four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
By: 
Frank Brady
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0

Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall--from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness

A-EndgameA founding editor of Chess Life magazine, Frank Brady, a communications professor at St. Johns University, is also the author of several biographies, including the first biography of Bobby Fischer, Profile of a Prodigy (1965).

The Topic: Bobby Fischer is one of the archetypal prodigies. At 13, he defeated one of America's leading chess masters in the match described as "the Game of the Century." At 15, he became the youngest Grandmaster of the game the world had yet seen. His career culminated in 1972, when he defeated the Soviet champion Boris Spassky in a match that was seen as a symbolic Cold War victory. But after that, his decline was steep: he spent much of the rest of his life in homeless obscurity, and the one game he played (a 1992 rematch with Spassky) made him a fugitive from the United States for violating sanctions against Yugoslavia. Frank Brady, who followed Fischer through his entire career, tries to reconcile the two sides of Fischer in this new biography.
Crown. 416 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780307463906

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The first half might be likened to an imperial triumph, as the young Fischer progresses toward the world championship of chess; the second half, equally enthralling, depicts what is the human equivalent of a slow-motion train wreck. ... [O]ne of the year's best biographies." Michael Dirda

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Endgame, to its credit, is not written solely with chess aficionados in mind; Brady ... explains the technical aspects of the game with an appealing clarity as he tells the story of Fischer's fame and fall. ... Two men moving around pieces on a board may not sound exactly galvanizing, but Brady's accounts of Fischer's matches simmer with excitement." Matthew Price

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Endgame is a rapt, intimate book, greatly helped by its author's long acquaintance with Fischer, who died in 2008, and his deep grounding in the world of chess. Mr. Brady was the founding editor of Chess Life, the official magazine of the United States Chess Federation, but his book is entirely accessible to readers who have never heard of that publication." Janet Maslin

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Endgame will appeal to those who always wondered what happened to Bobby Fischer, how he frittered away the tremendous goodwill earned by his skill on the chessboard, and author Frank Brady, who knew Fischer since he was a child, is uniquely positioned to tell the story." Neil Steinberg

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Brady has set himself an impossible task: explaining behavior that is, at its core, irrational. ... In the end, the book throws light on Fischer's motivations, but it cannot fully explain them." Dylan Loeb McClain

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Right up front, Frank Brady states his intentions... : to answer the question ‘What was Bobby Fischer really like?' Brady is successful enough at that, relating with detail and perspective Fischer's astonishing, mercurial life. This is enough to make Endgame a compelling and useful biography but not a great one, for Brady never manages to get at the question one level deeper: ‘What was Bobby Fischer really thinking?'" Marc Mohan

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It imparts the love of chess and affection for ‘Bobby' that the author clearly feels, having known Fischer for many years. Perhaps it is Mr. Brady's affection for his subject that keeps him from accepting the fact that Fischer was severely mentally ill throughout his life." Paul Wolff

Critical Summary

Chess has given the world many interesting words. One of the best is "zugzwang," which is the state in which any move will disadvantage a player. Brady may have been in zugzwang when he chose to write this book. On the one hand, his friendship with and access to the famously secretive and difficult Bobby Fischer was the only thing that made the writing of a biography possible. On the other hand, several critics felt that Brady is too sympathetic to Fischer and that he tries to rationalize or explain away actions they felt were clearly the signs of severe mental illness. But to appreciate the zugzwang dilemma at all, one has to be a pretty good chess player, and in the end, most critics felt Brady is playing an excellent game. It's simply an unbeatable one, with a subject as inscrutable as Fischer.