Book Review: Mental gymnastics in a nutshell

If chess is a gymnasium of the mind, well then, Jonathan Rowson takes to mental gymnastics to get us to figure out what exactly he is trying to say. Is winning everything ? Or does losing not matter at all ? Rowson is a chess grandmaster — but never won the world championship and does not care a damn.

In the first chapter itself, he has a flashback to the time he was eight years old. His opponent was two years older. He tells us the prospect of beating his opponent was “doubly motivating.” But Rowson does not tell us what happened in the end.

Did he win ? Did he lose ? He meanders off into a soliloquy about the Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky who reminisces about being a five-year-old: “I was wearing yellow boots, yellow, not yellow, green. And for all I know, I am still there.” Just what exactly is Rowson trying to tell us? And why drag in the yellow boots of a child.

What is the point of it all? The author boasts about writing his Ph.D thesis in Harvard University. Apparently, he has got degrees from Oxford, Bristol and Harvard Universities. He describes himself as a writer, philosopher and Chess Grandmaster who was the British Chess Champion from 2004-06.

Rowson's advice to us ranges from the trenchant to amusing... Along the way, Rowson deals with politics, religion, mistakes, artificial intelligence, and the traits that champions possess, among other weighty matters.

He also writes about “accepting your status and about decline and death.” And God. Apparently, Rowson has never heard of the KISS (Keep it Short and Simple) or the Fletsch formula for writers.

His readability index on the Fletsch indicator would hover around four. Not upto Grandmaster status as far as writing simply is concerned. But it may not really matter.

So, for a dull, rainy day, if you have no better books to read, you may as well try this mish-mash of chess, philosophy, religion and what-have-you. Good luck!