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Dice: Deception, Fate, and Rotten Luck Hardcover – October, 2002

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Dice: Deception, Fate, and Rotten Luck + Celebrations of Curious Characters + Jay's Journal of Anomalies
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Quantuck Lane Pr & the Mill Rd; 1st edition (October 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971454817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971454811
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #301,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ricky Jay knows his dice. A sleight-of-hand-performer who is appearing on Broadway in On the Stem, a one-man show directed by David Mamet (in whose movies Jay has appeared frequently), Jay here presents a light, digressive history of dice, from "astragali" (or "heel bones," as mentioned in an Indian epic poem) to how they are loaded for cheating. Dipping into everything from Viking allegory to the 1820 writings of the Rev. Charles Caleb Colton (an eventual ruined gambler and suicide), Jay's anecdotes are colorful but meandering: a description of a 1501 Florentine gambler named Antonio Rinaldeschi eases into a recollection of the outcry at the Brooklyn Museum over Chris Ofili's dung-festooned Holy Virgin Mary. Chapters such as "Dice and Death" and "The Palengenesis of Craps" are complemented by Rosamond Wolff Purcell's 13 color photographs of beautifully decayed dice (when dice age, they can be chipped and crusted, appearing to be made of salt or ice). These portraits of chance's end reveal visually what Jay tells us verbally: dice are as inherently complex and frail as people.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Jay's writing is exactly what one would expect from the extremely erudite, witty and decent author of Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women and Jay's Journal of Anomalies. There is an explanation of the etymology of "craps, " and there are various tales of armless dicers, ingenious hustlers, and Scandinavian kings of the Middle Ages who diced for islands. Dice turn out to be rich subjects for Purcell's photography. She presents them as, in a way, monumental ruins on a Stonehenge-type of scale relative to the book. Their forms are enriched by their disintegration and are bathed in light that their varying translucence seems to contain for a moment before releasing it to the lens ... The book itself is, like a die, a modest object, small for a book of photography and, with a short text, casually organized."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By James J. Lippard on May 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a thin hardbound volume, a collection of photographs and short
discourses about various aspects of dice, gambling, and fraud. Each
chapter is very short (just a few pages) and the entire book can be
read in less than thirty minutes. Both the photographs and the text
are fascinating, and left this reader wanting more. I hope that Mr.
Jay will be writing more books to share his voluminous and interesting
knowledge of magic, gaming, and cons with the world. (Jay's other
books: Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women and Jay's
Journal of Anomalies are also highly recommended.)
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Though they may have passed the peak of their fad, fuzzy dice can still be seen hanging from the rear view mirrors of favored cars. They are an amusing bit of American folk surrealism, recalling the more official artworks of the fur-lined cup and saucer or the lobster telephone. The furry dice don't clack the way real dice do, and they are too huge and too rotund ever to be useful as mechanisms in games of chance. Yet they look strange enough that many people fancy them, and assembly lines somewhere are tuned up to produce them for enthusiasts. Conversely, there are real dice depicted in _Dice: Deception, Fate, & Rotten Luck_ (Quantuck Lane Press) by Ricky Jay, with photographs by Rosamond Purcell. But some of them are startlingly furry, and all of them are dying.
Ricky Jay is a magician, and a historian of magic, in addition to being a stage and movie actor. He has produced a couple of large books having to do with the history of magic and showmanship, but this is a small book, square like a face of a die, as are the color close-ups of the afflicted dice. "In the attempt to acquire empirical knowledge, I have accumulated thousands of dice over a period of decades," Jay explains. They are of all sorts of colors and patterns, but most of them are made of celluloid, the same celluloid whose decay has robbed us of countless early movies. Rosamond Purcell specializes in photographing the entropy that overcomes inanimate objects, like a book eaten by termites or rusting objects from the junkyard. Most of the large photographs here show the dice larger than life. The styles of their degeneration are diverse. The transparent ones show cracks through their mass, as if they have been dropped from a height. Some of the faces have crystallized, so that they look as if they have been sugared.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Joe Niedbala on November 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Ricky Jay, that connoisseur of all things shady, arcane, and marvelously odd, brings us yet another trip into the history of man's less than (ahem) socially respectable obsessions. With "Dice", he, in his ever unique style, tantalizes us with tales of one of the oldest gambling accessories known to man. And like the great magician and (very respectable) confidence artist that he is, he does it with smooth patter here, a bit of flashy historical anecdote there, while still never quite giving you all there is to know. Of course he keeps something hidden and to himself. It's in his blood and it makes you finish this slim volume wanting more, but in a good way. You'll go through this book in one sitting, but won't hesitate to reach back for it again and again -- or perhaps, to pick up a pair of dice and see what all this fuss over the centuries has been all about. Face it, pal, you've been sucked in, and you're in good (and bad) company.
Rosamund Wolff Purcell's beautiful color photographs of Jay's dice collection punctuate the text with amazing views and perspectives of the small and very much decaying bits of man's folly. They appear as ancient ruins, crumbling away with time, much in the manner of many a gentleman's fortune once he has found himself enticed by these small, six -sided devils. Marvelous art.
Both Jay and Purcell have rolled a natural with this one!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Dice: Deception, Fate & Rotten Luck" is a collaboration between master slight-of-hand artist and scholar of peculiar human endeavor Ricky Jay and photographer Rosamond Purcell, whom Jay called upon to photograph his decaying dice collection. There are 21 photographs of dying dice, most full page, interspersed with Jay's spare text recounting the history of dice, from ancient civilization to the 20th century, through anecdotes about gamblers, the games they played, and, more often than not, how they cheated. From Jay's account, you might get the impression that historically more dice have been loaded than not. That is probably because the discussion is of the dice themselves, upon which cheating relies.

From the Persian woman who won the right to kill her enemy in a roll of the dice, to the 11th century King of Norway who won an island by a die that split in two mid-roll, through many an execution and suicide along the way, it's clear that dice have often been a matter of life and death. Now their own death is documented in Rosamond Purcell's strikingly beautiful photographs of misshapen, cracked, crystallized, and crumbling dice. As Jay explains in his final chapter "When a Die Dies", from the late 19th to mid-20th century, dice were typically made of cellulose nitrate, which decays rapidly after being stable for decades. These dice are more fascinating in their demise than in their prime. "Dice" is an intriguing little volume for fans of Ricky Jay, lovers of the game, and admirers of exquisite close-up photography.
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