The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

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John Moore
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by John Moore » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:03 pm

JustinHorton wrote:
Fri Dec 27, 2019 2:59 pm
Here's Taylor Kingston's review of Seven Deadly Sins - you'll need* to open a pdf when you get there - which makes a lot of observations about Rowson's style, notably its pretension, lack of coherence and habit of needlessly crowbarring in quotations - that ring very loud bells with me.

[* well I did on my phone, on a laptop it seems to be more straightforward]
I think that it might have been Taylor Kingston at ChessCafe who was particularly scathing about one of Paul Motwani's books.

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JustinHorton
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by JustinHorton » Fri Dec 27, 2019 7:12 pm

"Do you play chess?"
"Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating."

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Kevin Thurlow
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Fri Dec 27, 2019 10:56 pm

"Yes"

Kingston's review is probably more irritating than what he is complaining about. (Was Motwani writing for a young audience?) I would also mention that "vice" is not an alternative spelling of "vise" - the former is the correct English spelling and "vise" is the alternative, at least according to ISO (International Organization for Standardization), where English English takes precedence over US English.

I have now finished Rowson's book and generally enjoyed it, without necessarily agreeing with all of it. Occasionally, it grated - there was a bit about (something like), "this is the place, the locus, the where", leading me to wonder if he had just bought a dictionary of synonyms. But, that is his style.

I recall someone at work getting me to write an article on quality procedures in laboratory analysis, then saying, "it's good, but I don't like the style". I answered, "Get someone else to write it then." I suppose that is a pointless anecdote.

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JustinHorton
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by JustinHorton » Sat Dec 28, 2019 8:29 am

Kevin Thurlow wrote:
Fri Dec 27, 2019 10:56 pm
"I would also mention that "vice" is not an alternative spelling of "vise" - the former is the correct English spelling and "vise" is the alternative, at least according to ISO (International Organization for Standardization), where English English takes precedence over US English.
Yes, that's a curious error which I seem to remember annoying me at the time: he didn't realise that Motwani, being British, was using a spelling that was correct, but different. After I posted yesterday s phrase came to mind, "liberate yourself from my vice-like grip", which you can find in a lot of places on the internet, spelled as above. It's from The Catcher In The Rye: I looked it up on Amazon (via "liberated" on Look Inside) and there the word was spelled vise.

(I'd support most of the other criticisms though.)
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Jon Tait
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by Jon Tait » Sat Dec 28, 2019 10:42 am

Nick Burrows wrote:
Fri Dec 27, 2019 5:39 pm
JustinHorton wrote:
Fri Dec 27, 2019 4:30 pm
Take that element out, though, and what's left?
For someone whose main interest is chess, not a lot. Perhaps for people whose main interests are thought and philosophy, quite a lot.
As to that, personally I've never been interested in philosophy because it's always seemed to me to be about saying very little in as many words as possible. However, a friend with a first in PPE at Oxford once told me that the study of philosophy there actually involved extreme rigour in thought and language. Whether Rowson's book fits the former or latter description, someone else will have to judge.
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by Geoff Chandler » Sat Dec 28, 2019 1:06 pm

Fair enough, if a reviewer does like a work then let him say so. Reviewing the review is also fair game.

I could not come to grips with 'Seven Sins' but thought 'Zebras' was spot on.

My review of 'Zebras' written when Jonathan had won the British twice.

http://textualities.net/geoff-chandler/chess-for-zebras

My joke theory was Jonathan had an idea for a good book 'Zebras' but to make it look even better
he pushed out 'Seven Sins first'. So if Justin's review is sound I cannot wait for one after 'Moves that Matter.'

I finished my 'Zebras' review with:

"I’m glad I don’t earn my living writing chess books. Who is going to follow this?"

I was sent a free copy of 'Soviet Outcast' (wife's spies everywhere) to review.

I'm really enjoying and savouring it. Good games and a wealth of, unknown to me, background details.

(Rubinstein doing a Fischer by swapping hotel rooms, leaving the hotel, coming back again...St.Petersburg 1914)

Consider this last bit a very favourable review of 'Soviet Outcast.'

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Matt Mackenzie
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by Matt Mackenzie » Sat Dec 28, 2019 2:04 pm

I know the phrase "tragic figure" gets thrown about a bit much in chess (as elsewhere) but its hard to argue Levenfish doesn't fit the bill really.
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ben.graff
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by ben.graff » Sun Dec 29, 2019 11:18 am

I hope everybody had a fantastic Christmas. Best wishes to all on the Forum for 2020.

I reviewed The Moves that Matter, for the January edition of Chess and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm happy to share the PDF with anyone who wants to upload it here - I tried and failed...

For me, Jonathan’s personal story is fascinating and deeply moving. This is someone who has both achieved a lot and learnt a lot – and now wants to share some of that with others. The chess insights and anecdotes are interesting and would be worth the price of the book alone. However, Jonathan has done a lot more than to simply tell his story and write about chess.

The Moves that Matter is a book of ideas, some big some small, that all go to the heart of how we live and the choices we make. Life is not always easy, and the chances are, whether we know it or not, we are most likely all grappling with the same questions one way or another. From winning and losing to life and death, The Moves that Matter is packed with thoughtful insights.

Ultimately, there may not be any absolute answers to questions of this magnitude, but Jonathan provides a helpful framework to help the reader explore these ideas further. More fundamentally, and pertinent to the Forum debate, for this reader, all the points Jonathan makes are fully grounded and contextualised.

To give one example, surprise has been expressed that people were likened to glass tables. As a standalone proposition, this would indeed be somewhat odd, but that is to wilfully miss the context of the passage. Having told the story of a neighbour’s glass table exploding and explaining that glass is unusual in being neither liquid or solid and hence not entirely stable, Jonathan than says:

“We are more like glass tables than we typically imagine. Mostly we are solid, but we can and do crack up. Sometimes we are broken by accident or force, and sometimes we explode for no apparent reason.”

The next three pages then explore this idea further in the context of making blunders at the chess board. For me, an excellent passage, but my point is more that as with everything else Jonathan writes, it is properly explained. It is reasonable enough for a reader or reviewer to disagree with the ideas Jonathan expresses, but I do not think it is fair to give a misleading impression as to what has been written.

I’m not the only one to like the book. Many others have responded positively. Annand has written:

“If you are a chess player who wonders what exactly makes the game so enchanting, this is the book for you. And if you are one of the millions of people who don’t play chess but nonetheless feel drawn to the game, I can’t think of a better introduction to it.”

David Bodanis, who wrote the New York Times Bestselling title “Einstein’s Greatest Mistake,” said:

“Terrific… What a beautiful, thoughtful work. I see thinking in a fresh light. I see my own life in a fresh light as well.”

Just for the record, I don’t know Jonathan. I have no connection with his publisher. Chess magazine (as always) only asked me in my review to do what I always do, which is to write what I think.

With any book, the best way to form an opinion is to read it. The reason for writing a post of this length is that I didn’t want people to miss out on what is an exceptionally good book.

I would unreservedly recommend Jonathan’s work to all who have had their interest piqued by the debate on the Forum.

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JustinHorton
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by JustinHorton » Sun Dec 29, 2019 12:21 pm

ben.graff wrote:
Sun Dec 29, 2019 11:18 am
To give one example, surprise has been expressed that people were likened to glass tables. As a standalone proposition, this would indeed be somewhat odd, but that is to wilfully miss the context of the passage. Having told the story of a neighbour’s glass table exploding and explaining that glass is unusual in being neither liquid or solid and hence not entirely stable, Jonathan than says:

“We are more like glass tables than we typically imagine. Mostly we are solid, but we can and do crack up. Sometimes we are broken by accident or force, and sometimes we explode for no apparent reason.”

The next three pages then explore this idea further in the context of making blunders at the chess board. For me, an excellent passage, but my point is more that as with everything else Jonathan writes, it is properly explained.
No, it isn't. From the glass tables we do indeed move on to 'making blunders at the chess board', but this is then linked to Freud, specifically "the phenomenon of blundering has something if Freud's death wish in it". The tables, and our supposed resemblance to glass, are never heard of again, and this is very typical of Rowson's approach. Instead we're treated to a very brief discussion of Yin and Yang, and indeed Eros and Thanatos, including the remarkable throwaway line "today Thanatos has new resonance in the latent ubiquity of suicide bombing".

Hang on, says the attentive reader, what's that all about? That's a very dramatic and ambitious thing to say, could you talk us through it a little more? Would you provide some examples, a bit of discussion?

But Rowson doesn't, because of course he doesn't. There's no "properly explained", because there's no "explained" at all.

So basically what is happening at almost every point of the book is that Rowson will take something relatively straightforward, e.g. the idea that often when we blunder we may be bringing it on ourselves, perhaps even willingly, but then, rather than working through that idea, instead obscuring it by crowbarring in concepts that are themselves difficult, complex and controversial, and for this reason need proper working through. The more ambitious the claim, the more it needs to be justified, yes? Not here it isn't.

You'd never know from Rowson that Freud's reputation is not what it was, or that Eros and Thanatos are highly tendentious as concepts for understanding human behaviour: they're just lobbed in, briefly and uncritically, like a slide in a presentation, and then we're off somewhere else.

This isn't exposition, it's pretension. It's "showing how much I've heard of", which impression is heightened by the dump-truck approach to quotation, by which I mean both its quantity and the entirely undiscerning way in which quotations are deployed. The result is a great big mulch of undifferentiated reference and dubious assertion, as with "the closest historical parallel to the draw offer may be the poignant story of the Christmas truce between British...and Getman soldiers". I mean really, how did it not occur to the author that this is manifestly a pretentious load of old bull? How did it not occur to his editor? How did it not occur to other reviewers?
"Do you play chess?"
"Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating."

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JustinHorton
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by JustinHorton » Sun Dec 29, 2019 1:04 pm

Incidentally, as far as this is concetned...
ben.graff wrote:
Sun Dec 29, 2019 11:18 am

David Bodanis, who wrote the New York Times Bestselling title “Einstein’s Greatest Mistake,” said:

“Terrific… What a beautiful, thoughtful work. I see thinking in a fresh light. I see my own life in a fresh light as well.”
..this is a quote from the book jacket. It's not a review, it's blurb. It's promotional material.
"Do you play chess?"
"Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating."

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Kevin Thurlow
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Sun Dec 29, 2019 4:23 pm

It's nice sometimes to see the whole quote from the blurb. I recall a scientific book, where the blurb said that the coverage of one aspect was great, but for some reason omitted the following sentence, "Unfortunately, the rest of it is riddled with errors."

Roland Kensdale
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by Roland Kensdale » Wed Jan 01, 2020 6:31 pm

There is an interview with Rowson discussing his book at the Perpetual chess podcast site:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L20i3PiZVc

Having only read a few chapters of his The Moves that Matter so far, I will limit my comments to:

His earlier works provoked sharp disagreements before (I think) a general consensus being that the positives far outweighed the negatives.

I started reading his work as something to provide some light reading before going to sleep. A mistake, as I found it heavy going at times, and he deserves the respect of being read seriously.

The anecdotes and insights into Jonathan's journey with chess were fascinating.

Buy a copy and make up your own mind.

MJMcCready
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by MJMcCready » Fri Feb 14, 2020 1:38 am

Jonathan, clearly you write well and have written much which is commendable but you bypass the normative aspects of the book and focus on minutia. Jonathan said himself it was rewritten 10 times, there will be over sights. One of the projects I am engaged in is at the 31000 mark and I find sections I have forgotten all about.

It's a broad text which discusses what it is to be human and what chess brings us. Jonathan, apologies for sounding harsh but it really does sound like you didn't want to read it. I have doubts over how it was read as well. Once again, from what I've seen you write before I know you could have put much more care into this. A review is the opinion of one, where were the merits of the book mentioned and what could be gained from it. There's nothing discursive in what you said, and in all probability you hurt the authors feelings. He poured his heart and soul into that. I've read much, much, much worse than that and not much better also...

MJMcCready
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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by MJMcCready » Fri Feb 14, 2020 1:51 am

JustinHorton wrote:
Sun Dec 29, 2019 12:21 pm
ben.graff wrote:
Sun Dec 29, 2019 11:18 am
To give one example, surprise has been expressed that people were likened to glass tables. As a standalone proposition, this would indeed be somewhat odd, but that is to wilfully miss the context of the passage. Having told the story of a neighbour’s glass table exploding and explaining that glass is unusual in being neither liquid or solid and hence not entirely stable, Jonathan than says:

“We are more like glass tables than we typically imagine. Mostly we are solid, but we can and do crack up. Sometimes we are broken by accident or force, and sometimes we explode for no apparent reason.”

The next three pages then explore this idea further in the context of making blunders at the chess board. For me, an excellent passage, but my point is more that as with everything else Jonathan writes, it is properly explained.
No, it isn't. From the glass tables we do indeed move on to 'making blunders at the chess board', but this is then linked to Freud, specifically "the phenomenon of blundering has something if Freud's death wish in it". The tables, and our supposed resemblance to glass, are never heard of again, and this is very typical of Rowson's approach. Instead we're treated to a very brief discussion of Yin and Yang, and indeed Eros and Thanatos, including the remarkable throwaway line "today Thanatos has new resonance in the latent ubiquity of suicide bombing".

Hang on, says the attentive reader, what's that all about? That's a very dramatic and ambitious thing to say, could you talk us through it a little more? Would you provide some examples, a bit of discussion?

But Rowson doesn't, because of course he doesn't. There's no "properly explained", because there's no "explained" at all.

So basically what is happening at almost every point of the book is that Rowson will take something relatively straightforward, e.g. the idea that often when we blunder we may be bringing it on ourselves, perhaps even willingly, but then, rather than working through that idea, instead obscuring it by crowbarring in concepts that are themselves difficult, complex and controversial, and for this reason need proper working through. The more ambitious the claim, the more it needs to be justified, yes? Not here it isn't.

You'd never know from Rowson that Freud's reputation is not what it was, or that Eros and Thanatos are highly tendentious as concepts for understanding human behaviour: they're just lobbed in, briefly and uncritically, like a slide in a presentation, and then we're off somewhere else.

This isn't exposition, it's pretension. It's "showing how much I've heard of", which impression is heightened by the dump-truck approach to quotation, by which I mean both its quantity and the entirely undiscerning way in which quotations are deployed. The result is a great big mulch of undifferentiated reference and dubious assertion, as with "the closest historical parallel to the draw offer may be the poignant story of the Christmas truce between British...and Getman soldiers". I mean really, how did it not occur to the author that this is manifestly a pretentious load of old bull? How did it not occur to his editor? How did it not occur to other reviewers?
You do have a point here. He rewrote it so many times the narrative isn't seamless and is at times a bit hard to follow. I'd call that over-exertion but there are probably better times. It does wander but generally keeps itself on track. For the amount of care he has put into his latest publication, hopefully whoever reviews that can draw attention to it and in doing so inform us how it came to be what it is.

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Re: The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson

Post by David Sedgwick » Fri Feb 14, 2020 11:56 am

MJMcCready wrote:
Fri Feb 14, 2020 1:38 am
Jonathan, apologies for sounding harsh but it really does sound like you didn't want to read it.
Did you mean Justin?

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