The Chess Artist by J. C. Hallman
Genius, Obsession, and the World's Oldest Game

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Synopsis

In the tiny Russian province of Kalmykia, obsession with chess has reached new heights. Its leader, a charismatic and eccentric millionaire/ex--car salesman named Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is a former chess prodigy and the most recent president of FIDE, the world's controlling chess body. Despite credible allegations of his involvement in drug running, embezzlement, and murder, the impoverished Kalmykian people have rallied around their leader's obsession---chess is played on Kalmykian prime-time television and is compulsory in Kalmykian schools. In addition, Kalmyk women have been known to alter their traditional costumes of pillbox hats and satin gowns to include chessboard-patterned sashes.

The Chess Artist is both an intellectual journey and first-rate travel writing dedicated to the love of chess and all of its related oddities, writer and chess enthusiast J. C. Hallman explores the obsessive hold chess exerts on its followers by examining the history and evolution of the game and the people who dedicate their lives to it. Together with his friend Glenn Umstead, an African-American chessmaster who is arguably as chess obsessed as Ilyumzhinov, Hallman tours New York City's legendary chess district, crashes a Princeton Math Department game party, challenges a convicted murderer to a chess match in prison, and travels to Kalmykia, where they are confronted with members of the Russian intelligence service, beautiful translators who may be spies, seven-year-old chess prodigies, and the sad blight of a land struggling toward capitalism.

In the tradition of The Professor and the Madman, Longitude, and The Orchid Thief, Hallman transforms an obsessive quest for obscure things into a compulsively readable and entertaining weaving of travelogue, journalism, and chess history.

 

About J. C. Hallman

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In addition to editing The Story About the Story, J.C. Hallman is the author of several books, including The Chess Artist, In Utopia, Wm & H'ry, and B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal. The list of contributors includes: 1) Wendy Lesser on Cervantes 2) Philip Lopate on Stendhal 3) John Berryman on Anne Frank 4) David Shields on Bill Murray 5) Zadie Smith on Hurston F 6) Charles Baxter on Chekhov 7) Thomas Mann on Tolstoy 8) Jane Tompkins on L’Amour 9) Joyce Carol Oates on Mary Shelley 10) Martin Amis on Larkin 11) Margaret Atwood on Wells 12) Michael Dirda on “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” 13) Walter Benjamin on Leskov 14) Nicholson Baker on Defoe 15) James Thurber on James 16) Elizabeth Hardwick on Melville 17) David Foster Wallace on Updike 18) Jacque Barzun on Abraham Lincoln 19) Vivian Gornick on Paley 20) H.L. Mencken on Dreiser 21) Susan Cheever on Alcott 22) Ralph Ellison on Crane 23) Joseph Conrad on Crane 24) Francisco Goldman on Bolano 25) Katherine Anne Porter on Cather 26) Harold Bloom on Hans Christian Andersen
 
Published September 10, 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books. 352 pages
Genres: Humor & Entertainment, Political & Social Sciences, History. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Chess Artist

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Much of the book is devoted to a fascinating visit to Kalmykia, an impoverished Russian province, whose president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is "a not entirely unsympathetic supervillain with a kooky plan to dominate the chess world," evident in his 1998 construction of Chess City with its centerpiece,...

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