplishments. Author Harding presumes the reader’s knowledge and appreciation of the 20th-century game, and in the course of these biographies he provides many perspectives on the 19th-century chess milieu, with some intimations of how it differed from what came later. In particular, he traces the development of a British chess culture over the period studied.

The volume is a significant work of chess history, exhibiting at every turn the fruits of original research. I would recommend it without reservation to those with an interest in this particular field. [via]


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