- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Walker & Co. (April 1, 2002)
- ISBN-10: 0802713912
- ASIN: B000FA4U4C
- Package Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 32 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,800,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine
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From Library Journal
The Turk was the name given to a chess-playing automaton created by Wolfgang von Kempelen in order to impress the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary. In 1770, von Kempelen demonstrated the Turk and so began a series of performances that would continue for 85 years, throughout Europe and eventually in the United States. Technology correspondent for the Economist and author of The Victorian Internet, Standage details the appearance and seeming construction of the automaton, following its existence and influence up through its destruction in a fire. He also provides a fine description of the fascination with automata and magic that was so prevalent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At the time, no one was able to determine how the Turk performed such feats; a fully operational replica was finally built by a Hollywood stage designer in 1971. Standage concludes this intriguing work by comparing the Turk with developments in computer chess playing in the latter half of the 20th century and also relates it to the broad artificial intelligence field. This book should appeal to a wide range of readers. Hilary Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Livermore, CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* It's a shame that most people these days have never heard of Wolfgang von Kempelen's magnificent machine called the Turk, because it really was a marvelous creation. In the middle of the eighteenth century, automatons were all the rage: mechanical ducks and elephants; pictures with moving parts; even human simulacrums that could write, draw, and play musical instruments. And then there was the Turk, an automaton that could, it appeared, play chess--not just move pieces around a board, but also plan and execute strategies and outwit some of Europe's finest chess players. The Turk had a career that lasted more than eight decades: Benjamin Franklin played a match against it; Edgar Allan Poe wrote about it; Charles Babbage, the great-grandfather of the computer, was fascinated by it. But was it a genuine automaton? Or was it, as the Turk's many critics claimed, a hoax, a simple trick dressed up as a scientific wonder? Standage, who is also the author of the delightful Victorian Internet (1998), chronicles the life and times of the Turk, charting its ups and downs, showing the machine's impact on the world (the Turk was, in a way, the inspiration both for the computer and the modern detective story). Saving the best--the truth about the Turk--for last, he keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering about the secret to this magical device. History as seen from an unusual angle; thrilling stuff. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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UPDATE 28 SEPTEMBER 2013 -- Finished the book and am now ready to provide a post-mortem (as chess players call the analyzing of a recently finished game). Loved it, five stars, provided more than I already knew about the topic (which was considerable). Standage details The Turk's life-of-its-own grip over its less-than-enthused creator and its subsequent owners and operators. Lots of biographical notes on all the main players and - as promised - references to The Turk's influence over future industry automation, artificial intelligence, and computing science. An entertaining, informative read.
On page 127 there is mentioned a pamphlet compiled by one W.J. Hunneman, entitled "A Selection of Fifty Games from Those Played by the Automaton Chess-Player." I note that this pamphlet is available right here at Amazon for $15.00 (search for it by name). However, I located and downloaded a PDF copy of the Harvard Library original via Google Books by entering its title in Google's search field. It is written in the earliest Long Descriptive English Notation and I'm currently converting it to a staple-bound print pamphlet for my personal chess library. I may go so far as to include the duplicate gamescores in modern Abbreviated Algebraic Notation, which is much easier to read. Maybe even a few diagrams generated by my chess font. Most interested parties would probably just order the pamphlet from Amazon as what I'm doing is definitely "the long way round." But this pamphlet is at best a niche item and probably not of great interest to the broader chess-playing public. As an amateur chess historian, Hunneman's pamphlet is a treasure to me and I am taking pains to recreate even the old 1820 cover for esthetic purposes. Anyone desiring to know more than you ever wanted to know about the origins and history of the game should consider H.J.R. Murray's definitive "History of Chess," available here at Amazon from about $11.50 to $375.00 depending upon whether you want to still be able to afford food while you read through its 900+ pages.
I recommend this book to chess lovers, history lovers, and mystery lovers since the secret of the Turk was never solved in it's "lifetime." (It burned in a fire in the 19th Century.)
It would be unexpected to make a moment of chess history into such a riveting narrative -- that's exactly what Tom Standage does in this book.