In 1979, Vincent Bianco has just graduated from high school. His only desire: collect a little beer money and enjoy his last summer before college. So he lands a job as a laborer on a construction crew. Working alongside two Vietnam vets, one suffering from PTSD, Vincent gets the education of a lifetime. Now forty years later, with his own son leaving for college, the lessons of that summer—Vincent’s last taste of innocence and first taste of real life—dramatically unfold in a novel about breaking away, shaping a life, and seeking one’s own destiny.
Robert Dugoni has always been a superb storyteller, but this coming-of-age story was exceptional. The World Played Chess is a brilliant, poignantly written masterpiece rich with historical detail and one of the best books I have read in a long time. The novel is three coming-of-age stories in one: a young man fighting in Vietnam, Vincent, a recent high school graduate he befriends on a job site, and Vincent’s son, Beau, who experiences a life-changing tragedy. Dugoni earns top marks for character development and emotive writing. The World Played Chess was heart wrenching and I’ll admit I shed a few tears, but it wasn’t overemotional either. It was a powerful depiction of the consequences of war, and how sorrow affects us in different ways. I’m a better person for reading it. Don’t just take my word for it, buy a copy, and decide for yourself. Although Dugoni’s crime novels, legal, and espionage thrillers are great, I’d like to see him write more books like The World Played Chess and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, both of which received 5 stars from me.
Published Date: September 2021
Read-alikes: The Extraordinary Life of Same Hell, by Robert Dugoni, Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.