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The Turk

First off, this book has a web site that’s not the usual promotional dreck, if you’re really super fascinated in this stuff. The story follows the creation of a chess playing “automaton” that was first created in the late 1700’s and had a career spanning over 75 years, through several owners and across several continents. The degree to which people were willing to believe that a machine could be made that could not only move and somewhat look like a human but also think like a human reveals ths hopefulness and wonder of the age. The secrets of this chess playing machine were not revealed with certainty until after the death of the man who had been touring with it for decades. Even notable writers of the time like Edgar Allan Poe got into the act of trying to determine its mysteries

Like a mystery novel itself, the unknown mechanism that runs the Turk is the real story to this book so the reader, like the people who were witnessing performances of the Turk over the decades, is not brought in on the solution until the final pages. There are a few afterthought chapters on actual chess-playing computers including the famous Kasparov and Big Blue matches that, for the second time, convinced people it might be possible to devise a machine that could beat a human opponent in chess. This book, like many others I’ve read recently, does seem a bit like an expanded magazine article, but the research is solid, and the book itself is just plan lovely, well laid out with some interesting illustrations and