Thursday, November 11, 2010

the book never written

My first foray into the works of Chris Hedges came a bit of time ago, when I found his book Losing Moses on the Freeway at a nearby library. I was especially interested when one part of the book dealt with chess and some chess players. It was in reading this part, though, that I came on a rather interesting passage, this one here

The chess craze, ushered in by Bobby Fischer in the 1970s, hit the United States. Rossolimo, who made it into Fischer's book on the 100 greatest games he ever played, never capitalized on it, but Frohlinde did. He made money, big money, selling chess sets of of his shop.
Chris Hedges, Losing Moses on the Freeway, p 149

What gave me pause was his mention of a book by Fischer "on the 100 greatest games he ever played".

When I was pretty intensely into local tournament chess, I became rather familiar with the literature of the game. It was, of course, an ever expanding body of literature, and I haven't kept up with the latest things, but as I was playing in tournaments in the 1990's, it would have been well past the time when Fischer would have written anything, at least up until his return.

Fischer himself did not have a great deal of that literature to his name--much has been written about him and his games by other people, but I've found only three books that Fischer himself as the author.

One is rather poorly-made instructional book called Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. I had a copy of it at one time, and it was a bit disappointing.

Fischer's most famous work, and one rightly considered a classic, is My 60 Memorable Games, published in 1969. In the preface to this book, Fischer himself makes mention of an earlier book, Bobby Fischer's Games of Chess, published in 1959. This book, Fischer says, has 34 of his games in it.

Now, My 60 Memorable Games does have a game that Fischer played against Rossolimo. It is game #52 in that book, and the game was played in the 1965-66 US Championship, well after Fischer's first book was published.

All of this rambling to say that, I have no knowledge of Fischer publishing a collection of his 100 greatest games, like Hedges says. The closest I can find to such a thing is Fischer's My 60 Memorable Games, which has 60 games in it instead of 100, and even the use of 'memorable' instead of greatest is telling. In Fischer's own words from the preface, "All of the 60 here offered contain, for me, something memorable and exciting--even the 3 losses". It would be doubtful that Fischer would put losses into a collection of his greatest games--at the least ,it would be an unusual practice.

In other words, although Hedges seems to be trying to reference a real work of chess literature, the information he gives about it is wrong, both in a concrete sense (60 games instead of 100) and a more abstract sense (memorable games instead of greatest).

It would be too easy to make too much hay over this error. It may have been a simple error, a bit of carelessness maybe. But the fact is, the error was made, and it was one that could easily have been avoided.

For one thing, the mention of the book is made in what is essentially a throw-away comment. It adds a bit of information, but nothing crucial to the point. One could understand that Rossolimo "did not capitalize one...(t)he chess craze" without having to know that Fischer included a game against Rossolimo in his book.

For another, it would have been easy to have verified the name and nature of the book. Hedges wrote this book fairly recently, it was published in 2006, and sites like Amazon were around. A quick search of some kind would have easily sufficed for him to get the correct information about the book.

But he doesn't seem to have done enough to verify, and so he wrote about a book with 100 games in it that doesn't exist.

And being wrong about a simple, easily verifiable thing like that, leads one to think, what else is he writing that may be wrong? Maybe nothing else, maybe all else he writes is correct, and this was just a singular slip. But it does cause the eyebrows to go up.

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