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Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas: How Jay Sarno Won a Casino Empire, Lost It, and Inspired Modern Las Vegas Paperback – October 3, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

David G. Schwartz is our most gifted chronicler of Las Vegas history. Grandissimo is a riveting story not only of an eccentric and ambitious visionary but of Sin City at the crossroads. 
--Beth Raymer, author of Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling

"A must-read for anyone who loves the real history of Las Vegas."
--John L. Smith, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist and author

"This is a great book, one of the best about Las Vegas...Schwartz tells the real, unvarnished story of one of the genuine visionaries of Las Vegas"
--Oscar Goodman, former mayor of Las Vegas and Sarno's attorney

From the Author

This was a difficult and great book for me to write. After writing Roll the Bones, a comprehensive history of gambling, I wanted to do something smaller in scale that could let me really dig into a topic as opposed to skimming over several millennia and continents' worth of history.

One day it just came to me: no one had written a book about Jay Sarno, who seemed to be one of the most colorful characters in Las Vegas history. After all, he'd built Caesars Palace and Circus Circus, two casinos that defined Las Vegas in different ways for more than a generation. So why not write about him?

I was started asking questions and finding people to interview, and discovered that Jay was a more interesting subject than I could have imagined. From his business partnerships with Jimmy Hoffa, Doris Day, and Kirk Kerkorian to his uncontrolled gambling and womanizing, this was a man who did everything in excess. 

I've learned that Jay Sarno was more than a casino builder; he was Las Vegas personified, and his life tells the story of that awkward transition in the 1970s and 1980s when the Strip was passing from the hands of old-school gamblers and hustlers to corporate types. 
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Winchester Books (October 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0990001601
  • ISBN-13: 978-0990001607
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #631,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Jay (Uncle Jack) J. Sarno was my uncle, the youngest sibling of my father Herman Sarno, his oldest brother by a decade. David Schwartz interviewed me for the book about five years ago. Naturally I was very curious about how it would turn out. IF it would ever turn out?. Although David never met Jay the book is well researched and captures the different sides of this very complicated and larger than life man. When Jay is frequently characterized as larger than life it’s true in every way, both girth and character.

As a Las Vegas historian David's reason for writing the book was to draw attention to a turning point in the history of Las Vegas. Before Jay came to Vegas the book describes the "desert resort as suffering from a visual drought. All the casino’s looked more or less the same, like cheap western knock offs, dressing their dealers in vests and string ties."

Jay changed that forever, first with Caesar’s Palace in 1966; then in 1968 ,with Circus Circus Both had themes that ran through every detail of the casino, such as Caesars
with the Roman goddess waitresses in the high end Bacchanal Restaurant to the stationary in the rooms with burnt edges, singed when Rome burned or Circus Circus, with elephant shaped ashtrays in the lobby, a carousel out front as the casino’s signage and live circus acts performing right above the gambling pit. He took the experience of gambling to an entirely different level, raising the bar and changing Las Vegas to what it is today. As the other reviews point out Jay’s place in the history of the city is as great as other figures such as Bugsy Siegal, Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian and of course Howard Hughes, but that for some reason they have received much greater recognition, at least outside Las Vegas itself.
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Dr. Dave Schwartz has become my favorite author. If you enjoyed Roll the Bones or Suburban Xanadu you will want to pick Grandissimo up as well, and if you are a Las Vegas fan that hasn't read Dave's work yet, this is a great place to start. The life of Jay Sarno has been a story in need of telling for far too long.
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Being a Las Vegas resident and former Caesars Palace employee, I found this book very interesting and entertaining. I met Mr. Sarno on several occasions and can attest to the accuracy, "warts and all", of his depiction. He was a bigger than life character who I admired for his creative mind and passion for his ideas. This book was especially interesting for me because I knew all the players. Whether an "outsider" would have the same level of enjoyment is open to question. However Mr. Sarno was one of a kind and his like will not come along very often. For that reason alone it is a great study of a self-taught, intuitive marketing genius and should be read by entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone in any facet of the hospitality industry.
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If you are wondering about the development of the strip with the newer/bigger/grander casinos, this book will give you a history of the beginnings for this stage of Vegas. At times it is a little drawn out, but all in all, an interesting read.
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Grandissimo is a perfectly written biography of the flawed visionary Jay Sarno. David G. Schwartz, Vegas historian extraordinare, hits the perfect balance between detail and fast pacing in his essential biography of the builder of the iconic Caesars Palace and Circus Circus. Sarno's influence on Las Vegas transcends those two hotels; he single-handedly had the vision that has impacted every single property built since then. Without Sarno, there is no Steve Wynn. There is no Mirage, Bellagio, Excalibur, etc.

The pacing of the book is perfect. Schwartz's tale unfolds like a movie as we get to see every aspect of Jay Sarno, a larger than life man of incredible appetites.If you are interested in Las Vegas history, read this book before any others. I have read almost every book on the history of Nevada and it's many colorful characters and this is my favorite. Schwartz did an untold amount of research to get this story right and I thank the Sarno family for cooperating with him. This man's story had to be told, and Schwartz did it perfectly.

You will love Sarno, despise him, pity him, and admire him. But you won't forget him!
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This is probably the best book ever about the history of Sin City. I've read a great many books on Mob activities and other such shinanigans about the town but I think you'll really enjoy this rendition. Mr. Schwartz gives a really good commentary and great visual depictions. Even Steve Wynn gave it a thumbs up. I do believe it to be a most honest account of Vegas to date and think the history by Mr. Schwartz is quite accurate.
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David Schwartz spins a terrific tale about one of Las Vegas' more unheralded early titans. His story about Jay Sarno's creation of Caesars Palace, and later Circus Circus, fills the untold gap between mafia run Vegas and Corporate Vegas. As an expert on Las Vegas history, Schwartz treats the reader to many relevant details about the other casino operations, politics, and how we got here from there...
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I'm really having a wonderful time with this book, but I feel like it unfortunately glosses over some of the most fun details of how the hotels were built and what they were like inside when they were new. Pictures of the inside of the hotel would have been a real bonus here so that we could really understand the opulence they encompassed. Circus Circus and Ceasers Palace are both so changed from their original form that it's hard to understand how they once were.

But, Jay Sarno is a larger-than-life character and he was known for taking up every room he entered, so it seems fair that he also takes over a book about his hotels.
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