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Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary…

by David Edmonds, John Eidinow

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5871434,353 (3.82)5
In the summer of 1972, with a presidential crisis stirring in the United States and the cold war at a pivotal point, two men -- the Soviet world chess champion Boris Spassky and his American challenger Bobby Fischer -- met in the most notorious chess match of all time. Their showdown in Reykjavik, Iceland, held the world spellbound for two months with reports of psychological warfare, ultimatums, political intrigue, cliffhangers, and farce to rival a Marx Brothers film. Thirty years later, David Edmonds and John Eidinow, authors of the national bestseller Wittgenstein's Poker, have set out to reexamine the story we recollect as the quintessential cold war clash between a lone American star and the Soviet chess machine -- a machine that had delivered the world title to the Kremlin for decades. Drawing upon unpublished Soviet and U.S. records, the authors reconstruct the full and incredible saga, one far more poignant and layered than hitherto believed. Against the backdrop of superpower politics, the authors recount the careers and personalities of Boris Spassky, the product of Stalin's imperium, and Bobby Fischer, a child of post-World War II America, an era of economic boom at home and communist containment abroad. The two men had nothing in common but their gift for chess, and the disparity of their outlook and values conditioned the struggle over the board. Then there was the match itself, which produced both creative masterpieces and some of the most improbable gaffes in chess history. And finally, there was the dramatic and protracted off-the-board battle -- in corridors and foyers, in back rooms and hotel suites, in Moscow offices and in the White House. The authors chronicle how Fischer, a manipulative, dysfunctional genius, risked all to seize control of the contest as the organizers maneuvered frantically to save it -- under the eyes of the world's press. They can now tell the inside story of Moscow's response, and the bitter tensions within the Soviet camp as the anxious and frustrated apparatchiks strove to prop up Boris Spassky, the most un-Soviet of their champions -- fun-loving, sensitive, and a free spirit. Edmonds and Eidinow follow this careering, behind-the-scenes confrontation to its climax: a clash that displayed the cultural differences between the dynamic, media-savvy representatives of the West and the baffled, impotent Soviets. Try as they might, even the KGB couldn't help. A mesmerizing narrative of brilliance and triumph, hubris and despair, Bobby Fischer Goes to War is a biting deconstruction of the Bobby Fischer myth, a nuanced study on the art of brinkmanship, and a revelatory cold war tragicomedy.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Especially interesting for an insight into Spassky and how impossibly difficult things were for him. Having seen him grow in something to say the last uninspiring...I was amazed to discover that he was, leading up to the match with Fischer just incredibly brave. No wonder he ran out of steam later. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Bobby Fischer Goes to War (2004) is fairly boring. Bobby Fischer is an unsympathetic main character and the chess match wasn't hugely exciting. The amount of detail is over the top, most of dealing with Bobby's strange requests and the chaos it creates to the point of being funny. Ultimately the raw material the author had to work with didn't really interest. It did remind me of playing chess long ago, when it was fashionable, before computers ruined everything. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jul 11, 2017 |
Audiobook: A fascinating analysis of both the players and the chess culture and its history in both the United States and Soviet Union leading up to the famous duel between Fischer and Spassky in 1972 when chess, for a short period of time, captured the attention of the world.

Bobby Fischer had never grown up and was uniquely focused on chess. Outside of the game he could be obnoxious, eccentric, bratty, rude, and incomprehensible. At the chess table he was unfailingly polite, obsessed with the rules and the game. The beginning of the book is a bit disjointed with quick summaries of his appearances or lack thereof at national and international tournaments. His paranoia and need for control was already quite apparent as was his chess brilliance (he had little brilliance in most other areas of his life.)

The author is stronger when discussing Spassky and chess in Russia. Chess players were expected to play in service to the state where the aftereffects of the "Great Patriotic War" was a sort of Russian exceptionalism that celebrated state nationalism. Everything was in service of the state and chess was no exception.

Their match became a symbolic battle for leadership in the Cold War. Here you had the Soviets who had dominated chess for decades on the one hand, and the lone, individualist Fischer on the other. Spassky was complicated. A Russian patriot, he was no Soviet one. He loved the game and admired Fischer who hated everyone and was the archetypal loner with no admirable qualities.

The authors could not get an interview with Fischer who was notoriously devoted to his privacy so the reader might sometimes feel as if the book is mostly about Spassky and the Russian perspective since they were quite willing to be interviewed. That's OK. Fischer’s erratic and paranoid behavior make him less prone to analysis.

Whatever else you say about Fischer, he was a tormented soul one cannot help but feel sorry for. He was often derided and celebrated. In the end he must have been extremely lonely and he died alone and embittered, a prisoner to his genius. I remember the extraordinary attention surrounding the match which probably did more to elevate the popularity of chess than anything before.

Political science junkies and chess fanatics will love this book. Nicely read by Sam Tsoutsouvas. ( )
  ecw0647 | Feb 5, 2016 |
Sometimes gets bogged down in details... ( )
1 vote TheGoldyns | Sep 17, 2015 |
Eight years before the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, there was a miracle on the island of Iceland, played out on a wooden board with sixty-four squares and thirty-two pieces. It was the chess world championships – which had been dominated throughout the 20th Century by the Soviet Union. And they were beaten by a young man from New York.

However, the Spassky vs. Fischer world championship had even more drama behind the scenes that there was on the board. Intertwined with the Cold War and Fischer’s own need for control, the match itself was in jeopardy from start to finish. Bobby Fischer Goes to War is really about the behind-the-scenes confrontations that surrounded the match. Edmonds and Eidinow leave analysis of the actual games to hundreds of other books and focus their efforts on understanding the numerous sideshows. With thirty years of distance, they put things into a proper context and provide deep analysis of these weeks in history where a chess match overshadowed Presidential election coverage and the Olympics.

The one weakness of Bobby Fischer Goes to War is that it is mostly isolated on that one tournament, so it leaves the reader a lot of questions about where these two men came from and what became of them afterwards. Still, for those who have an interest in the most infamous chess match of all time and want to know the facts from the legends, Bobby Fischer Goes to War delivers a definitive guide. ( )
  csayban | Nov 27, 2013 |
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Eidinow, Johnmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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To Elisabeth Eidinow and to three Edmonds siblings, Philip, Richard, and Julia
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It is five o'clock in the evening of Tuesday, 11 July 1972.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In the summer of 1972, with a presidential crisis stirring in the United States and the cold war at a pivotal point, two men -- the Soviet world chess champion Boris Spassky and his American challenger Bobby Fischer -- met in the most notorious chess match of all time. Their showdown in Reykjavik, Iceland, held the world spellbound for two months with reports of psychological warfare, ultimatums, political intrigue, cliffhangers, and farce to rival a Marx Brothers film. Thirty years later, David Edmonds and John Eidinow, authors of the national bestseller Wittgenstein's Poker, have set out to reexamine the story we recollect as the quintessential cold war clash between a lone American star and the Soviet chess machine -- a machine that had delivered the world title to the Kremlin for decades. Drawing upon unpublished Soviet and U.S. records, the authors reconstruct the full and incredible saga, one far more poignant and layered than hitherto believed. Against the backdrop of superpower politics, the authors recount the careers and personalities of Boris Spassky, the product of Stalin's imperium, and Bobby Fischer, a child of post-World War II America, an era of economic boom at home and communist containment abroad. The two men had nothing in common but their gift for chess, and the disparity of their outlook and values conditioned the struggle over the board. Then there was the match itself, which produced both creative masterpieces and some of the most improbable gaffes in chess history. And finally, there was the dramatic and protracted off-the-board battle -- in corridors and foyers, in back rooms and hotel suites, in Moscow offices and in the White House. The authors chronicle how Fischer, a manipulative, dysfunctional genius, risked all to seize control of the contest as the organizers maneuvered frantically to save it -- under the eyes of the world's press. They can now tell the inside story of Moscow's response, and the bitter tensions within the Soviet camp as the anxious and frustrated apparatchiks strove to prop up Boris Spassky, the most un-Soviet of their champions -- fun-loving, sensitive, and a free spirit. Edmonds and Eidinow follow this careering, behind-the-scenes confrontation to its climax: a clash that displayed the cultural differences between the dynamic, media-savvy representatives of the West and the baffled, impotent Soviets. Try as they might, even the KGB couldn't help. A mesmerizing narrative of brilliance and triumph, hubris and despair, Bobby Fischer Goes to War is a biting deconstruction of the Bobby Fischer myth, a nuanced study on the art of brinkmanship, and a revelatory cold war tragicomedy.

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