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Reviews of Steinitz in London

The most recent notice of Steinitz in London has just appeared in volume 23 of Quarterly for Chess History, published by Moravian Chess, and written by its editor, Czech academic Vlastimil Fiala.

A very detailed survey of the book's contents, Dr Fiala's notice runs to ten pages so we can only give a summary and some short quotations here.

The overall thrust of the review is highly favourable, although Dr Fiala finds the title somewhat misleading as the book does cover some of Steinitz's adventures outside the British capital.

In passing, Fiala remarks that the author "has left ample room for a successor to prepare a comprehensive biography titled Steinitz in New York, 1882-1900." That indeed was our intention, and Fiala adds: "We will see who takes up this mantle, as Harding has set a very high bar for his successor with his work here."

Certainly we hope some historian (probably American) will take up the challenge and produce the necessary complementary work in our lifetime. In the meantime, we have offered on this website several corrections to game scores from Steinitz's later career.

So far as the first chapter is concerned, which deals with Steinitz's life and career prior to his coming to London in May 1862, we have to agree with Dr Fiala that there are probably still some sources remaining to be unearthed (probably in the German language) relating to Steinitz's early career "that warrant intensive research efforts". We felt our book would have been incomplete without this prologue, in which we drew to a great extent on discoveries by Thomas Niessen and Peter Anderberg among others (though also doing some research of our own), but certainly we would like to see somebody produce a definitive account of Steinitz's early years taking further sources into account.

We are pleased that the reviewer recognises the importance of the lengthy sections on the London chess scene of the 1860s (especially at the beginning of chapter 3). These involved some of our most original research on the ground in three visits to London, and they provide essential context where, as Fiala puts it, we "describe in great detail the atmosphere of London chess life and its most important chess clubs" where Steinitz plied his trade.

After reviewing the contents of all the chapters, Fiala (pages 562 et. seq. in the journal) moves on to his overall assessment of the work, which is very detailed and balanced. Among some of the points he makes are the following:

"One thing this reviewer must unequivocally appreciate is the conscientious and detailed work with both chess and non-chess sources... since almost every game has been verified from its primnary sources, numerous corrections are provided to the moves of Steinitz's games which have been wrong for decades in the standard books and databases...

"Although the shelves of chess history lovers may already contain a number of biographies dedicated to Steinitz, it is without doubt that the reviewed publication must take its place alongside them... I believe that this is the best book that Harding has written so far. The content... will be difficult to surpass in the future.."

Our book was previously reviewed in American Chess Magazine, Issue 21, 2021 on page 96. The writer, we believe, was FM Carsten Hansen.

After the customary compliments to McFarland on the quality of their historical works in general, Hansen explains that this book delves much deeper than the publisher's previous books about Steinitz into the period when Steinitz lived in England, 1862 to 1883. He says that the book includes many games not previously published in modern times, and it provides much context about the personalities and locales of the time.

The amount of research that has gone into this work is absolutely mind-blowing...A fantastic read...If you are interested in this period of chess history, this book should be on your must-read list. I for one will be diving into this book again and again.

Somehow we omitted to mention here previously a favourable review by Matthew Sadler which appeared in issue 2021/1 of New In Chess magazine, and we were only recently reminded of it.

The English grandmaster awarded the book four stars and we have uploaded a PDF of his full review. Sadler made some interesting comments on the development (or lack of it) of Steinitz's play and concluded by saying:

However, this book is not all about the chess! We follow Steinitz as he marries, becomes a father, becomes a journalist and an author, quarrels bitterly with the English chess establishment, all beautifully documented and explained. Definitely a nice book for the dark evening hours with a glass of wine next to you.

We have to wonder if the wine sent Sadler to sleep at some point since we agree with a previous biographer that there is no documentary proof that Steinitz ever entered the state of matrimony. But never mind; it was difficult for a Jew to marry a Gentile in those days.

Back in May 2021, a review written by Harry Schaak appeared in the German chess history magazine Karl. He kindly said early on that:

Tim Harding is arguably the most profound expert on British chess of the 19th century.

After a review of Steinitz's career and the coverage of it in our book, the reviewer concludes by saying:

Textbooks published by McFarland are modern tomes [Folianten], the content of which is produced with a great deal of research, which is why the high selling price is justified. The appendix, an extensive list of literature, the chronology, additional documents and meticulous indices, plus rare picture material Tim Harding's "Steinitz in London" is a publication that will serve as a reference work for future researchers.

Recently we were made aware of a review by O. K. McKim published in the February 2021 issue of the American magazine Choice. He described our "fine book" as "exhaustively researched and meticulously documented", adding that is "especially valuable as a chronological account of the development of Steinitz's chess career and the significant life events he experienced in the midst of the active London chess scene."

The website British Chess News, quite soon after publication, posted an extensive review by chess author and teacher Richard James. He wrote:

...not just a dry as dust history book. It’s a gripping read as well. Harding tells his story with panache, leaving the reader eager to turn the page and find out what happened next, helped, in part, by his subject’s disputatious nature.

James concluded by saying:

A large book with high production values and a niche market is never going to come cheap, but, even if you’ve never read anything of this nature before, you might want to give it a try. With chess clubs closed and pubs offering restricted services, what better way could there be to spend your winter evenings? Very highly recommended: 2020 has been an excellent year for chess books and this is certainly one of the best.

Historian Tomasz Lissowski has reviewed Steinitz in London for the Polish national magazine Mat.

There follows a rough translation from Polish, made using Google Translate; we invite native speakers to help us improve it but we think the sense is usually clear.

Publishing house McFarland, from the state of North Carolina in the USA, tried in these difficult, Covid times, to improve the mood of those chess players who, apart from the practical game, are also interested in the history of their pastime, by publishing a book by Tim Harding "Steinitz in London" (subtitled "Chess biography with 623 games"). Let us note at the very beginning that - like at least several other studies of this type that have been published in the last 30 years by the McFarland publishing house - this is an outstanding work.
(The next paragraph, omitted here, translates a passage from the Preface about the scope of the work...)

We also see information that the author found 12 games from the time of his stay in Vienna and over 50 from the London period in forgotten chess columns, which until now were unavailable in well-known collections. The games in the book are commented quite carefully, while Harding cites numerous discrepancies (between various sources) in the records of individual games, trying to establish their actual course. As he states, it took him several years to work only on finding and checking the records!
Recalling previously existing books, devoted to the first world champion (Hannak, Bachmann, Landsberger, Neishtadt), Harding points out errors and mistakes of his predecessors, but he does it delicately, because he knows perfectly well that these errors were not evidence of poor author's skills, but resulted from enormous difficulties with finding materials scattered over thousands of books, magazines and newspapers, which had not been digitized for 20 years yet and which could not be reached with the use of the Internet and e-mail, because these basic work tools of every scientist simply did not exist.

The reader learns about the next stages in the life and chess career of Steinitz. In the chapter "The Greco of the present time" we find a rich description of the London chess life in 1862-63:  associations of game lovers, clubs - chess locales, profiles of their owners, customs accompanying the game "at stake", which was the only (and uncertain) source of income not only for Steinitz.

The events preceding the match between Steinitz and Anderssen and the course itself are described in detail, after which the hero of the book - at least from today's point of view - was the unofficial world champion.
In 1872, Jan Herman Zukertort arrived in London from Berlin and settled permanently in the English metropolis. Defeated in a match by Steinitz, over time he perfected his game and after establishing "The Chess Monthly" with Leopold Hoffer he became the main rival of Wilhelm.
The book is not without personal threads - Harding cites data and documents about the birth of Steinitz's illegitimate daughter, Flora and her subsequent baptism. Wilhelm's journalistic activity inevitably led to discussions and press disputes - numerous descriptions of this, supported by quotes from the English press, we have, of course, the opportunity to get to know.

The years 1877-1881 saw a break in Steinitz's tournament and match appearances, which resulted from serious health problems. Then follows a triumphant return - first and second place shared together with Simon Winawer in the [1882] tournament at Vienna. Following this success, Steinitz unexpectedly resigns from his main press organ, the column at "The Field" (one of the best in the world, if not the best - rated it by its rival "The Chess Player's Chronicle"), which is the beginning of his move to the USA. The following chapters describe the results of the London 1883, Hastings 1895 and London 1899 super tournaments; the latter marked the decline of Steinitz's career.

Several dozen pages of the book are devoted to source materials, indexes and footnotes - something at times neglected by Polish authors.
From the editorial point of view, the work of Tim Harding is at the highest level - which is typical of the chess production of McFarland Publishing House. The type of paper, binding method, selection of fonts, their size and types, margins and the arrangement of columns - all this can satisfy even a very critical bibliophile. In addition, there is a great collection of photographs and drawings presented (in excellent quality, without saving space on the website); apart from those we have seen in older books, there are many unknowns (young Samuel Loyd, Neumann, Minchin, Meitner etc.)
This book is a milestone in the history of chess literature.

Translated from MAT issue Nr. 4-5 (90-91) 2020, official magazine of the Polish Chess Federation, page 62

Here is a PDF scan of the original page.

Back to main page about the book.