A World of Chess, Its Development and Variations through Centuries and Civilizations, by Jean-Louis Cazaux and Rick Knowlton, McFarland, ISBN: 9780786494279, Paperback, 408pp. $49.95
Jean-Louis Cazaux of Toulouse, France is a scientist by profession, and is said to be a prolific author on chess and chess history. He has a website at history.chess.free.fr. Rick Knowlton of Sarasota, Florida, has a background in fine arts and is said to have studied and recreated historic chess sets from an early age. His internet site is ancientchess.com. This book is an expanded edition of the French title L’Odyssée des Jeux d’Échecs, written by Cazaux in 2010.
A World of Chess explores the evolution of strategic board games, especially those from China, India, and Japan, in great detail. If offers more than 400 illustrations, and detailed maps of variants dating back thousands of years. Instructions for play are provided for every game, along with the historical context of the variant. Also included are more recent chess variants, such as Seirawan Chess, etc.
The main contents are divided as follows:
Part I. Chess of the Arabian Nights
Part II. Chess in the Land of Monsoons
Part III. Gunpowder on the Chinese Board
Part IV. Generals and Mercenaries of the Rising Sun
Part V. Evolution and Revolution in Europe
Part VI. Chess Out of the Box
Part VII. The Origins of Chess
I can well imagine there will be intrepid readers who will recreate some of the games featured here, whether for personal amusement or classroom erudition. Yet, some of the variants are nearly unfathomable, such as Taikyoku Shogi, played with 804 pieces on a 1,296 square board!
The authors write that “the book is presented to chess players, game enthusiasts and lovers of cultural history as a broad review of chess as a worldwide human event. We have gathered the most up-to-date historic resources and the most accurate accounts of these divergent games, and put them into a clear and concise context.”
They begin their journey with the earliest ancestors of the modern game of chess from Persia on through the Arab world. They note “chess is not merely a single game … it began 1500 years ago, first as one of the world’s many strategy board games, but quickly transcending the cultural barriers of diverse civilizations, crossing international boundaries with remarkable fluidity.”
This is a deeply researched account of the history and origins of chess and its variants, and can be considered as an update to the definitive A History of Chess, by Harold J.R. Murray. The authors take issue with Murray’s Indian origins model; however, they are also prone to using equivocal phrases such as “it is possible,” “with scant evidence,” and “may have been.” With regard to the true origin of chess, they state “we can only assume that the cradle of chess and its primordial history still lie hidden somewhere in Asia,” but that “the exact birth of the royal game remains clouded in mystery.” The book concludes with a historic timeline of major events ranging from 569 to 2008 (so this section at least does not seem to have been updated from the 2010 edition), an extensive section of notes, a detailed bibliography, and a comprehensive index.
I was interested in what Cazaux and Knowlton had to say about the Lewis Chessmen, because of two editorials featured here at ChessCafe: The Lewis Chessmen Were Never Anywhere Near Iceland! by Morten Lilleøren and On the Origins of the Lewis Chessmen by Guðmundur G. Thórarinsson. The debate is about the origins of the famous Isle of Lewis chess pieces. However, the authors simply state “in all probability, they were made in Trondheim, Norway,” without mentioning the possibility of Icelandic origins.
A World of Chess would make a great Christmas gift for any chess aficionado, especially because it is the type of book a player might not be likely to purchase on their own.