Sunday, May 15, 2011

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady

The blurb:
Endgame is acclaimed biographer Frank Brady's decades-in-the-making tracing of the meteoric ascent-and confounding descent - of enigmatic genius Bobby Fischer.  Only Brady, who met Fischer when the prodigy was ten years old and shared with him some of his most dramatic triumphs, could have written this book.  Drawing from Fischer family archives, recently released FBI files, and Bobby's own e-mails, this account is unique in that it covers Fischer's entire life - an odyssey that took the Brooklyn-raised chess champion from an impoverished childhood to the covers of Time, Life, and Newsweek to recognition as "the most famous man in the world" to notorious recluse.

Possessing a 181 IQ and remarkable powers of concentration, Bobby was only 13 when he became the youngest chess master in U.S. history.  But his strange behavior nearly halted his Cold War championship match with Soviet star Boris Spassky, he turned down millions of dollars in sponsorship offers, and by 1992 he was an international fugitive, wanted by American law enforcement for having violated U.S. sanctions.

Woven into Fischer's late-life odyssey are bizarre flirtations with apocalyptic religions, Nazis, and mafiosi, and bouts of paranoia that had him traveling with gun-toting bodyguards and railing against perceived conspiracies.

Who was Bobby Fischer, and what does his life say about the flowering of genius and distorting effects of fame?  In Endgame, Frank Brady gives us the fascinating answer.

Previous knowledge of chess or its masters isn't necessary to an appreciation of Bobby Fischer's story or this latest work by Frank Brady.  The book is an engrossing read - well researched and full of drama.  It's the story of a child prodigy, his obsessive love for the game, his foray into chess at the time that the Russians and Eastern Europeans dominated chess, and his impressive

 Endgame opens with Fischer's arrest in Japan for traveling on an expired passport.  His fear, confusion, and the strangeness of the scene alerts to the drama that unfolds.  This glimpse into Fischer's decline is juxtaposed against Fischer's childhood and his love of chess.

Fischer and his elder sister were raised by their mother on a very tight budget.  Brady met Fischer in these early years and is well acquainted with the generous New Yorkers that served as teachers and mentors and extended family to young Bobby Fischer.   Brady captures what Fischer was like - brilliant, easily bored, and deeply fascinated by chess.  His sister bought a chess set when he was six years old.  His sister and mother weren't as interested in the game, he beat them, and played against himself often and constantly.  As his obsessive love for chess overtook his other interests, his mother grew worried enough to try to get him to seek therapy or reduce his obsession.   While she worried about the intensity of his obsession with chess, his mother introduced him to chess masters, teachers, and groups. Fischer's skill and grasp of the game stood out early on.   I particularly enjoyed reading about Fischer's early years - the people that took an interest in him, introduced him to other talented players, discussed the nuances of the game, brought him to tournaments, welcomed him into their exclusive clubs.  Brady shares small details that give a clear picture of Bobby Fischer both at an early age and as his career quickly blossoms.

As we read about each of Fischer's matches and how each of them impacted his skill and career, we learn about sports competitions during the Cold War.  Chess was dominated by the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, their champions were cared for, trained supported and received significant backing from their governments.  Fischer was bitter - perhaps rightfully so - about the extent to which the Russian players were supported and worked together.  His brilliance, youth, abrasiveness,  and confrontational attitude stood out in these competitions.   In his later years, Fischer became known for his membership in fringe religious groups, anti-semitic tirades, and reclusive behavior. 

Our fascination with Bobby Fischer is reflected in movies such as Searching for Bobby Fischer and a new HBO documentary Bobby Fischer Against the WorldEndgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness is a fascinating and well researched account of Bobby Fischer's life.

ISBN-10: 9780307463906 - Hardcover $25.95
Publisher: Crown (February 1, 2011), 416 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Frank Brady is internationally recognized as the person most knowledgeable about the life and career of Bobby Fischer.  He is the author of numerous critically acclaimed biographies, including Citizen Welles; Onassis: An Extravagant Life; and Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy (the first edition of which appeared in the mid-1960s and focuses on the young Bobby).

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