Synopses & Reviews
Everyone knows that the queen is the most powerful piece in chess, but few people know that the game existed for five hundred years without her. In India, Persia, and the Arab lands, where the game was first played, a general, or vizier (chief counselor to the king), occupied the square where the queen now stands. Not until the year 1000, two hundred years after Arab conquerors brought chess to southern Europe, did a chess queen appear on the board. Initially she was the weakest piece, moving only one square at a time on the diagonal, yet by 1497, during the reign of Isabella of Castile, the chess queen had become the formidable force she is today.
How and why did this transformation take place? Birth of the Chess Queen examines the five-hundred-year period between the chess queen's timid emergence and her elevation into the game's mightiest piece. Marilyn Yalom, inspired by a handful of surviving medieval chess queens, traces their origin and spread from Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and England to Scandinavia and Russia. In a lively and engaging narrative, Yalom draws parallels between the birth of the chess queen and the ascent of female sovereigns in Europe, presenting a layered, fascinating history of medieval courts, with their intrigues and internal struggles for power. Further, she shows the connection between the chess queen, the cult of the Virgin Mary, and the cult of Romantic Love, all of which influenced European society for centuries to come.
Illustrated with beautiful art throughout, this book takes a fresh look at the politics and culture of medieval Europe, the institution of queenship, and the reflections of royal power in the figure of the chess queen.
"Combining exhaustive research with a deep knowledge of women's history, Yalom presents an entertaining and enlightening survey that offers a new perspective on an ancient game." Publishers Weekly
"Both chess fans and those unfamiliar with the game will enjoy this absorbing look at the evolution of chess and the rise in power and stature of the chess queen in the last 500 years." Booklist
"Chess, as any Nabokovian knows, is a superb metaphor for life. As Marilyn Yalom illustrates in her fascinating new book...the metaphor works the other way as well." Allan Barra, The Village Voice
Life imitates recreation in this account of how the chess queen's emergence and elevation to the game's mightiest piece mirrors the ascent of female rulers to positions of power.
About the Author
Marilyn Yalom is a former professor of French and presently a senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She is the author of widely acclaimed books such as A History of the Breast, A History of the Wife, and Birth of the Chess Queen, as well as The American Resting Place: Four Hundred Years of History Through our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds, which includes a portfolio of photographs by her son Reid S. Yalom. She lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband, the psychiatrist and author Irvin D. Yalom.