What do you do when you can't play as many board games as you'd like? You read about them! (At least, that's what I've been doing.) Here is a roundup of a few books about gaming that I've enjoyed during my adventure in Rome.
1) The Immortal Game: A History of Chess by David Shenk
In this book, Shenk has created a mashup of family history, chess history, and his personal experiences as a new chess player trying to fall in love with the game. His final product is an exuberant and informative work that gave me tons of ideas for what to read next. (Did you know that medieval romances often include scenes where the lovers play each other at chess? Or that Napoleon played on a fancy chessboard while in exile, never knowing it contained a secret plan for his escape? OMG!) Although Shenk sometimes overstates the social influence and interpretation of chess—at least in the eyes of a skeptical historian like me—his book is an excellent pleasure read that helped rekindle my own interest in chess. I may break my dusty old board out when I get home.
2) The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon
I personally hate playing Monopoly. Fortunately, the history of the game is far more interesting than the game itself. Apparently the true inventor of the game didn't receive full credit for her brainchild until long after her death, and before Parker Brothers got ahold of the title, the game was popular among liberals and anti-Monopolists who never expected the game to become a game company's goldmine. This book taught me a lot about games as social messages, as well as about intellectual property and patent law in the United States. Definitely worth a read for both gamers and people who are interested in American social history.
3) Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David Ewalt
I hate to say it, but this book disappointed me. I am very interested in the history of D&D and in roleplaying games generally, but Of Dice and Men is bloated with the author's descriptions of his own campaigns, obsessions, and insecurities about being an avid D&D player. I often found myself skipping over his personal stories in search of the next history section, and I would then find the historical sections to be a little bit thin. I would have especially liked to see a more insightful analysis of D&D and the Satanic Panic, which I remember because my grandparents used to warn me never to play the game lest I make contact with actual demons. I'll definitely be on the lookout for a deeper meditation on what I consider to be one of the most important games ever made.
If you have any good suggestions for books about gaming, please feel free to leave me a comment!