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The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death Hardcover – May 6, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; F First Edition edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385537050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385537056
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2014: Every year, thousands of card players converge in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, all hauling varying levels of hope and skill with them into the southern Nevada desert. As a regular in a neighborhood game, Colson Whitehead didn’t harbor that kind of ambition—until Grantland.com staked him $10,000 for a seat at the WSOP. Whitehead goes all-in with a Rocky IV-worthy regimen, hiring a personal trainer to prepare himself for the long, grueling table hours and a tournament-hardened coach to navigate the mysteries of Texas Hold’em. When he arrives at the tournament, he navigates using a set of laws essential to any aspiring card sharp: which casino restaurants provide poker-appropriate nutrition; how to hit the bathrooms ahead of the mad rushes of the game breaks; and, of course, the necromancy of a successful Hold’em hand. With its cast of poker-universe luminaries and aspiring misfits, the tournament stuff is fun, especially to this gambling rube. But Vegas is Vegas, and between the notes of the Wheel of Fortune slot machines, one can hear the suck of entropy. Whitehead--whose previous books landed him on the short-list for the Pulitzer, as well as a MacArthur "Genius" grant--has the wry sense of humor to observe the twisted reality of the “Leisure Industrial Complex” without mocking it; he’s the kind of writer who can see the human condition reflected in the windows of a failed Vegas market that sells only beef jerky (and other jerky-like products). Buy the ticket, take the ride.--Jon Foro

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This is not one of those poker books about a gang of math whizzes from Harvard who go to Vegas and win a gazillion dollars. About those guys, Whitehead says, The part of the brain they used for cards, I used to keep meticulous account of my regrets. And, yet, Whitehead has some personality quirks that make him a decent poker player: I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside. A self-described citizen of the Republic of Anhedonia, whose residents are unable to experience pleasure, Whitehead, author of Zone One (2011) and other novels, agrees to enter the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and see how far his half-dead poker face and a $10,000 stake can take him. Not very far, as it turns out, despite reading countless poker books and working with a coach and physical trainer. Yes, he learns a little, but in the end, people, as ever, are the problem. Specifically, those nine other people at the table, their weathered faces showing the underlying narrative of their decay. Yes, Whitehead’s account may seem at first like just another sad story about a pair of Jacks, but it’s really something very different, much sadder and much, much funnier. He calls his book Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shut-ins, and that pretty much says it, if you remember that the eating part is mostly about beef jerky and the praying is for aces. If you’re looking for read-alikes, forget other poker books and pick up Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence (1998). --Bill Ott

Customer Reviews

The book itself seems a bit forced.
Fred Forbes
If you like self-indulgent, convoluted writing about depression, this might be for you.
M. Hoyt
This is the worst book I've ever read about poker.
Bernard Chapin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kindles & Wine Book Blog on May 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
REVIEWED BY LAURA

First of all, you should know that I am a total sucker for a good "stunt memoir" (or "participatory journalism," if you want to get fancy). You cooked a Julia Child recipe every day for a year? I want to read about it. Read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica? I'll preorder your book. Played in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) as a reporter for a magazine? I'm all-in, if you will. My fascination with getting a peek into different subcultures is definitely satisfied by authors doing crazy things and then writing about them.

This, however, is not your typical stunt memoir. So for a while I was a little confused--I wanted more of a plot, more of an inside scoop on the scene at the WSOP. Then it finally hit me--he's doing a satire of all of those other stunt memoirs! Gosh, that's clever! Because while I do love those stunt memoirs, they usually are pretty predictable--person decides to do something crazy/unique/ill-advised, does it, writes about it, learns a valuable life lesson and then finds love/a job/a new passion for living. This book is like the anti-that.

And Colson Whitehead flat-out won me over with his satirical sense of humor, witty observations, and terrific writing. Whitehead is an AMAZING writer! His writing is so slick sometimes I almost couldn't stand it. At the beginning, he takes some time to explain the game of poker to those readers who aren't familiar with it:

"To start, when judging a five-card hand of random crap, the highest card determines its value...Whoever has the better stuff wins. Sound familiar, American lackeys of late-stage capitalism?"

Come on, that's pretty funny, right? Well, the whole book is basically like that. I'm not kidding.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
You know what would be a great story? A novelist and casual home-game poker player gets sent to Las Vegas by a magazine. Using his expense money to enter a satellite tournament, he'd win to buy into the main event at the World Series of Poker. He'd get to the final table, and hobnob with top pros and old-style outlaw Vegas royalty, while thinking of life and friends and wife and kids. Between hands he'd get involved in a murder trial of a stripper accused of using a horror-movie technique to dispatch a casino owner. The whole tangled tale would climax in a double lap-dance session.

That, of course, was Jim McManus' great Positively Fifth Street. Take away the murder, stripper, great title, lap dance, celebrities, constructive thinking and journey from lowly satellite seat to the final table and you have Colson Whitehead's interesting slacker version. It's much shorter without all the collateral stuff, and is intensely negative both in the sense accentuating unpleasant aspects of everything and showing more interest in what is missing than what is happening.

The Noble Hustle belongs to an older poker tradition, the gritty decay of The Man with the Golden Arm and The Cincinnati Kid (the books, not the movies in which star power obscures the message).
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By T. Karr VINE VOICE on May 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Colson Whitehead feels the need to go into training when he is staked by “Grantland” magazine to participate in the World Series of Poker. He has played in home games, but never before ventured into a casino to play poker. He fears the humiliation and shame that comes with bowing out early in the big tournament.

But then again Colson Whitehead feels that doom and humiliation lurk around just about every nook and cranny of life. The looming tournament just adds to his burden.

Mr. Whitehead’s self-deprecating humor is what makes this poker memoir different from others that have gone before. “The Noble Hustle” is awash in pop culture and literary references which also adds to the fun.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm new to Colson Whitehead's writing, but I'm always on the lookout for a good book about gambling and Las Vegas. The Noble Hustle filled the bill on both scores, and does it without any scams or cheating of any kind, which must be a first for this kind of book.

Whitehead emphasizes the fact that he lives in a state of anhedonia (or The State of Anhedonia, as he puts it) which means he is unable to experience pleasure. Perhaps he really does have a degree of anhedonia, but he seems to like playing poker, he certainly enjoys eating beef jerky, and he must get a kick out of writing, because he's pretty good at it.

The narrative follows Whitehead, a New York novelist, practicing to compete in the World Series of Poker. He is a casual player but is ramping up his game in preparation to write a magazine article about the World Series experience. He plays in tournaments in Atlantic City to get toughened up. Then it's on to the Series in Las Vegas.

Along the way he meets some characters, such as The Coach, a poker tournament pro who looks like an upper middle class housewife. She gives him pointers and strategies and cheers him on. As something of a fish out of water, she can relate to Whitehead, who is also not the typical Las Vegas pro poker player, with his dreadlocks and lack of a killer instinct. But in his favor, he has an unbeatable poker face, due of course, to his anhedonia.

Whitehead has a light way of writing, even as he maintains his gloomy demeanor. He tells of a player at the World Series who encourages him to check out the "hooker bar," which throws Whitehead, since that seems a bit forward even for Las Vegas. He pretends not to realize that the enthusiastic patron was probably talking about a "hookah" lounge.
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More About the Author

Colson Whitehead is the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. He has also written a book of essays about his home town, The Colossus of New York. A recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

His next book, a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker, is called The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death. It will be published in 2014.

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