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Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie: A True Tale of Love and the Vig Hardcover – February 27, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Not everyone who graduates from Ivy League schools immediately enters high-paying and prestigious careers. Peter Alson, Harvard graduate and nephew of Norman Mailer, writes in an "almost-tough-guy" style of his life as a bookie in Brooklyn, from the highs of making some big commissions to the lows of spending time in a feces-encrusted and overcrowded cell. A cross between Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries and Damon Runyon's tales of down-and-out or lowlife New Yorkers.

From Publishers Weekly

By the age of 33, Alson, a Harvard graduate, had played at being a writer and an editor, with no success. When he learned that another Ivy Leaguer he had met, 10 years his junior, was growing rich as a bookie, Alson had him steer him into the business. This memoir is about the time the author spent working in a betting parlor and about those who worked there; it is also about his off-and-on relationship with his girlfriend, Anna, she in Chicago and he in New York City. His arrest, followed by three days in a holding cell, convinced him that a career in crime was not for him, at about the same time he realized that his love affair would never go anywhere and he broke it off. The passages about his waxing-and-waning feelings for Anna are well done, a picture of two people not quite right for each other who refuse to recognize the fact because they want desperately to be in love. On the other hand, there are unmistakable elements of condescension in his descriptions of fellow workers in the gambling vineyards. Author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (February 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517703300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517703304
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,463,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Alson is the author of the highly acclaimed memoirs CONFESSIONS OF AN IVY LEAGUE BOOKIE and TAKE ME TO THE RIVER; and coauthor of ONE OF A KIND, a biography of poker champion Stuey Ungar, and ATLAS, the autobiography of boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas. His articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He has written screenplays for Paramount and various independent producers, and his TV pilot, NICKY'S GAME, starring John Ventimiglia and Burt Young, appeared in the New York Television Festival and the Vail Film Festival. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Eden.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 21, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This book was a great but limited look inside a small-time illegal sports book. Alson's story is very funny, compelling, and informative but suffers from his distracting whining about a long-distance girlfriend and the unresolved mystery of whether his operation was part of a bigger syndicate. His frustrated accounts of big-time editors wanting his services as a bookie instead of a writer are a gem
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian Markowski on April 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I have yet to understand why book making is illegal in most states. Gambling is everywhere now. I happen to live in Iowa and am currently surrounded by no less than four casinos. Wall Street itself has become nothing if not Las Vegas East in how it conducts it's business. So why is book making still illegal? Peter Alson doesn't attempt to answer these questions, though I couldn't help but think about them as I was reading his book. I had hoped to get the juicy underworld stories of mob boys in $500 track suits sending out some thug to break the leg of a dead beat, but that's not what happened. I also thought it might be about some numbers genius at Princeton who ran a book making operation out of his dorm room; no, nothing like that either. Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie: A True Tale of Love and the Vig is surprisingly uneventful.

Peter Alson writes of his own experience as an ex-ivy league college student who then in his 30's was unable to find a job or maintain a solid relationship. In an act of desperation and/or curiosity he ends up working for a bookie. The job takes some training but Peter is soon up and running, however any signs of mob glamour or big money are hard to see. As the lowest guy on the totem pole, Peter makes relativity little at first, to get more money he has to bring in new clients. If one of Peter's clients can't pay, it's Pete who has to cover for them. All the while Pete, his fellow co-workers, and his bosses constantly flirt with paranoia, "Are the cops on to us?" "Are we stepping on some gangs toes for operating out of their territory?". In other words, like most crime in this country, it's surprisingly dull with moments of sheer panic.

That's not so say that Alson's read is slow, in fact it's quite fluid.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Don Reed on May 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Confessions of An Ivy League Bookie, Peter Alson; Crown Publishers, Inc. (1996)

This book is proof that nepotism - the now-deceased writer, Norman Mailer, was Peter Alson's uncle - is not always a bad thing.

But who the hell asked The King of The Racetrack Weasels, Larry King - a degenerate gambler who stiffed friends and bookies for decades and recklessly bet on the horses until he ended up broke - to endorse this (or any other) book?

I re-read Confessions in February 2008, needing an antidote for John Toland's well-written but depressing account of World War I. Alson's memoir, having lost none of its appeal since it was first read thirteen years earlier, fit the bill.

But times had changed!

After Pete Alson's oddball Manhattan bookie ring ended up getting busted, the Brooklyn DA's office offered a deal: Two misdemeanors for two men. Only one man - who had to be a volunteer - would have to plead guilty to one felony count.

Irwin ("Spanky") raised his arm (after being guaranteed $20,000 in cash). But the consequences of Irwin's decision disturbed Alson: "He wouldn't be able to vote in the future OR TAKE OUT A BANK LOAN..."

Alson need not have been concerned about Irwin ultimately not being able to swing a bank loan, if it happened to be a home bank loan.

In the decade following the debut of "Confessions," the severity of the 2008 Wall Street Crash (#20) had been partly created by the creation of millions of personal real estate "liar loans" - signed contracts that stated without documentation that the declared family income was accurate.

The lenders didn't care whether the borrowers' loan applications contained fraudulent earning statements.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jacob Luft on January 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed it for the locker room-style banter in the bookie rooms and the offbeat characters like Krause and Monkey and Bernie. The love story is a distraction but the book is a true story, not a novel, and sometimes there is no resolution in real life. A good read overall. I'm going to read his other memoir on the world series of poker.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By primusb on August 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
so they get busted and pat's supposedly gone by that time - then they're sitting in jail, thinking they should give the cops pat's name and address. then, later on in jail, pat is now there - tied up with the whole crew! what's the deal? other than that, a good read
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Format: Hardcover
Peter Alson is a great all-around writer, but the man may be at his best when writing a memoir. This book was a fast, fun read that left me wanting for another Alson title to hit the market as I had already torn through his other titles. A must read for any sports bettor, talented underachiever or even someone who wants to read something deeper than Mezrich.
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