“Chess,” world champion player Bobby Fischer once said, “is life.” Trying to prove that maxim true, anthropologist Robert Desjarlais draws from his backgrounds in ethnographic research and amateur tournament chess to nimbly explore the game’s social, philosophical, aesthetic, psychological, and technological quirks. On top of his engaging scholarship, Desjarlais narrates many historic matches and recasts them as white-knuckled battles for honor—games in which every dashed pawn or triumphant queen reveals a moral, computational, or existential truth.
Have something to say? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader.