Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Chess Machine: A Novel” as Want to Read:
The Chess Machine: A Novel
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Chess Machine: A Novel

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  1,121 Ratings  ·  129 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 c
Audio CD, 0 pages
Published October 1st 2007 by Tantor Media
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Chess Machine, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Chess Machine

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
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.
Jul 29, 2012 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
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 07, 2008 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
Apr 16, 2008 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
Dec 01, 2014 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
Mar 02, 2013 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 29, 2007 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
Nov 24, 2007 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
Aug 21, 2011 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.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 23, 2015 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.
Mar 04, 2014 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
Mar 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little slow going but the story picks up if you stick with it. A rich imagining of life in Enlightenment Hapsburg Empire. Lots of interesting historical allusions to those familiar with this period in European history. A novelization of the etymology of the German "türken," to trick or fake.
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
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
Emma Bainbridge
I flew through the first 200 or so pages, after which the book began to drag a bit - a lot of the later part of the novel just seems like filler text. I liked the use of the non-linear style for keeping the book moving, but this did mean that you had a rough idea of what happens, so a lot of the drama and 'suspense' of the latter pages wasn't really very dramatic or suspenseful, and you were just waiting for the conclusion.

As an historical novel, it was a pretty interesting glimpse of the attit
Sep 30, 2012 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
Sep 01, 2010 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
Feb 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this way way waaaaay back in the day and remember LOVING it, but don't have that clear of a memory of the actual book to award it all 5 stars. Definitely want to reread tho
Kelley Ross
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 20, 2012 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
Jul 11, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Halfway through and quit. Yes, it was a novelization. It is true that the true story of the first inhabitant of the Mechanical Turk is not known.

The book started well, and was spellbinding in how the dwarf grandmaster and mechanician got into each other's spheres. There was character arc in the dwarf, if not in the other characters. So far, so good. Yet in the middle, the plot seemed to stop.

I got tired of Tibor's sexual frustrations, snooty court intrigue, perfume and odor's, and Farkas's att
Sherry (sethurner)
In 1770 Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen created an amazing chess playing automaton, a Turk, and exhibited the machine throughout Europe. In fact the Turk could not play chess - a dwarf sat inside the Turk's cabinet and was the brains of the mechanical man. We know this now, though Kempelen went to his grave with the secret. Robert Lohr's novel is fiction, filled with deception, lust, betrayal and murder. There is even an action-packed chase across rooftops at night - very theatrical indeed. It imagi ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Zugzwang
  • To the Hermitage
  • Enormity
  • Funereal
  • The Ghost-seer
  • Broken Piano for President
  • Angry Young Spaceman
  • Ares Express
  • Interrogations: The Nazi Elite in Allied Hands, 1945
  • Birth of the Chess Queen: A History
  • Axis Sally: The American Voice of Nazi Germany
  • The Killing of Emma Gross
  • Dark Matter Tiding
  • Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes: Fifty Tantalizing Problems of Chess Detection
  • Hannibal. Der Roman Karthagos
  • The File: A Personal History
  • Second Violin (Inspector Troy, #6)
  • The Nazi Occult
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
More about Robert Löhr...

Share This Book