July 3, 2002

Probably the most fascinating book I’ve read all year: The Turk, by Tom Standage. The true story follows the “life and times of the famous eighteenth-century chess-playing machine”. I had never heard of the Turk before, and spent the first 2/3 of the book in complete amazement — just like anyone who witnessed the machine play (and often times) beat human opponents in a game of chess.

The Turk traveled around the world for more than 80 years performing for people like Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, Edgar Allen Poe etc. and had many owners who kept it’s secret the entire time. The last few chapters of the book satisfyingly disclose just about everything you were dying to know, as well as how the Turk inspired Charles Babbage’s quest to build the first mechanical computer.

Also explained is IBM’s “Deep Blue” computer which later went on to beat chess master Gary Kasparov.

I’m not a chess player, and you don’t really have to be interested in it to like this book. It’s an amazing story of how this thing affected so many people throughout its history.

Unrelated to the book — I’ve just updated SimplePost to 0.2, fixing a bug that was preventing a new month to build.