Go! More Than a Game, by Peter Shotwell. Tuttle; 2003.

This is an introductory go book. Like many recent books, it starts off with the Capturing Game (presented in a refreshingly lightweight manner), then moves up to the concepts of life-and-death and territory, giving some sample games. Next come less basic ideas - shape, direction of play, and fusekis and josekis, moving from 9x9 to 13x13 to 19x19 boards.

By itself, the above would be a very good introductory book - it's a quite pleasant introduction, taking a brisk pace through the material. However, the last decade has seen quite a large number of excellent beginners' books, so any author of a new beginners' book has to answer the question: why should anybody read this book instead of any of the other books out there?

The subtitle hints at this book's answer, and it's a refreshing answer indeed, hinting at one of my pet peeves. It is my opinion that, in the United States, the go community hasn't done a very good job of reaching out to all of the communities who might be interested in the game. In particular, there are a large number of people in this country who are interested in oriental matters in general - eastern religions, art forms, martial arts, literature, and so forth - but who don't know much about go. There are various presses out there who specialize in these matters; Tuttle is the only one of these presses who has published any go books, and their previous offerings have been lousy. So there's a real need to get more go books out there with an explicit goal of tapping this audience.

This book, then, has the twin advantages of being a very good book from Tuttle (which means that it will get distributed places other go books aren't) and having a lengthy final section that talks about various cultural aspects surrounding the game. It has a 30-page history chapter, ranging far and wide (from the earliest traces of the game to recent events such as Hikaru no Go or the success of Korean pros), including a smattering of poems and stories. There are a few pages on "Go and Western Science", and then a final chapter on "Go, Business, and the Thirty-Six Strategies of the Dark School of Taoism"; this last chapter touches on the same material as in The Thirty-six Stratagems Applied to Go, and perhaps could serve as a route into the game for some of the many Tao Te Ching readers in the country.

I do have a few quibbles with the book. When reading the first parts of the book, I got the feeling that the author couldn't stand the fact that beginners would miss out on so many things when first looking at the game. The result is that some of the material is, perhaps, a bit inappropriate (e.g. the contents of the fuseki/joseki chapter seem a bit much to me), and the author occasionally makes apologetic comments about how you won't understand things that he's saying. Also, I wish the cultural section of the book had been a little less heavily weighted towards history: while the history section isn't a particularly dry read, I suspect that much of it would be most interesting to people who already care about the game, while beginners would be better served with a heavier emphasis on poems, stories, and artwork (as in Die Mitte des Himmels).

Having said that, though, this book is more successful than any other introductory book in English at presenting a broad picture of the game. I recommend it highly as a beginners' book; I also recommend it to people who have already read a more traditional beginners' book, and want to go further both in their knowledge of how to play the game and of the culture surrounding the game.

david carlton <carlton@bactrian.org>

Last modified: Mon May 31 16:00:17 PDT 2004