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The Chess Machine

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  1,258 ratings  ·  139 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

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 5th 2007 by Penguin Press HC, The
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Average rating 3.47  · 
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 ·  1,258 ratings  ·  139 reviews

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Tom LA
Sep 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about a dwarf who hid inside a mechanical chess machine to make it look like it would play chess autonomously. Different and exhilarating.
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 ...more
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
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
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
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 ...more
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) ...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
Jan 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Historical fiction based on what little is known about the Mechanical Turk, whose first performance was in 1770. To its audience, the Mechanical Turk was an unbeatable chess-playing automaton; in reality it was a brilliant illusion and hoax that fooled the world. It was created by Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen, who was in the service of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. No one knows who first operated the Turk, and this book is Lohr's creative imaginings to fill in the gaps.

Kempelen was popular
Sep 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's the 18th century and our main characters are a chess-playing dwarf, an amoral,amorous nobleman/inventor,a pregnant,disgraced Courtesan , a ribald Jewish clockmaker, and the Empress Marie Theresa herself: so what's not to like? Tibor, the small person , is the most intriguing dwarf since "The Tin Drum", altho in a completely benign,sympathetic way. He's a devout Catholic, a veteran of the 30 years war and a perfect pawn for the unscrupulous Baron and his invention the Turk automaton, a
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,
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 ...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.
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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.
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loosely based on actual events in 18th century Europe, The Secrets of the Chess Machine tells the story of the Baron von Kempelen, whom having seen a demonstration of magnetism and claiming that he could invent something even more remarkable is challenged by Maria Theresia, the Empress of Hapsburg, to do so within six months. The result is the Mechanical Turk, a chess-playing automaton. However, the Mechanical Turk is nothing but a cunning hoax for hidden inside the machine behind clockwork gear ...more
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 ...more
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful read. "Inspired" by a true story, this book will satisfy many readers' tastes. If you like history, comedy, intrigue, politics, conspiracy, royal courts, duels, fights, drinking, chess, sex...this book has you covered.
In the age of automatons, the most impressive was The Turk, the chess machine that turned out to be a huge hoax. Very enjoyable - except for the scenes I flipped past. The book and the history are great, but the R-rated stuff took a lot of the fun out of the book.
Graeme Stuart Waymark
Exceptional historical fiction. I knew nothing of the reality of the machine and I am surprised. More later....
Carol Marshall
Oct 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book years ago (2008?) and would like to re-read it. I remember really enjoying the unique story and rooting for the main character.
Dec 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 Read this for book club and liked it better than I thought I would.
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
(Dug review out of the depths of LiveJournal.)

Extremely upfucked: hooray! About The Mechanical Turk: hooray! I liked it. It is not the most fantastic thing ever.
Susan Kent
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent story and I really liked Tibor's character. I didn't realise the book was based on real events until I'd finished it, but the story was conveyed in a believable manner. Recommended.
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.
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
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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 ...more