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

Positively Fifth Street by James McManus
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Oct 03, 2011

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Read from October 17 to 28, 2011

The lurid opening of this book -- a reconstruction of how gambling magnate Ted Binion was probably murdered in 1998 -- is quite a page-turner. I enjoyed how McManus jumped into the action without much explanation. At first, I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought perhaps it was merely a kinky but poorly executed menage a trois; but it slowly dawned on me that something vicious was going on. Eventually, I realized that McManus was describing a brutal murder.

McManus is certainly an accomplished writer and a person of broad interests. I was delighted by his ability to mix literary anecdotes into his narrative. And his philosophical reflections on the nature of gambling, and what motivates people who gamble, seem spot-on.

That said, I have never had any real interest in gambling. It's not my style. I have always gravitated toward things that require slow, steady effort, like playing the piano or learning a trade. But I suppose everything we do could be characterized as a gamble on some level: there's always the hope of a payoff, no matter how remote the possibility may be. Even if the payoff comes in a slow trickle, like a paycheck.

One needs to have a certain psychological profile (a thrill-seeking mentality?) to be a serious gambler. I would guess that gamblers also like roller coasters, bungie-jumping, motorcycles, hard drugs, and all sorts of extreme experiences. Strip-clubs and crime figure heavily into McManus's narrative, so I'll heap those onto the gambler's profile, as well.

Because I'm not a gambler and don't know much about poker, I found McManus's blow-by-blow accounts of the various poker games quite hard to follow. At first, I read a Wikipedia article about it, hoping to acquire enough knowledge to follow the narrative. I quickly realized that my level of interest was not sufficient to delve into the complexities of the game and its related jargon.

Consequently, I began skimming through the poker-game narratives. So I know that I missed a lot of what McManus wanted to emphasize, and I have to admit that I am simply unable to appreciate this book fully. If I had actually known something about poker beforehand, this book would have been far more rewarding.

One thing that I felt some ambivalence about was how much McManus brings us into own personal life. I think he needed to get into this a little in order to establish the magnitude of the risks he took. But I think he went a bit over the top with the intimate details of his family life.

Of much greater interest to me than the poker game is McManus's account of Ted Binion's murder and the trial of the accused. After reading about half of the book, I decided that I would just skip ahead and follow that story to the end. I'm still not quite done, but I thought I'd pound this much of a review for now, and add to it later if need be.

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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Gina (new)

Gina Sirois Good review. I haven't gotten deep into the book yet. Poker doesn't really interest me, nor does Vegas (oddly enough - it certainly tries more than most places to be interesting). I can probably get into a good murder trial, though...I'll give it some time.

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