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The Chess Machine: A Novel

3.46  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,023 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
Based on a true story, The Chess Machine is the breathtaking historical adventure of a legendary invention that astounded all who crossed its path

Vienna 1770: Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen unveils a strange and amazing invention, the Mechanical Turk, a sensational and unbeatable chess-playing automaton. But what the Habsburg court hails as the greatest innovation of the cen

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 5th 2007 by Penguin Press HC, The
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I picked this book up on whim from the public library's New Books section because the backstory is about an elaborate hoax during the 17th century Hapsburg Empire to build an automaton that could play chess as intelligently as a human being. I thought it was going to be like the type of creepy but enthralling stories that I had to read for a class on German Romantism, like Hofmannsthal's The Sandman (basis for the ballet Coppelia) or Mary Shelley's original Frankenstein.

Except that instead of d
Perhaps a novel about a chess-playing automaton is not your ideal storyline. What if I told you that there was a secret behind the machine depending on a dwarf which traversed murder, revenge, and espionage? If those images spark your attention, then The Chess Machine by Robert Lohr is perfect for you.

Don’t expect a traditional novel arc with The Chess Machine, as the book simply does not begin with the “usual” character introductions. This will reject some readers due to the novel’s somewhat fl
Jason Pettus
(The much longer full review can be found at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [].)

As regular readers know, one of the topics that often comes up here at the CCLaP website is of the slippery line between what we commonly refer to as "mainstream" literature versus "genre;" of not only where that line should be drawn, but of how we look at books differently based on what side it falls, not to mention the different smaller lines that can be drawn once you're on one si
Teresa Mills-clark
I cannot remember who passed this book along to me but I've had it on my book shelf for nearly 3 years and finally selected it to read. I admit to a preference for "Penguin Books" because their authors are interesting and NOT run of the mill. So, the Chess Machine ... I gave it 4 stars because it kept my interest even though I do not play chess or know much about the game. It is based on a true story but the author surmised much of what was not known. It is a period piece (1760's to 1780's) whic ...more
Mike Angelillo
A bit more dwarf sex than I am used to in a book about chess and 18th century European nobility but............

I think that this novel falls into the trap that many books in the "historical fiction" fall into regardless of the subject. The fictional characters, or the events/dialogue created around the historical characters, are just not nearly as interesting as the actual events.
I really wanted to like this book. Robert Löhr chooses unexpected, off-the-beaten-track subjects for his historical fiction. Unconventional and obscure historical events are right up my alley, so this novel promised to be a blast. Sadly, the book did not deliver.

This was Löhr's debut novel and it shows. He didn't get the pacing right, nor was he able to give his characters any depth. The story revolves around a mechanical chess machine. The first machine able to think and play chess - or that's
May 15, 2008 El rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21st-centurylit
Based on mostly-true events of the late 18th-century in Europe, Robert Lohr's first novel recreates the life and times of the Mechanical Turk, an automaton created by Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen which could "think" and play chess in an attempt to win the attention of the Empress. What von Kempelen managed to do was to create a sensational stir across Europe with what actually was all a fancy hoax. Lohr takes some creative liberty and draws a murder mystery into the mix, of which causes enough su ...more
Jul 29, 2012 Biblionomicon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seit sich der schöpferische Geist des Menschen an der Erschaffung von Maschinen versucht, lag eines seiner großen mythischen Ziele darin, es seinem Schöpfergott gleich zu tun und sich ein intelligentes Ebenbild zu schaffen. Gleich nicht nur an körperlichen sondern vor allen Dingen auch an geistigen Fähigkeiten. Die intelligente Maschine oder am Ende gar die denkende und fühlende Maschine? Da die künstlichen Intelligenz zu meinen Interessen- und Forschungsgebieten zählt, war die literarische Aufa ...more
Apr 23, 2008 Katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I tried very hard to get into this, because, frankly, I had judged this book by its cover. It's an excellent cover, to be fair - all revolving cogs and wheels and jubilant aristocrats striking curious poses. Too bad the book itself is such a disappointment. It takes a wonderful story from history - the making of a chess-playing automaton, which was in reality an elaborate hoax - and turns it into a textbook thriller, with characters who aren't particularly interesting or memorable, and without a ...more
Scarlet Cameo
Oct 12, 2015 Scarlet Cameo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Al contrario de lo hace este libro, comenzaré por el inicio. Esta novela está inspirada en hechos veridicos nos habla de una autómata que juega ajedrez...que básicamente es un enano encerrado en una incomodisima caja. Conforme este invento va ganando popularidad, gracias a sus interminables triunfos frente a la nobleza.

La novela engancha, empieza por el final (el meollo del asunto te lo dicen no en la primera página sino en el primer párrafo) pero ello no impide que disfrutes el trayecto.

El mayo
Padraigh Mchale
Kind of a combination steam punk/historical fiction, The Chess Machine is a surprisingly good read, quick and entertaining. The story is based on a real "Mechanical Turk" that toured around Europe in the 1800's, but whose origins are lost to recorded history. The author takes the beginnings of the machine and makes up his own characters, filling in the origin of how the Turk was first created. What you come up with is a surprisingly fun suspense/thriller style novel, which is quite easy to read ...more
Feb 06, 2008 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall an enjoyable work of historical fiction, based on the true story of a late 18th century chess-playing machine that was, in reality, just an elaborate hoax. The story is told with lots of eccentric characters, and the narrative is well-paced and helped along by occasional flash-forwards that slowly reveal how things worked out for these characters over time. By the end I think the author may have tried a little *too* hard to be unpredictable and defy the readers' expectations by making ch ...more
Mar 13, 2013 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What's most fascinating about this book is that the chess machine of the title not only existed, but also really did dupe citizens and royal courts across Europe for decades.
I very much enjoyed the historical setting of the book, which travelled from Venice to Slovakia via Prussia and Austria. The plot is quite pacey and while it does culminate in a bit of a far-fetched blood-spilling climax, I could imagine this book making a good historical action movie, with all its soldiers and generals, roy
Dec 09, 2007 Paul rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Frankly...I couldn't get through this book. I petered out around page two hundred, when the characters just all seemed to be doing what I expected of them, in the ways I predicted. It's a beautiful cover, and a beautiful idea, but too often the story aspects are jammed into the historical aspects, and the characters seem to be pastiches rather than individual. I wouldn't rule out other books by this author, but this book didn't succeed for me.
Michele Kallio
Sep 05, 2011 Michele Kallio rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Chess Machine is a novelized retelling of one of the greatest hoaxes of all time. It is the story of Baron Wolfgang Von Kempelen's invention, The Turk, a chess playing automaton. It is an enjoyable read.
Sep 23, 2015 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Besides being a very thrilling historical novel, "The Chess Machine" is a fantastic character study, with a memorable protagonist and compelling suporting characters.
May 27, 2015 Avik rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Chess Machine by Robert Lohr (translated by Anthea Bell) is a thriller with the (in)famous chess-playing machine at its core. Around the legend of this “chess machine”, which was actually a hoax, Robert Lohr presents an immensely enjoyable tale of politics, deceit and tragedy.

The Chess Machine tracks the adventures of a human being, whose curious mix of talents is exploited by another brilliant man to create a marvel to amaze the world. Keeping up the appearances proves challenging and plans
Κάθε καινοτομία, στην εποχή της, τυγχάνει αντικείμενο χλευασμού, φθόνου, υπονόμευσης, φτάνοντας ακόμα και στα όρια του μίσους. Ιησούς, Γαλιλαίος, Ντίζελ και τόσα άλλα φωτισμένα πρόσωπα και μυαλά πέρασαν των παθών τους τον τάραχο μέχρι η ιστορία να τους δικαιώσει, τους περισσότερους μετά τον τραγικό τους θάνατο δυστυχώς. Το ίδιο συμβαίνει και με τις εφευρέσεις. Κάθε τι το ξεχωριστό έχει δύσκολο έργο. Από τη μιά το επιβουλεύονται προτού προλάβει καν να κυκλοφορήσει, αφετέρου η καχυποψία της μάζας ...more
May 31, 2015 Jude rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1770 Vienna and German-Hungarian court secretary Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen, unsatisfied with his current position, is determined increase his standing in the court. In his mind there is just one way to show his true worth, with the creation of a machine so stunning it will wow the whole of Europe, an ingenious speaking machine, the first of it’s kind. In order to sufficiently impress the empress, and help ensure himself the funding and time to eventually create his masterpiece, Kempelen embark ...more
Feb 22, 2014 Roberto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my opinion, novels must have the following purposes: to engage the minds of the readers; to entertain the readers; and to educate the readers. Obviously there are many different , lets say, "degrees" in which different novels opperate (one novel may be more pedagogic, more entertaining, more riveting than other - hence the different number of stars reviews) . In this specific case, I really enjoyed this novel by german author Robert Löhr: it revolves about a true historical event - a automato ...more
Jun 13, 2012 Karl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based on the true story of The Turk, an 18th century clockwork automaton that susposedly played chess, this historical novel mixes fact and fiction quite well. The story is fascinating. The characters are well drawn and complex.

My only problem with the book was that it seemed a little uneven. Some of the shifts in narrative did not flow well and were a little confusing. I have no evidence for this theory, but it seems to me that something was lost in the translation from German to English.

If you
In this debut novel by former journalist and screenwriter Robert Lohr, an ambitious court official decides to impress the queen with a marvellous machine that can win a chess game against any opponent.
A flaw in the plan: he knows building such a machine is impossible, at least for now. So instead, he hires a dwarf, who also happens to be a chess expert, to sit in the machine and act as the automaton's mind.

Even more unbelievable that the plot is the fact that all this actually happened. Berlin-b
Sep 30, 2012 Adair rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are so many good ideas in this book you can forgive the flaws. Loosely based on actual events, The Secrets of the Chess Machine tells the story of the Baron Von Kempelen, who is challenged by the Hapsburg Empress, Maria Theresia to invent something marvellous. The result is the Mechanical Turk, an unbeatable chess-playing automaton. Kempelen is part scientist, part conman and, of course, the Mechanical Turk is nothing but an outrageous hoax. Hidden behind the gears and clockwork is Tibor, ...more
Kelley Ross
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 27, 2014 Elisabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The chess machine is secretly operated from inside by the Italian dwarf Tibor, a God-fearing social outcast whose chess-playing abilities and diminutive size make" WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THE DESCRIPTION GET THIS BOOK.

That was basically my thought process when I picked this up off the shelves.

It's great. And it's based off an actual thing that actually happened! THOSE CRAZY HABSBURGS.
Carlos Reyes
Apr 21, 2016 Carlos Reyes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Calificación 4.5.
La maquina de ajedrez es una novela que narra la historia de Wolfgang Von Kempelen, un aristócrata e inventor alemán del siglo XVIII cuyo autómata que juega ajedrez fue más bien una máquina operada por un enano. Es una historia basada en hechos reales, pero con algunos personajes ficticios. Este autor se ha ganado la comparación con Patrick Süskind (autor del perfume) por la maravillosa forma de recrear una historia, y al igual que el autor antes mencionado, su obra también vale
Sara L
Jan 27, 2016 Sara L rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
This is a very fact based historical fiction about the Chess Machine - one of the biggest hoaxes in history. The inventor was a real historical figure and scammed the Hapsburg royalty by creating an "automaton" that is actually run by a dwarf that hides inside the machine. Very interesting for anyone who likes historical fictions.
Maria Laura
Jun 02, 2015 Maria Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
No se porque tardé tanto en leerlo ... es decir tenia como 6 meses en mi estantería, y pasaron 2 semanas mientras lo leia, pero no importa me gusto mucho :D (aunque tengo que aceptar que batalle un poco con los nombres de los personajes de las ciudades)

Ahora solo me queda googlear la historia verdadera, tengo entendido de que en esta novela el autor solo lleno los espcaios vacios en la historia original, igualmente voy a hacer mi trabajo de investigación!
Terrence Weijnschenk
A great novel about fictional characters surrounded by non-fictional characters, set in the backdrop of 18th century Austria. One of those books you don't want to finish because you want to stay immersed in that reality that is so different from the one you're living in but simultanously feels so familiar.
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Robert Löhr was born in Berlin and grew up there and in Bremen and Santa Barbara, California. He trained as a journalist at the Berlin School of Journalism, then worked for Sat. 1 News and for the Berlin daily paper Der Tagesspiegel, Berliner Zeitung, Neue Zeit, and Taz, and finally as a correspondent for the Washington Post. After spending many years writing screenplays, musicals, plays, and shor ...more
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