The teenage prodigy, the eccentric champion, the irascible anti-Semite, the genius, the pathetic paranoid—these and other Bobby Fischers strut and fret their hour upon celebrity’s stage.
Chess Life founding publisher Brady (Communications/St. John’s Univ.; The Publisher, 2000, etc.), who knew his subject well—and wrote about him in Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy (1965)—is generous, but never to a fault, with Robert James Fischer, who died in 2008 at 64. The author begins with Fischer’s 2004 arrest and incarceration in Tokyo (an event to which he returns toward the end of the book), then segues to Fischer’s background, specifically the story of his Swiss mother, who married a man in Moscow while she was working on her medical degree. When he was six, Fischer received his first chess set from his sister. A ferocious autodidact, he taught himself the game, read every chess publication he could and rose spectacularly, if erratically, through the chess ranks. He tolerated school only for a while (Barbara Streisand was a high-school classmate) and won his first United States championship at 14. Brady, who was present in Reykjavík for the 1972 World Championship match between Fisher and Boris Spassky, writes compassionately about Fischer’s bizarre behavior and demands then (he very nearly withdrew from the competition), but the author’s allegiance to his subject weakens thereafter. Fischer became increasingly paranoid and isolated in the ensuing decades, descending into mad theories and openly embracing ludicrous notions (Holocaust denial, for example). He gave numerous bizarre radio interviews, including one on the heels of 9/11 that is a classic of crudity. After his release from the Japanese jail, no one really wanted him. He lived in Iceland, then soured on it, alienating, as was his lifelong wont, a source of refuge.
Informed, thorough, sympathetic and surpassingly sad.