Turk, Chess Automaton, The

Gerald M. Levitt

Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
258 pages

When I first got this book to review, I was a bit surprised by the subject. This quickly turned to excitement when I began looking through it, and shortly thereafter I called friends like John Watson, Jack Peters, and John Donaldson and raved about it. These players, not being as fascinated by the bizarre as I am, didn’t buy into my enthusiasm. However, after Watson finally got the book and glanced through many of its pages, he was converted and wrote a very positive review.

I first read about the Turk when I was thirteen years old. The Turk, a life size, chess-playing machine built in 1770, not only appeared to be extremely strong, but also moved its own pieces (one hand moved the pieces, the other held onto its extremely long pipe!). To say the least, my imagination was captured! How was this possible? How did a machine play chess, move pieces, and defy countless “experts” as to how and why it worked?

Small wonder that the Turk became the rage of Europe! Kings, Queens, politicians, the rich and famous, scientists, artists, writers (Edgar Allan Poe was a huge fan of the Turk), and chess fans everywhere clamored to see its wonders and fall victim to its considerable skills.

The Turk, Chess Automaton lays all these mysteries bare. It tells you what prompted its creation, the effect it had on countless multitudes, and who owned it as one generation after another turned to dust. Deeply researched, this book presents history, facts, schematics, photos, articles (from the 1700’s to more modern times), and games played by the Turk (for example, the Turk, as Black, crushed Napoleon in 24 moves). Brilliantly put together by Mr. Levitt, this beautiful book will fascinate chess players and non-chess players alike and is well worth the $60.00 price tag.