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Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness Hardcover – February 1, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 219 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011: There may be no one more qualified than Frank Brady to write the definitive biography of Bobby Fischer. Brady's Profile of a Prodigy (originally published in 1969) chronicled the chess icon's early years, a selection of 90 games, and (in later editions) his 1972 World Championship match with Boris Spassky. With Endgame, published two years after Fischer's death, Brady's on-and-off proximity to Fischer lends new depth to the latter's full and twisted life story. Though Fischer's pinnacle artistry on the chessboard may often be discussed in the same breath with his eventual paranoia and outspoken anti-Semitism, the particular turns and travels of his post-World Championship years (half his life) lend his story most of its vexing oddity: the niggling insistence on seemingly arbitrary conditions for his matches, the years on the lam after flagrantly disregarding U.S. economic sanctions, his incarceration in Japan, his eventual citizenship and quiet demise in Iceland. All told, Fischer's life was like none other, and told through the lens of Brady's personal familiarity and access to new source material, results in an utterly engaging read. --Jason Kirk

Guest Reviewer: Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett is the host of “The Dick Cavett Show”---which aired on ABC from 1968 to 1975 and on public television from 1977 to 1982---Dick Cavett is the author, most recently, of Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets. The co-author of Cavett (1974) and Eye on Cavett (1983), he has also appeared on Broadway in Otherwise Engaged and Into the Woods, and as narrator in The Rocky Horror Show, and has made guest appearances in movies and on TV shows including Forrest Gump and The Simpsons. His column appears in the Opinionator blog on The New York Times website. Mr. Cavett lives in New York City and Montauk, N.Y.

Even if you don’t give a damn about chess, or Bobby Fischer, you’ll find yourself engrossed by Frank Brady‘s book about Fischer, which reads like a novel.

The facts of Bobby’s life (I knew him from several memorable appearances on “The Dick Cavett Show” on both sides of the Big Tournament) are presented in page-turner fashion. Poor Bobby was blessed and cursed by his genius, and his story has the arc of a Greek tragedy---with a grim touch of mad King Lear at the end.

The brain power and concentrated days and nights Bobby spent studying the game left much of him undeveloped, unable to join conversations on other subjects. Later in his life, unhappy with his limited knowledge of things beyond the chess board, he compensated with massive study---applying that same hard-butt dedication to other fields: politics, classics, religion, philosophy and more. He found a hide-away nook in a Reykjavic bookstore---barred from his homeland, Iceland had welcomed him back---where he read in marathon sessions. (After he was recognized, he never went back to his cozy cul de sac.)

In Brady’s telling the high drama of the Spassky match quickens the pulse; the contest that made America a chess-crazed land was seen by more people than the Superbowl. People skipped school and played sick in vast numbers, glued to watching Shelby Lyman explain what was happening. The fanaticism was worldwide. The match was seen as a Cold War event, with the time out of mind chess-ruling Russian bear vanquished.

Arguably the best known man on the planet at his triumphant peak, Bobby is later seen in this account riding buses in Los Angeles, able to pay his rent in a dump of an apartment only because his mother sent him her social-security checks. The details of all this are stranger than fiction, as is nearly everything in the life of this much-rewarded, much-tortured genius.

I liked him immensely, knowing only the tall, broad-shouldered, athletically strong and handsome six-foot-something articulate and yes, witty, youth that Bobby was before the evil times set in, with deranged anti-Semitic outbursts and other mental strangeness preceding his too early end at age 64.

I can’t ever forget the moment on the show when in amiable conversation I asked him what, in chess, corresponded to the thrill in another sort of event; like, say, hitting a homer in baseball. He said it was the moment when you “break the other guy’s ego.” There was a shocked murmur from the audience and the quote went around the world.

Frank Brady’s Endgame is one of those books that makes you want your dinner guests to go the hell home so you can get back to it.

From Booklist

Brady’s insightful biography of the legendary chess player focuses more on Fischer’s life as a chess champion than on his much-publicized legal troubles and alleged psychological breakdowns. Brady first became friends with Fischer at a chess tournament when they were both children, and he combines a traditional biography with a personal memoir. Fischer began playing chess at age six and was soon playing games by himself, unable to find worthy competition. He seems to have had a lifelong battle with himself, and his biggest challenge may have been conquering not his competitors but his own intellect. Brady is uniquely qualified to write this book. Not only is he a seasoned biographer and someone who knew Fischer on a personal level; he’s also an accomplished chess player himself, able to convey the game’s intricacies to the reader in a clear, uncomplicated manner. The book should appeal to a broad audience, from hard-core chess fans to casual players to those who are simply interested in what is a compelling personal story. --David Pitt

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307463907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307463906
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (219 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #726,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This well detailed biography begins with Fischer near his final years, a fugitive from the law, wanted in America for sanction violations (playing chess in the former Yugoslav republic in 1992) and a marked man for his hate-filled rant on the radio after September 11. The Japanese authorities have captured Fischer at the airport and have put a sack over his head while he throws a tantrum.

From this disturbing scene, we shoot back to Fischer's childhood during the Mcarthy Era in which his mother, who lived in Russia and was involved in Leftist political activities, is investigated by the FBI. Fischer as a child with a genius IQ of 180 becomes obsessed with chess and is soon hailed as a prodigy beating adults around the world, including US's rival, Russia.

As Fischer becomes more and more prominent, Brady captures the demons that begin to consume Fischer: He becomes more and more anti-Semitic though he himself is a Jew, he becomes a hypochondriac, a paranoid malcontent, and a grouch who cannot elicit the reader's sympathy, at least for me.

Brady takes us to Fischer's final years in Iceland (the only country that would host him after he renounced his US citizenship and became a wanted man by Interpol all over the world), referred to as a "devil's island," a place where Fischer must spend the rest of his life.

We get the picture of a broken man with no will to live, mildly consoled by eating at restaurants 3 times a day and refusing medical treatment for his urinary tract and weakened kidneys.

Growing up in the 1970s and taking pride in Fischer's domination over the Soviets, I found this a bracing read, a portrait of a man too smart for his own good and too delusional. Highly recommended for those who want a biography that neither praises nor condemns Fischer as much as it gives us a lucid portrait of him.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Bobby Fischer was someone who used to turn up in the news every now and then in some remarkable way, and then disappear for years; this book fills in the gaps. I played a lot of chess in college, in the late fifties, and remember reading about Bobby Fischer then and thinking that he would revolutionize the game. Then in 1972, he really did, with the Fischer-Spassky match triggering the chess mania that swept the country and got me to dust off my old set. Then... silence, except for occasional weird news: he's on skid row; he's been arrested; he's spewing anti-Semitism.

This book is a fascinating account of what happened in between these flashes of news and succeeds in explaining what Fischer was all about. You don't have to be a chess fan to enjoy it (or even know the moves). It's easy, vivid reading, and kept me up beyond my bedtime. It's full of all sorts of interesting details: where his strange religious and political views came from; the files the FBI had on him and his mother; whether he was circumcised (!); the fact that he was Russell Targ's brother-in-law. The author certainly knows his subject.

Fischer was one of the most extreme "outliers" of his generation: totally brilliant, tragically self-destructive, utterly ungrateful, but thoroughly captivating. Whether you remember Fischer or not, you'll enjoy this book as a character study of an amazing figure.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Brady has written a compelling biography of Bobby Fischer, who disappeared from the public stage after winning the world championship in chess. You don't have to know anything about chess to appreciate the book, which is about the man and not the game.

Some features of Fischer's personality emerge from the book. First, he was apparently unable to understand that business agreements require that both sides get something from the deal. He believed that if other people profited at all from his activities, then they were taking advantage of him. As a result, he walked away from over ten million dollars in business opportunities after winning the world championship. It's tempting to say that this view reflects the zero-sum nature of chess, and his own playing style, which sought victories and not draws.

Second, there was a healthy dose of paranoia in Fischer's makeup. He was convinced that the Soviet Union, and later the United States government, were out to get him, as were the world's Jews. Of course, paranoids can have real enemies - - the Soviet chess establishment did collude to try to keep the title in their community, and the U.S. government did go after him for violating international sanctions against Yugoslavia. Fischer's anti-Semitic paranoia seems purely irrational.

Third, I was amazed at how much loyalty Fischer could command from his friends despite treating them poorly and discarding them all too easily. Brady does not convey exactly why people put up with this treatment, even though Brady was a sometimes friend of Fischer himself. I suspect that hero worship helps explain why people tolerated mistreatment in order to remain close to such a gifted chess player.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Before launching into a review of a bio of Fischer, I'd like to disclose my personal biases which may influence my review of the book. Like many tournament chess players who started that hobby in the early 70s, I was a product of the "Fischer Boom". I knew of Fischer and his previous monumental successes through his chess column in Boy's Life magazine, and later his book, "My 60 Memorable Games". Those exposures led me to believe that Fischer was a personable and friendly man with a playful and helpful spirit. I wasn't to learn for many years that all of his chess columns and most of the prose in his book were ghost written by Larry Evans, and the positive qualities I ascribed to Fischer were in fact those of Evans. Later, when Fischer won the World Championship, he was even more cemented in the role of hero of American Chess that he had already filled for more than a decade. Many of us were shocked when he then went into severe seclusion, and fatally sabotaged any chance of defending his title against Anatoly Karpov three years later.

Fischer gradually faded from the consciousness of most chess fans and tournament players, finally re-emerging in 1992 to play a privately sponsored rematch against Boris Spassky. Both men were paid handsomely for the match, with the major problem being that they were being paid by war criminals whom the US State Department had already proscribed any business contact with by US citizens. An arrest warrant was put out for Fischer, and he never returned to his native land. Fischer may have already harbored a resentment for America, but regardless of whether one already existed, this episode placed Fischer fully at odds with his homeland.
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