Mah Jongg: The Art of The Game by Ann M. Israel and Gregg Swain

When my husband teases me about retiring in a few years, he says, “Will you play Mah Jongg with the ladies all afternoon?” I haven’t attended a Mah Jongg club as of yet, but when I retire it would be fun to look for one nearby.

So far, the only things I know about the game are that it’s Chinese, from the middle of the 19th century, and has pieces so lovely I’d like to put them in my mouth. (This was part of the allure of dominoes, too, which I played endlessly with my grandmother. All those ivory pieces made such a satisfying click when they came together after leaving our hands…)


This beautiful book, Mah Jongg: The Art of The Game,  came to me from Tuttle Publishing with a note tucked inside from the author herself. And when I opened it, and read more about the game which already intrigued me, I knew I wanted a set of my very own.

There are twelve chapters, beginning with “A Brief History of Mah Jongg” and continuing on through different kinds of materials from which this game is made: paper, bamboo, wood, Bakelite, French ivory, metals, rubber, bone bamboo and precious materials. It also has a chapter on “The Art of The Box”, and the effect Mah Jongg still has on people today.


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You can see from the beautiful photographs alone how fascinating this game can be, and how even a few lost pieces can make an engaging display of their own. Especially if one still needs to acquire the finer points of the game and can be content to simply turn the pages of its history.

13 thoughts on “Mah Jongg: The Art of The Game by Ann M. Israel and Gregg Swain”

    1. The pictures in this book make me want to buy a set instantly; yet when I looked on eBay they are often hundreds of dollars. I’ll have to save up, I think, but I can see where people get obsessed to own several different kinds as the author(s) mentioned.

      Well, it’s in process anyway, for 2018. I will miss the children dreadfully, but the rest of the bureaucracy can go suck an egg.


  1. I learned how to play Mahjong when I was 7 or 8. My grandparents had a couple of sets that they brought back from their days in Hong Kong (my grandfather was a PanAm pilot and they lived in HK for a few years). When we visited my grandparents at their beach house in Southern California, they taught me and all of my cousins how to play the game and it quickly became a family favorite. My parents wound up with one of the sets and I now own it, along with the trays that my grandfather made to hold the tiles and chips. I used to get together with a few girlfriends here in Lincoln and we’d play while chatting about our children, gardens and the books we’d read. It’s great fun and I miss playing. Perhaps, just someday in the future, you and I can get together and play a few hands. 🙂


    1. Les! My mother said she learned in third grade as well, and her childhood friend actually gave her their family’s set a little while ago. I’m so envious that you already know how to play it. Is it terribly hard? Would you teach me when we meet some day?


      1. Well, Shaylyn and I are hoping to visit your beautiful city in the summer of 2016, so we’ll bring my set out and you and your mom can play with us! Sound like a plan? No, it’s not terribly hard. You try to get a hand with Pungs (3 of the same suit, same number), Kongs (4 same suit same number), Chows (a run in the same suit) and pairs. That’s really all you need to know. The tiles consist of Dots (circles), Cracks (characters), Bams (bamboos), winds (S, E, N, W), dragons (red, green and white), and 2 sets of flowers (which are like wild cards). There. Confused? 🙂 Easy peasy. Your 5th graders could play!


  2. Mah Jongg is a wonderful game and can entertain you for hours. I learned the game since I was a young boy.

    We tried to teach the game to our children and grandchildren.

    My wife plays mah jongg with her friends. We play also at home.

    Buy a set. You and your friends will enjoy playing the game.


  3. The Art of the Game indeed. It is a beautiful book, and the game is a work of art. Very lovely presentation, Bellezza, as usual. I’ve never played Mah Jongg; but thanks to your post, at least I can now spell it now. 🙂


  4. I’ve always been curious about Mah Jongg. Most books about Chinese culture mention the game and I love how this game is a huge part of their culture and celebrated too. I would love to check this one out – it looks beautiful!


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