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Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker Hardcover – Unabridged, October 27, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2009: Professional sports such as football and baseball may tout themselves as "America's Game," but according to James McManus, poker is the true American pastime. Cowboys Full is McManus's brilliant homage to the game that inspired his 2003 bestseller, Positively Fifth Street, and weaves through a colorful history of sharps, grinders, and braying donkeys. From the lawless saloons of the Old West to Oval Offices of the modern era, poker has been a part of our cultural DNA for nearly two centuries by offering a shot at the American Dream with each deal. "More than politics, warfare, business, or physical sports," McManus argues, "poker has become the arena in which men and women of every race and background compete on the most equal footing." Although positioning it alongside Mom and apple pie may be a stretch, Cowboys Full nevertheless presents a compelling case that the essence of America is best understood through a few hands of its favorite card game. --Dave Callanan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Poker now has what must surely be its definitive history in this excellent, comprehensive account of the game from the author of the widely hailed poker memoir Positively Fifth Street. In tracing the game from its early 19th-century roots in New Orleans to today's global phenomenon, McManus does more than present a history of poker: “My goal is to show how the story of poker helps to explain who we are.” The “national card game,” he asserts, embodies essential American qualities. It's an ambitious objective, but the book achieves it by connecting the game to American culture. Poker, it turns out, is inextricably linked with history, from the Civil War to the cold war, and with politics (Nixon financed his first run for office with poker winnings earned during his WWII service; President Obama may owe some of his political fortunes to a regular poker game he joined after election to the Illinois senate). The book also outlines the re-emergence of poker in recent years as a pastime for many millions and, for a select few, a reasonably legitimate profession.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374299242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374299248
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #187,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I reviewed Jim's book for Card Player magazine, and it appears in the November 4, 2009, issue, as follows:
Poker & The American Experience

A Review of Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus

Tim Peters

For some players, poker is just a game. But for many players, it's tempting to see the game as a microcosm of life itself, as having a significance that transcends the cardroom. James McManus, the author of the justly celebrated Positively Fifth Street (his 2003 account of his run to the final table of the 2000 WSOP Main Event), is one of those people, and his new book, Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, explains why "sometimes...the game is much more than just a game."

Much of the book has been published in Card Player over the past few years under the heading "History of Poker." Now that it's in book form, Cowboys Full will surely be viewed as the most exhaustive and definite account of the history of poker yet published.

And it is a very much a history, chronicling the ancient roots of poker to its birth and flowering in New Orleans to the global phenomenon of today. But what makes Cowboys Full so interesting is how McManus articulates the role of poker in society (primarily American society). He writes about how the game spread across the country, how it evolved, and the lessons that people have drawn from it. As the subtitle "The Story of Poker" suggests, McManus rightly understands that poker is part of a larger narrative. "My goal," he writes, "is to show how the story of poker helps to explains who we are. The game has gone hand in hand with pivotal aspects of our national experience for a couple of centuries now.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cowboys Full is the best book about poker I've ever read, and I've read just about all of them. The history of cards, of poker (draw, stud, high-low, hold'em, Omaha, H.O.R.S.E., even badugi!), Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok, all the presidents and generals who played, the WSOP from its days at Binion's Horseshoe to 8,000 players at the Rio and on ESPN, the Andy Beal game, the science and technology of the game as it's now being played live and on the Internet. READ THIS BOOK!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a significant contribution to the poker literature. It is a wonderful, vibrant account of poker's history -- starting with its antecedent games and continuing up until the present televised and Internet version of our great American game. McManus' first book on poker, Positively Fifth Street, convinced me that he was a great writer and storyteller. This book convinces me that he is a fine researcher as well.
That this is a great history of a great game is true, but it doesn't do justice to the 500 page book. It is more a telling of great poker tales, intertwined with historical events that shed a new light on the importance of poker in our nation's history. In that sense it is also a psychological analysis of important moments of American history (like the Civil War, the development of the West, and the rise of Barack Obama) as seen through the lens of a poker player.
Those who might be intimidated by this books formitable length should know that unlike Positively Fifth Street, Cowboys Full does not have to be read as a single narrative (Though I read it cover to cover in three mammoth sittings -- so compelling are the stories). It is entertaining and informative in bits and pieces; each chapter standing alone. It could well sit on your nightstand for a year -- providing a nice small nugget of poker history and lore each night to entertain you -- and to fill your dreams.
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Format: Hardcover
If you love poker and want deeper understanding of the game historically, psychologically, etc. get this book.

McManus is highly skilled at serving up tons of information in an enjoyable and easy to read manner. I can't tell you how much I learned from reading it. Most of all, it made me realize how pertinent and valuable poker-related thinking skills are to decisions away from the felt on both micro and macro levels.
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Format: Hardcover
Mark Twain's experience on the Mississippi River exposed the writer to the riverboats and the poker games that flourished on board. He observed, "There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker." Were he alive today, Twain could not make that observation. Poker has become a national obsession with ESPN and other television networks devoting countless hours to presenting the game to players and viewers, and revenue for online poker has reached several billion dollars annually. Coupled with the fact that players also may play online for free, it is impossible to estimate the number of players around the world.

For those poker aficionados who thirst for insight into the history of the game, COWBOYS FULL by James McManus is, simply put, an encyclopedia of the card game played in almost every conceivable venue where one can place a table, chairs, deck of cards and stacks of poker chips, tracing the game from its creation in Europe and Asia. As immigrants travelled to our shores, they brought the various manifestations of the card game with them, and as America expanded westward, there was an accompanying infatuation with poker that spread from the colonies to the frontier.

Along the way, McManus points out many interesting and informative facts representing the interplay between poker and our nation's history. For example, he notes that while Barack Obama brought many unique new accomplishments to his presidency, he shared one trait with almost all former occupants of the White House: a love of poker. From the founding fathers to Andrew Jackson, from FDR to Truman, there is a long and exalted history of poker-playing presidents.
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