Isaak and Vladimir Linder, Alexander Alekhine: Fourth World Chess Champion. Russell Enterprises, 2016. 295 pp., $24.95.
Alexander Alekhine was one of the all-time greats: world champion for 15 years (from 1927 until his death in 1946, excepting Max Euwe's reign from 1935 to 1937), arguably the most diligent analyst of the pre-WWII era, and one of the great opening innovators of the era as well. He may have been the greatest blindfold player of all time, and his incredible tactical imagination has probably made him a greater fan favorite than any other player in history, pre-Mikhail Tal. Alekhine was the chess hero of the young Garry Kasparov, and one can see the resemblance between the two of them.
Despite his greatness and importance to the game, there aren't a lot of good books on Alekhine in English. Alekhine's own best games volume (or volumes: 1908-1923 and 1924-1937, but they are often published in a combined volume) is indispensable for chess fans, and there's also the monster book on Alekhine by Verhoeven and Skinner. Neither is really a biography, but one can find biographical information in the relevant volume of Kasparov's My Great Predecessors series.
The book under review fills in a gap, but it may be more accurate to describe the book as a short encyclopedia on Alexander Alekhine. This is the third in a series of biographies of early world chess champions by the father and son duo of Isaak and Vladimir Linder (I reviewed their work on Emanuel Lasker here, and on Jose Raul Capablanca here), and it is similar to the earlier works.
The book's format might prove irritating to readers who come to it expecting anything like a traditional biography, but if instead one thinks of it as an encyclopedia one is much less likely to be disappointed. The first chapter, "Life and Destiny", looks like it will be a straight biography, but then the Linders discuss his life in this country, then that one, then a third - and the dates are all over the place. If one moves the puzzle pieces around one could construct a linear account, but it isn't provided from the material as-is.
Chapter 2, "Matches, Tournaments, Rivals" is largely chronological, but not entirely, and there is no narrative structure; each entry is an independent, self-contained unit. Short biographies are offered of various players, sometimes including games they played against opponents other than Alekhine. Event summaries are also provided, often with crosstables and sometimes with historic photos.
The entries in this section are often fascinating, and it will be the very rare reader who doesn't learn something new. I had never heard of a player named Alexander Moiseyevich Evenson (1892-1919), but it turns out that he was a very talented player who died young, possibly killed by his fellow soliders in the post-war army. How talented was Evenson? You might suspect that if you've never heard of him he probably wasn't such a big deal, so how's this: after St. Petersburg 1914 (won by Lasker, ahead of Capablanca, Alekhine, etc.) there was a blitz tournament. Capablanca won, and Evenson was second, ahead of Lasker, Alekhine, and others.
Chapter 2 is by far the longest chapter in the book; chapter 3 is a bit of an odds-and-ends chapter on Alekhine's chess, entitled "Chess Creations - Games and Discoveries". Chapter 4, "Writer and Journalist", explores his considerable contributions to the literature of the game, and Chapter 5, "Impervious to Time", considers his legacy.
I think this is a worthwhile book for fans of chess history, and even if you're a Russian in possession of the original you might still find it worth picking up, as the game annotations for this edition have been done by German grandmaster Karsten Mueller. (136 games and game fragments in total, and almost all of them complete games.) Recommended.