Jonathan Hawkins, Amateur to IM: Proven Ideas and Training Methods (Mongoose Press, 2012). 369 pp. $29.95.
Mongoose Press often publishes chess books that are slightly unusual, but in a good way, and this is no exception. In fact, this is one of the best chess books I've seen in some time. The author, Jonathan Hawkins, is a strong IM (2511, two GM norms) in his late 20s who has gone over the last decade from being a reasonably strong club player to the verge of the grandmaster title. That's comparatively normal for kids, but for someone of his comparatively "advanced" years it's an even greater accomplishment. How did he do it?
The book's title suggests that he's offering a how-to manual, but that's a little misleading. (Not entirely, but somewhat.) The meat of the book is a series of endgame lessons. Some endgame theory is included, but that's there primarily to supplement the material given in the chapter, or give the reader the needed background knowledge to work on, understand and help solve practical positions. The topics of the lessons are quite diverse: there are opposite-colored bishop endings, same-colored bishop endings, and some pawn endings. There's a long chapter on rook and bishop vs. rook, and another long chapter on endings with rook and four pawns vs. rook and three pawns, where the extra pawn is an a-pawn (the other six pawns are each side's f-, g- and h-pawns). There's a chapter on minority attack structures and another on an opening line Ulf Andersson plays that quickly heads into an almost completely symmetrical ending with two rooks and a knight (plus pawns) for each side.
There's more besides, but that's enough to give a flavor of the topics. But knowing the topics doesn't really give a good feel for the book. Hawkins does an amazing job of explaining not only what's going on, but also how to approach these endings, how to think about them. The reader might easily get the feeling, reading his prose and playing through the examples, that "Yes, of course, this is all very logical, very easy!" This is a testament to how hard Hawkins worked: first as a self-taught student learning what he's sharing in the book, but also as a writer. Lest one get the impression that the material really is that simple, there are plenty of exercises given in the book to test one's knowledge of what was covered - exercises that aren't merely review but require the ability to apply what was (presumably!) learned.
Going through the book properly takes a bit of work, but unlike Dvoretsky's books, for example, Amateur to IM doesn't terrify. He makes endgames that can seem dry look quite interesting, and that's because he has taken the time to understand them so well and to teach them so well that the reader can grasp what's going on. As a result, they become interesting rather than forbidding.
I think a diligent reader will get four things from going through this book. First and most obviously (and most superficially), there is some specific knowledge that will be imparted. That has its place, but one can already get that from plenty of other endgame sources. That just scratches the book's surface, though.
The second thing the reader will get is a very clear idea of how to proceed, in general terms, in endgames that are primarily static. Hawkins's chapters don't dwell much on topics like the initiative or the attack; tactics of a combinative sort are generally inapplicable, and the pawn play is generally pretty constrained. Those topics have their place, but there are an awful lot of endgames that are decided by one side's ability to keep constructing small plans to make progress. That's an extremely valuable skill, and Hawkins' book will help you develop it (further).
Third, he puts the reader to work, with interesting positions to analyze and/or play against a computer. Getting in game-like practice is one of the best things you can do when you train, and he'll keep you busy!
Finally, he's offering a kind of road map to success. By continuing to do the kinds of things done in the book, the diligent reader can continue on this sort of path to improvement even when the book and its particular lessons have come to an end. (He does offer a few other very broad tips for further study, but it seems to me that following his model is the best tip of all.)
Good information, excellent exercises and lucid explanations. What more could you want? Very highly recommended for players 1900 and up, though players below that could benefit greatly as well.