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The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine

2.3 (2007)

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Tom Standage(Author)

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Describes the eighteenth-century invention by Wolfgang von Kempeden of the Turk, a mechanical man fashioned of wood, powered by clockwork, and capable of playing chess, examining the machine's remarkable career in light of the industrial revolution and the impact of the invention on the history of technology. Reprint.

The Turk was the name given to a chess-playing automaton created by Wolfgang von Kempelen in order to impress the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary. In 1770, von Kempelen demonstrated the Turk and so began a series of performances that would continue for 85 years, throughout Europe and eventually in the United States. Technology correspondent for the Economist and author of The Victorian Internet, Standage details the appearance and seeming construction of the automaton, following its existence and influence up through its destruction in a fire. He also provides a fine description of the fascination with automata and magic that was so prevalent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At the time, no one was able to determine how the Turk performed such feats; a fully operational replica was finally built by a Hollywood stage designer in 1971. Standage concludes this intriguing work by comparing the Turk with developments in computer chess playing in the latter half of the 20th century and also relates it to the broad artificial intelligence field. This book should appeal to a wide range of readers. Hilary Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Livermore, CACopyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. *Starred Review* It's a shame that most people these days have never heard of Wolfgang von Kempelen's magnificent machine called the Turk, because it really was a marvelous creation. In the middle of the eighteenth century, automatons were all the rage: mechanical ducks and elephants; pictures with moving parts; even human simulacrums that could write, draw, and play musical instruments. And then there was the Turk, an automaton that could, it appeared, play chess--not just move pieces around a board, but also plan and execute strategies and outwit some of Europe's finest chess players. The Turk had a career that lasted more than eight decades: Benjamin Franklin played a match against it; Edgar Allan Poe wrote about it; Charles Babbage, the great-grandfather of the computer, was fascinated by it. But was it a genuine automaton? Or was it, as the Turk's many critics claimed, a hoax, a simple trick dressed up as a scientific wonder? Standage, who is also the author of the delightful Victorian Internet (1998), chronicles the life and times of the Turk, charting its ups and downs, showing the machine's impact on the world (the Turk was, in a way, the inspiration both for the computer and the modern detective story). Saving the best--the truth about the Turk--for last, he keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering about the secret to this magical device. History as seen from an unusual angle; thrilling stuff. David PittCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Book details

  • PDF | 288 pages
  • Tom Standage(Author)
  • Berkley Trade; First Edition edition (August 5, 2003)
  • English
  • 7
  • Engineering & Transportation

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Review Text

  • By Keith Halonen on July 20, 2013

    I'm going to do something daring - review this book before I've even read it! I'm an amateur chess historian and I already know quite a bit about The Turk. Obviously, author Tom Standage is a professional chess historian, given that he's filled a couple hundred pages with this fascinating account of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelin's 1769 automaton. SPOILER ALERT! There were no genuine chess-playing computers in 1769. Even Edgar Allen Poe figured that out and wrote a newspaper expose on The Turk. What makes the tale so fascinating is the willingness of society at every level to accept the mysterious machine at face value. You've seen the carnival sideshow fortune-teller automaton, a "robot" gypsy adivina with a crystal ball that dispenses your fortune on a slip of paper for the price of a coin. Now imagine a life-size chess-playing turban-wearing robot that kicks your butt without batting a fake eyelash. If you want to see a beautiful (though highly fictionalized) rendition of this story, find a DVD of Raymond Bernard's 1927 (2 hrs. 20 min.) silent masterpiece, "The Chessplayer." Automatons (animated mechanical robots) were all the rage amongst the wealthy nobles of the 18th and 19th centuries. But meeting one that crushes you over the board? That must have been a real delight! Now I am off to read the book! It can't be anything but enthralling.UPDATE 28 SEPTEMBER 2013 -- Finished the book and am now ready to provide a post-mortem (as chess players call the analyzing of a recently finished game). Loved it, five stars, provided more than I already knew about the topic (which was considerable). Standage details The Turk's life-of-its-own grip over its less-than-enthused creator and its subsequent owners and operators. Lots of biographical notes on all the main players and - as promised - references to The Turk's influence over future industry automation, artificial intelligence, and computing science. An entertaining, informative read.On page 127 there is mentioned a pamphlet compiled by one W.J. Hunneman, entitled "A Selection of Fifty Games from Those Played by the Automaton Chess-Player." I note that this pamphlet is available right here at Amazon for $15.00 (search for it by name). However, I located and downloaded a PDF copy of the Harvard Library original via Google Books by entering its title in Google's search field. It is written in the earliest Long Descriptive English Notation and I'm currently converting it to a staple-bound print pamphlet for my personal chess library. I may go so far as to include the duplicate gamescores in modern Abbreviated Algebraic Notation, which is much easier to read. Maybe even a few diagrams generated by my chess font. Most interested parties would probably just order the pamphlet from Amazon as what I'm doing is definitely "the long way round." But this pamphlet is at best a niche item and probably not of great interest to the broader chess-playing public. As an amateur chess historian, Hunneman's pamphlet is a treasure to me and I am taking pains to recreate even the old 1820 cover for esthetic purposes. Anyone desiring to know more than you ever wanted to know about the origins and history of the game should consider H.J.R. Murray's definitive "History of Chess," available here at Amazon from about $11.50 to $375.00 depending upon whether you want to still be able to afford food while you read through its 900+ pages.

  • By Prof. Centennius on April 13, 2013

    Tom Standage's book about an 18th Century chess playing automaton is fascinating for its history of the 18th Century's fascination with clockwork automatons and chess playing in general. I particularly liked the way Standage linked "The Turk", a pseudo-automaton that supposedly played chess without human assistance, with Charles Babbage, who saw The Turk as a young man, and his Differential Machine, all the way to IBM's Deep Blue, the first computer to win a match against a world chess champion.I recommend this book to chess lovers, history lovers, and mystery lovers since the secret of the Turk was never solved in it's "lifetime." (It burned in a fire in the 19th Century.)

  • By Rick Knowlton on April 5, 2017

    An amazing book. Takes the true history of the famous chess-playing 'automaton' and weaves it into a fascinating page-turning adventure, through episode after episode of the machine's many phases of existence.It would be unexpected to make a moment of chess history into such a riveting narrative -- that's exactly what Tom Standage does in this book.

  • By Carolyn Brown Heinz on February 25, 2012

    I wouldn't think it possible to make a historical study of a piece of technology from the eighteenth century into a thriller, but this lovely book about 'the Turk' had me turning pages and disciplining myself not to peek at the ending. How did the chess-playing machine that looked like an Ottoman official sitting at his study with his pipe and chessboard actually work? Was it entirely and autonomously and brilliantly mechanical? Had its inventor figured out a contrivance two centuries ahead of computers that could do what, so far, even computers can't do reliably: i.e., beat the best chess players in the land? Or was it a trick of some kind, with a child or a legless person or a dwarf who sat inside? I found myself rooting for the Turk, wanting him to be what he was claimed to be, like people who think that SOME magicians might actually be able to pull off real magic even if the majority work through tricks and suggestion. Of course the story was about far more than the machine itself; it was about the ability of a sequence of owners to keep its secret, a series of operators to keep mum without NDAs, the powerful people who wanted to play against it, the smart people who published studious guesses about how it worked. This was a real historical thriller, without a single murder!

  • By Douglas M. Keenan on June 18, 2002

    Thorough, well-written exposition on history's famous and fascinating mechanical puzzle. If you're at all interested in chess, automata, computer intelligence (or even stage magic), this book's for you.

  • By Mary G. Corson on January 27, 2014

    I gave this book to my husband for Christmas. He has enjoyed a number of Tom Standage books, and he thought this one was especially interesting. I know when he was reading it, it was a real page-turned!


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