King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game
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King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  145 ratings  ·  26 reviews
As a young man, Paul Hoffman was a brilliant chess player . . . until the pressures of competition drove him to the brink of madness.

In King's Gambit, he interweaves a gripping overview of the history of the game and an in-depth look at the state of modern chess into the story of his own attempt to get his game back up to master level--without losing his mind. It's also a...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published September 11th 2007 by Hyperion (first published January 1st 2007)
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The Rev. Baron Librarian
Okay, so I decided that the reason that I was never doing a damn thing with my goodreads was that I was using it redundantly with my librarything. I elected to relegate all chess books to librarything and everything else I read to goodreads. Practical solution, neh? Then I realized that the only book I've read in the past six months that wasn't a chess book was a book about chess. So it goes.

This is not a chess book in any classical sense, however--there are no games, no diagrams, no tactics, a...more
Ensiform
Half memoir, half exploration into the world of grandmasters and the connection between high-level playing and insanity. Hoffman uses his skill at chess as a springboard for an investigation into what drove his father – an ultra-competitive compulsive liar who casts a long shadow over all of his accomplishments. At the same time, wary of how the forces of competition can drive the greatest chess players into losing their compassion, he strives to understand the game rather than conquer it. He pr...more
Laura
This book had been a take-away following a lecture at Science House. The author signed the tome, and I thought this sizable hardback would remain a sculptural fixture within my bookcase. Instead, I lugged his writing around for the last 10 days.

Hoffman frames his own obsession and conflict about chess into a larger exploration about famous Great Masters and the Chess God-Mortals. His honesty, sadness, and resentment about his relationship with his father moves to a new dimension as you consider...more
Jr
this was a light aside for me. i've long been a chess dabbler. from time to time i dip into the game with gusto but for the most part it's something i keep nearby just for the heck of it. this book discusses chess play, and chess players in specific. there is quite a bit of technical chess speak going on with piece placement and configuration scenarios so those that don't know a Najdorf or a Queen's Gambit from a Trompowsky or a Traxler Variation might be a bit lost in the water. i was occasiona...more
Brendan Cheney
This is a pretty good book. I would only recommend it for chess fans, since it is not so much a memoir, but instead a meandering book filled with chess anecdotes. The stories are enough to get you through the book, even if you wonder what the overall point is.
Roaldeuller
I picked this book up on a whim in the Santa Monica Barnes and Nobel, started reading it over dinner, and was immediately and totally hooked, finishing it in one great push while flying across the country the following day. I can't recall the last time I read a memoir this compulsive. I say "memoir" for want of a better word - as other reviewers have pointed out, King's Gambit operates on several levels, only one of which could be termed a memoir.

Perhaps it is age (I was born in 1956), early exp...more
Rob
(8/10) A detailed look into the surprisingly insane world of competitive chess. Hoffman examines the iconic game's strange history in a paralell view with his strained relationship with his father, although towards the end the latter vanishes for long periods of time. Which is just as well -- there's no real need to put a personal spin on material this interesting, old stories that Hoffman tells well. Although there's some chess jargon in here, it's mainly aimed at an audience that's unfamiliar...more
David Oldham
This is a very interesting book. It was written well and all the stories I know of were addressed appropriately. I even got a lot more info that I didn't know about. The book was written as kind of an everyman account of the chess world, but with enough embedded so as not to miss the major points.

At first I was worried it was going to be a big father son novel based on the title but it was really a lot less than expected and did seem to fit into the story well. I would suggest this to friends bu...more
Benjamin Zapata
A beautiful memoir by Paul Hoffman about his childhood and his relationship with chess,and above all with his father.Full of nice anecdotes about famous player and some very weird characters,the book is a richly textured and totally engaging triumph. "If you enjoy playing chess,this will be the most fascinating,best-written book that you have ever read. If you have no interest in chess,then get ready to enjoy a fascinating,fast-moving story with unforgettable characters,many of whom just happen...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Feb 13, 2011 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Snail in Danger (Sid) by: L.J.
Shelves: memoir
This is a book about modern competitive chess. Autobiographical material is interwoven with material about modern chess players and the history of chess. The former is much less interesting than the latter, but this is still an entertaining read. I have to say, though, that it convinced me that ... well, okay, it convinced me of two things. One: the modern chess scene is very essentialist. Two: I'm not sure why anyone would want to play chess. It apparently involves so much memorization that it...more
Christina
I really enjoyed this book, even though I know very little about chess. The author interweaves stories about chess with stories about his relationship with his father. It is a bit disjointed, and there is one part in the book where the author glorifies drug use, but overall, a great read. I learned a lot about chess and enjoyed the stories about all the crazies who inhabit the world. I particularly enjoyed learning more about Bobby Fischer, because all I knew was that he was once a world champio...more
Lisa
There are a couple of great chapters in this book about an international chess tournament which was held in Libya and one chapter focusing on the strangest members of the chess world. The remaining chapters deal, in bits and pieces, with the author's relationship with his father and on chess moves. Unfortunately, I don't think the author did a very good job with either of these topics. You definitely have to know quite a bit about his father and quite a bit about chess to enjoy them.
Steven
This was one an excellent story about the author and that part of his life associated with chess. I enjoyed the stories about his relationship with his father, other chess players, and how chess affected his life. While the stories were engrossing, I still felt there was something missing, as if the author missed a final revelation, or central theme but am not sure was missed. Still, it was a really good read and worth reading.
Daniel Farabaugh
This was a nicely paced and written book. To be honest, I did not bother to map out many of the chess moves but the writing was concise enough that I could have if I wanted to. He balanced his personal experience with information about competitive chess well. This book read quickly and easily.
Jennifer
I was hoping that this book would be more like "Word Freak" about scrabble players. This book was a little too heavy on Chess world factoids and a little light on story. I got about 150 pages in, and then it was due at the library. I didn't renew it....
Mary-Marcia
Not being at all very familiar with chess, this brought me an understanding of the classical beauty of strategy and obsession; the inevitable win and losses of kings and queens, an appreciation of human vulnerabilities.
Mathew
Dec 29, 2007 Mathew rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Mathew by: Valencia Library New Book Shelf
The book was most enjoyable when the author was telling the stories of other chess players, not at all when telling stories of his father. Thankfully, the bulk of the book had good, non-familial chess anecdotes.
Michael
It has been a while since I read this book however I do remember enjoying this book quite a bit. Although I am an amateur chess player, I really don't think that that would be a requisite to enjoy this story.
Jay Wigley
About as good as a single man's chess story could be if his name isn't Bobby Fischer. It was interesting, never slow, and a good window into the chess world that eats its young.
Johnny
Nov 09, 2007 Johnny rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Fascinating look at the world of professional chess. Also dissects the psychology and the consequences of playing this zero-sum mental game.
Potamus Hyper
Re-awoke my sense of strategy in everyday life. Also revived my love of chess: the game should be an element of anyone's education.
Christopher Brown
An excellent memoir of Father and son intertwined with tales from the seedy underbelly of the Chess world.
Mingo Johnson
This is an autobiography that tells the story of a chess player goal to becoming a grandmaster.
Tim Jones
A really excellent fun book. I read it years ago and often think of it.
Mark C.
Some great anecdotes and gossip about chess freaks.
Michael
Story about the world of tournament chess.
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Paul Hoffman (born 1956) is a prominent author and host of the PBS television series Great Minds of Science. He was president and editor in chief of Discover, in a ten-year tenure with that magazine, and served as president and publisher of Encyclopaedia Britannica before returning full-time to writing and consulting work.

He lives in Woodstock, New York. Author of at least ten books, he has appea...more
More about Paul Hoffman...
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of  Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight Archimedes' Revenge: The Joys and Perils of Mathematics To Drop A Dime Dictionary Shmictionary!: A Yiddish and Yinglish Dictionary

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