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Customer Review

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars MIT alum suspects the book itself is the hack., December 30, 2003
By 
This review is from: Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (Paperback)
I enjoyed the book. It's an easy read. The story is engaging. But I question its veracity.
If you want to read a gambling story that predates this book, search for localroger's "A Casino Odyssey" at kuro5hin.org. He tells a strikingly similar tale. Stikingly similar. If nothing else, the Web publication of localroger's story -- a year before Bringing Down the House came out -- makes me wonder just how much this author has in common with Jayson Blair.
I read through all reviews (160 at this writing). I seem to be the first MIT alum to speak up (although "A reader from Cambridge, MA" is probably also familiar with the school.) I was there in the early 80's. There were rumors about undergraduates who earned their tuition counting cards at blackjack tables. I never met one. I did, however, know some of the authors of a bona fide MIT "hack" book: The Unix Hater's Handbook. "Hacking" (loosely translated as a "prank") is a core and longstanding tradition at MIT. Bringing Down the House smells like another hack to me, but I can't be sure.
On one hand, several reviewers have pointed out what appear to be exaggerations and inconsistencies. On the other hand, The Tech, official source of MIT news archived on the Web, published an article titled "Card Counting Gig Nets Students Millions," which essentially confirms the author's claims. It includes quotes purportedly from the people potrayed in the book. On the other hand, The Tech itself is not immune from being hacked. On the other hand, I got confirmation from another alum that Micky Rosa is for real. OK, enough with the hands.
There are other elements that leave me with questions. One detail that any MIT alum would include in his account is that MIT students aren't called geeks. We're nerds. N-e-r-d nerd. I realize the author isn't an alum, but he shouldn't have missed that -- he doesn't use the word "nerd" ONCE in the whole book. I was also surprised that googling for '"kevin lewis" MIT' doesn't turn up his real name. Are any of the portrayed characters traceable?
To maximize my satisfaction of this tale, I would like to have more assurance that it is true. A fiction writer claiming to write his first non-fiction book simply isn't good enough these days. (Thank you, New York Times, for showing me how stupid publishers can be and for utterly destroying my confidence in writers of all sorts. :-)
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 27, 2007 8:05:59 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 10, 2008 3:31:16 PM PDT
tbc0 says:
Ben Mezrich wrote to me after he read this review. He was very gracious and assured me that the story is indeed true. He granted me a phone interview. Read "Ben Mezrich: the telling of a true story" at <http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2004/2/5/5855/53465>. Ben answered my questions. In the introduction to my interview I wrote, "I'll wash my hands clean here. I was in a skeptical mood when I wrote my Amazon review. Now I admit that my theory is implausible."

Posted on Aug 10, 2008 3:28:50 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 10, 2008 3:29:38 PM PDT]
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