Thomas's Reviews > Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

Positively Fifth Street by James McManus
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Feb 15, 11

Read from February 13 to 15, 2011

Beautifully told story of the author's experiences in the 2000 World Series of Poker, coupled with his reporting for Harper's both on the Series and on the murder of its owner, Ted Binion, who was killed by his stripper wife and her new boyfriend.

I have a reservation about giving it four stars, which is that most of it probably wouldn't be of much interest unless you follow poker pretty closely -- and specifically No Limit Texas Hold 'Em. If you don't, much of the book is completely impenetrable.

What I liked most was the lyrical quality of the gambler's cant used in the gambling scenes. In the annals of American subcultural writing, this book is pretty amazing and important. It records the obsessive, sleazy, testosterone-pumped noir-ish slang of the modern poker player with an edgy brilliance that makes it poetry. This is a totally modern, totally organic lingo that's like its own language, and the author renders it with a lyrical quality that is some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read, evocative of the hardest-boiled of crime novels.

If you like the dense slang and tongue-in-cheek wordplay of, say, Damon Runyon, you can probably appreciate the beautiful language in this book. The guy can seriously lay that shit down. Pretty impressive.
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Thomas Glad to hear that! I would say if you're very interested in subcultural slang, idioms, and the like, but not in poker, it might be worth spending a half hour glancing through some of the paragraphs in a library copy just to see some of the poker-related language, rather than doing the whole 400 pages. The murder story, unfortunately, didn't seem extensive enough to carry it as a true crime book for someone who's not into poker. If you're interested in poker and want to learn about it, however, I get the sense the same author's Cowboys Full is more the place to start.


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