Binion (center) rules over an early World Series of Poker tourney
In my spare time (hah!), I like to read up on Las Vegas lore. So when Doug J. Swanson’s biography of the late, great and delightfully despicable casino magnate Benny Benion came out, I was one of the first to nab a preview copy. The book is an exciting, immersive yet thoroughly educational read, and I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to know more about the history of Las Vegas and/or the World Series of Poker. It also has a bonus interest for me because a portion of it takes place in my hometown of Arlington, Texas. Who knew this Dallas suburb used to host quite the gambling racket!
Still not convinced? Or just want to know more before you dive in? Check out my review in Vegas Seven mag:
The Untamed Times of Benny Binion: An intense biography sheds new light on the Las Vegas legend
Right now, it seems like the biggest thing in new Vegas is Old Vegas. From the SLS’ many winks at its Saharan predecessor to the recent revamp of the long-running showgirl revue Jubilee! at Bally’s to the Cosmopolitan’s Liberace exhibit, it seems like glamorizing Vegas’ past has finally replaced imploding it.
Amid this new cultural climate arrives Doug J. Swanson’s compelling biography of a legendary Las Vegas forefather—Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster who Created Vegas Poker (Viking, $28). In it, Swanson combines an investigative reporter’s zeal for research with an author’s love of words. The result is a sweeping history of a lost era and a compulsively readable character study, with some fun turns of phrases to boot: Swanson describes Binion as “an aspiring pasha of vice,” “a rube savant” and a “doughy rural-route cherub, at least until he decided he wanted somebody dead, which had happened with some frequency.” [READ MORE]
Posted in Books, Gambling, Poker
Tagged Benny Binion, Binion's, Blood Aces, Book Review, Doug J. Swanson, Las Vegas, Poker, Vegas Seven, World Series of Poker
My friend and journalist Richard Abowitz suggested I read this book. Since he has been writing about Vegas forever, I took his advice. The book was so good that I now want you to take his advice.
Despite the fact that Winner is non-fiction I couldn’t put it down. Christina Binkley, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, achieved what every high school history teacher dreams of: She made history exciting. Sure she may have misspelled Danny Gans’ name once and there are rumors that she mixed up a few dates, but the book is indelible.
Basically, it explains what happened in the last 10-odd years to make Vegas what it is today. But mainly it’s a psychological portrait of the title’s three moguls. I’ve lived in Vegas for a year now and I’ve always felt like I arrived in the middle of a conversation. This book gave me an understanding of what I’ve been missing.
The only complaint I had was that this book didn’t have a satisfying conclusion. It seemed to stop instead of end. Certainly, the fortunes of Vegas has shifted since the book was published in 2008. If you’d like an update, check out this fascinating article in the Las Vegas Sun, which interviews three retired casino execs about the Big Crash.
I’d recommend this book to people who like: Las Vegas | business and development | a fast-paced non-fiction book | wheeling & dealing | an understanding of modern American pop culture
But don’t take my word for it, read these reviews:
– Liz Benston in the Las Vegas Sun
– David G. Schwartz on his Vegas Blog, The Die is Cast
–Steve Friess in USA Today
– Tara McKelvey in the New York Times
I just raced to the end of author Charles Bock’s “wide-ranging portrait of an almost mythically depraved Las Vegas” (Publisher’s Weekly). It’s not often that I have the pleasure of living in the same universe as a book. This convergence between fiction and non creates the odd sensation of putting a book down only to continue “reading.”
I was going to complain that Bock created a darker Vegas than the one I live in, until I happened to drop by a CVS on Flamingo Road, about an hour east of the Strip. When I stopped in, I couldn’t tell if I had walked into the store or if I had walked into Bock’s head. Just like the many tattered runaways that populate his book, a sad homeless girl loitered at the entrance. She unfurled a cardboard and marker SOS just for me as I passed. Spurred by Bock’s insiduous moralism, I tried to smile at the girl, recognize her humanity, just as he said she would have wanted. But she looked away. And when I exited the store, she was gone. It was an ending as unsatisfying as the book’s.
The Wheel of Darkness by Douglas Preston
rating: 3 of 5 stars
The perfect airplane time passer. It’s light reading with heavy suspense. Each chapter switches focus to keep you hooked. This book is plot-driven and not really concerned with realistic character development. The whole thing is much easier to get through if you check you disbelief at the door. Nonetheless, I couldn’t put it down, though I’m slightly embarrassed to say so.
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The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book reads more like poetry than fiction. Beautiful, yet very very confusing. I’m about half-way through. And I don’t know if I would have made it this far had I not been trapped in a doctor’s office for hours. Either way, now I’m in it and will prob. finish.
It took sheer determination to finish this book. Not that it’s not a great book, it’s just not my type. The book is beautifully written, almost carved. And the author’s use of language is ambitious and unique. In turn, I did start to enjoy it at the end.
The book is written in a spiral structure of time, which leads the reader (or at least me) to be very confused for the first half. But the thing that made this book very difficult to read was it’s dark, depressing theme: Society decrees that only certain people can be loved and in certain ways. Now, I’m no Pollyanna, and I can revel in a lot of depressing subject matter, but the idea of extreme limits on love is something that is too hard to handle, even for me, even if it’s true.
But don’t take my word for it, check out Salon.com’s much more complimentary review.
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