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Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss

3.8 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0156010702
ISBN-10: 0156010704
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the legal system, whoever tells the best story wins. But when two "workaday English teachers"Awho happen to be the writers Frederick Barthelme (Bob the Gambler) and Steven Barthelme (And He Tells the Horse the Whole Story)Agamble away their $250,000 inheritance in a few years and are indicted for conspiracy to defraud the casino where they were regulars, the tale they have to tell is far more richly complicatedAand hauntingAthan any their lawyer could present. Their narrative seductively juxtaposes the stark loss of their parents, their family's "psychological arithmetic" and the "miraculous multiplication" of winning at the blackjack tables, moving fluently between an account of the brothers' fall into addiction and their memories of a family life that was like "a lovely old-fashioned movie with snappy dialogue and surprising developments, high drama and low comedy, heroes and villains, wit and beauty and regret." By turns dazzlingly canny and achingly abject, the Barthelmes, who write in a single voice, lure the reader into the intimacy of their self-deception. Intoxicated by their brinksmanship and their clever comebacks, readers will hope against hope they'll fight their way back from staggering losses. In retrospect, the brothers' gaming philosophyA"We would have been willing to win, but we were content to lose"Awas sustaining in the casino's mirror world where "money isn't money," although, as the authors wryly observe, it crumbled when they were awaiting a legal verdict. (Nov.) FYI: Filed a few weeks after the publication of Bob the Gambler in 1997, the charges against the brothers were dismissed by the Mississippi State Circuit Court in August 1999.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

At first, this dark memoir seems like a simple confessional about how two fiftyish writer-academics lost a quarter-million-dollar inheritance in the late-night world of Mississippi riverboat casinos. (In 1997, the brothers were charged with cheating a Mississippi casino and still await trial.) As book-smart gamblers, the Barthelmes indulge in overtipping and betting ludicrous amounts; they are smarter-than-thou, which is their downfall. Perhaps some readers will see the deaths of the Barthelmes' parents as sufficient cause for their fall from grace; faced with real pain, the brothers prove inept at problem solving. But the gambling, compulsiveness, and midlife boredom predate their parents' deaths; and the gambling snowballed because of their new-found money, which the brothers burn out of resentment of their Napoleonic father. Beautifully evoking the gamblers' addiction, their mesmerizing account is best read as a novel Camus might have imagined, with the writer/protagonists as their own lost characters. A work of high art; enthusiastically recommended.
-AMarty Soven, Woodside, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books (May 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156010704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156010702
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This slim book by the Barthelme Brothers, recounting their descent into gambling hell, is both elegantly written and horrifying. After all, the Barthelmes are college professors and literary stars, and if their lives could veer out of control so suddenly and so badly, then so could yours and mine. The brothers end up throwing away all their money, including a $300,000 inheritance, at a riverboat casino during the year or so after their parents' deaths. Then -- as if the story couldn't get any more gruesome -- they are indicted on charges of cheating the casino! I've spent a lot of time in casinos myself, and can vouch for the accuracy of the Barthelmes' portrait of the casino scene: the mood of the place and the behavior of the various participants are captured perfectly. They are especially good at describing the feelings that run through a gambler while winning and losing. The only shortcoming of the book is the repetitious (and sometimes shallow) analysis of their behavior. Or maybe I've just read one too many books where it all goes back to Mommy and Daddy. I would like them to have stayed more focused on the story, and allow the reader to provide some of the analysis for himself. Also, if the brothers had waited a few months longer before publishing, they would have been able to provide the conclusion to this story, which, as it stands, is anti-climactic. Nevertheless, I would put this on a rather short shelf of great gambling literature, maybe not too far away from Dostoyevsky's "The Gambler."'
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Format: Hardcover
I've spent as much time gambling recklessly as searching for the words to explain why. They'd escaped me all these years. Maybe after a big loss I'd come to some partly lucid but entirely fleeting realization driving home in the dark from the boats thinking about what to do next. One or two movies (most remarkably "The Gambler", especially its ending) and books (same, by Doestyevsky) show and talk about it deeply, but this book is different. It details what it's like to gamble like a fool and reveals the fool's motivation: Do it again and again until all the money's gone. Not to sound like a book jacket but a few paragraphs made me wiggle unconfortably in my chair while reading it. (Which I did, beginning to end, at Borders -- not because I was too cheap to buy it (well maybe that's part of it) but because I didn't want to put it down.) I saw myself, and if you've ever watched your whole life turn with a bust card, you will too. Finally gambling's seduced someone with a supreme command of our written language. If you're reading this, thank you. Both of you.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought this book was excellent: a memoir by two brothers who lost $250,000 in riverboat casinos. They describe in detail how they would spend 12 hours or more losing thousands in the slot machines, or, more often, at blackjack. And how it escalated slowly, and then how the addiction got completely out-of-hand after both of their elderly parents died. Apparently, their pattern on each gambling spree was to lose a lot, and then spend the rest of the night (and sometimes day) winning back the lost amount. What amazed me is that even after they were indicted for a crime allegedly committed while gambling, they continued their addiction, albeit in another casino. Astounding! This memoir is remarkable on many counts. For one, it is beautifully written (both authors are writing professors), and also, they attempt to analyze their behavior, the big "WHY"? I commend them for revealing so many intimate details. It seems that perhaps the loss of their father, who had been a brilliant architect but an insensitive father to both, put them over the edge. Raised not to show feelings, coupled with their belief that their parents were their only true "community", perhaps put them in a hard, "no win" position when they died. And the only way to "win" (or attempt to) was at the casino. They are excellent at drawing out the allure of gambling - that, no matter win or lose, they were finally "feeling" something at the blackjack table. A sad tale of an attempt to deal with loss in a desperate, impossible way.
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By A Customer on December 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As someone with a father who was impossible to please, I can really understand why these two brothers were searching so hard for success any way they could find it - even from strangers dealing cards. I can't think of a more appropriate ending than one where the dollars that were so carefully saved by that father are gambled away still searching for his approval. Their run in with the law is really secondary to the life sentence handed down from their father - always feeling that they don't yet have it quite right.
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Format: Hardcover
When some athlete demands that his contract be renegotiated and you hear the phrase, "It's not about the money," that's when you know that it most certainly IS about the money. But for the Barthelmes the trouble they find really isn't abou the money. Even though they lost $250,000 gambling in Mississippi casinos, that isn't the loss that moved them. The money they lost wasn't theirs, really, it was inherited from their recently-deceased parents, and much of the book is a memoir of the life they had with their parents, and of how their lives lost direction after their parents passed away.
But I enjoyed the parts revealing their gambling lives best. The brothers were able to live quite normal lives, teaching and writing as well as they ever had while at the same time spending hours at the boats playing games they knew deep down they had no chance to win. Their description of their casino experience is fascinating, often morbidly so. They write of hands that fell their way and slots that yielded big jackpots, but it's difficult to feel any pleasure in it, because you know that the winnings will be returned to the casino in short order.
What this book ISN'T is a book on how not to gamble. The authors realize early on that the casinos exist to take your money. They read scores of books on how to beat the odds and how to count cards and find them all pointless. They like the risk-- counting cards is too much like work, it takes all the fun out of playing. And they understand that over time there is no way you can expect to beat a casino in fair play, no way, no matter how sharp or lucky you are. The merciless laws or probabilty will grind you up. But the most telling line in the whole book sums up the whole problem with gambling addicts, that, "...
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