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The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death

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3.34  ·  Rating details ·  1,854 ratings  ·  340 reviews
The Noble Hustle is Pulitzer finalist Colson Whitehead’s hilarious memoir of his search for meaning at high stakes poker tables, which the author describes as “Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shut-ins.”


On one level, The Noble Hustle is a familiar species of participatory journalism--a longtime neighborhood poker player, Whitehead was given a $10,000 stake and an assignment
...more
Hardcover, 234 pages
Published May 6th 2014 by Doubleday (first published 2014)
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Glenn Sumi
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
Colson Whitehead is quickly becoming one of my favourite writers. Like the late John Updike, everything he writes, even when it’s about out-of-left-field or seemingly light subjects, is thoughtful and beautifully phrased. There's always a sly, cheeky wit underscoring his polished prose.

This book is adapted from a long article he wrote for the online magazine Grantland in July of 2011.

The magazine staked him $10,000 to play at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Nice gig, right? Keep in
...more
Ami
Dec 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
While poker has never really been my thing, Colson Whitehead's writing has always *very* much been my thing. So it is surprising to me that I missed sections of this book, which were originally published on Grantland. I should go to that website more often.

Anytime Whitehead is at a poker table, or talking to one of his poker mentors, this book is on fire. One of his "instructors," known just as Coach, especially spoke to me. A woman in her 60s who exploits sweater sets and pearl earrings for
...more
Kate
Jun 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Overall, pretty fantastic, but I want to talk about it in context with this completely unrelated book about creative nonfiction, the thesis of which is that it's okay to fabricate parts of your nonfiction to make it interesting, because otherwise no one will read or remember it, and oblivion does no great service to The Truth.

Instead of a-factual embellishment, Whitehead uses personality. (And a constant stream of decorative twitches that are obviously for comedy, but still help to set the
...more
Melissa Klug
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, 2014-favorite
Although I admit I would read absolutely anything Colson Whitehead writes, when I picked this book off a very deep TBR pile, I said, poker? Really? I'm doomed with this book. I know absolutely nothing about poker--in fact, I have to think really hard to name all four suits of cards (card playing wasn't A Thing in my house when I was growing up, and I have never had an affinity for card games. Every summer on in-law vacation my MIL gets very annoyed when I choose to sit on the couch and read ...more
Ben
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shut-ins" is the self-applied description of this relentlessly self-aware, self-loathing tract covering mostly poker, with forays into beef jerky, death, and other topics of pressing interest. Colson Whitehead casts himself as sad-sack-in-chief, bringing us along on his explorations of some of America's most notable sad-sack ports of call, like Atlantic City, Vegas, and the New York Port Authority bus station. All the while, he's preparing (after a fashion) to play ...more
Taryn
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poc-author, audio
I really enjoyed Colson Whitehead's memoir about the time he spent playing in the World Series of Poker, but almost a month after finishing it, I'm having a hell of a time articulating why.

Whitehead freely admits he isn't that great of a poker player—his greatest advantage seems to be his deadpan expression, a hard-to-read poker face he presents to the world all the time, not just at the card table. When a magazine agreed to bankroll his entry fee in the tournament, he wasn't in a great place
...more
Christine (Queen of Books)
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, black-lit
What even is this book. At the outset, I found The Noble Hustle surprisingly laugh-out-loud funny. As it continues, I generally thought it was humorous (so, less funny, but still entertaining). But. But. I knew this wasn't written by just anyone. I went in knowing it was by an author whose work has impressed me. In fact, I listened to the narration by Colson f**king Whitehead himself. You know, the MacArthur genius who wrote arguably two of the best fiction books I've read in the past decade?

So.
...more
Ms.pegasus
Sep 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in poker
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: NPR interview of the author
Among the 6864 entries to the main event of the 2011 World Series of Poker was author Colson Whitehead. His gig was courtesy of GRANTLAND magazine. This book, like the articles from which it was spawned, reads like a diverse series of essays about the author's life-long relationship to poker, his preparations for the event, and the changing face of Las Vegas.

He recalls the game from his college days, and a memorable 1991 road trip to Las Vegas. In that year there were a mere 215 Main Event
...more
JBP
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2014
This might be an unpopular opinion [all the accolades and awards it is getting puts me on a limb with my opinion] but the only reason I got through this annoying book by Colson Whitehead was that it was short. I have attempted to read Whitehead before and always stop in frustration regarding his over-written, trying too hard style...and that is the same with this bit of non-fiction about poker. Whitehead's nowhere near as humorous as he believes he is [I find him terribly unfunny] as he goes on ...more
Daniel Sevitt
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The writing is delicious even if the entire enterprise never really achieves any kind of urgency or rises beyond its roots as an extended magazine article. Also, Colson Whitehead is a furious namedropper! Who knew? We get poker coach and author Helen Ellis, college buddy Darren Aronofsky and other assorted slebs casually dropped into the narrative. But it's all good. There's plenty of room for them because it's a bit thin anyway. Probably not the book I should have chosen after the triumph of ...more
Fred Forbes
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Mom always said profanity is evidence of a limited vocabulary which may be why I am sensitive to it. Not that it does not have a place in writing and in life, but Whitehead, like many Millennial writers tends to use it as casual adverbs and adjectives and this overuse becomes wearing as you move through the pages. The book itself seems a bit forced. I found out that it is an "expansion" of a magazine article and feels like it. A title that would have worked is "But I digress ..." since he leads ...more
Mac
May 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
Point 1. Saw a photo of Colson Whitehead beaming with an engaging, broad smile, and I was stunned. Based on The Noble Hustle, I figured he hadn't ever smiled. Throughout the book, he is discouraged and dour. In the opening sentence, he says he is "half dead inside," and he goes on to admit he lives in the land where there's the "inability to experience pleasure." Now, I hope this depressed attitude is a humorous literary stance he has taken for The Noble Hustle, but it makes for an unpleasant ...more
Maggie
Sep 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A moment of silence, please, for the wonderful online magazine Grantland, which had some of the smartest sportswriting around. The magazine sent Colson Whitehead on assignment to participate in the World Series of Poker. They didn't pay him for the series of articles that followed, but they covered his $10,000 entry fee to the tournament and told him he could keep whatever he won.

This book isn't for everyone. Those hoping for a guide to the World Series of Poker or poker in general will think it
...more
Bill Breedlove
Jun 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I like Colson Whitehead's writing and I like poker, and I even like Grantland, so this seemed a no-brainer. It was interesting, but I was not very fulfilled by it. Perhaps I was expecting a more "poker-centric" book, a chronicle of his trying to get ready for, and eventual participation in, the WSOP. Something like, say, POSITIVELY FIFTH STREET by James McManus. That book, like THE NOBLE HUSTLE, weaves personal digressions and outside story angles into the natural arc formed by playing in the ...more
Joe
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: doubleday, 2013
There are two reasons to read this enhanced special edition Director's Cut of Colson Whitehead's highly regarded Grantland article about his time as the Republic of Anhedonia's official representative at the World Series of Poker. The first is the litany of bizarre truths littered in the twin deserts of Las Vegas and Whitehead's dreams. These will seem familiar, as they were viewable from the original article, but they are worth seeing again, up-close and with ever more excruciating angst. The ...more
Ben Rowe
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Whitehead is a decent writer and the pages turn easy enough in this short book but ultimately there are many, many books out there that capture both poker and specifically the WSOP more accurately, interestingly and entertainingly.

Like a lot of non-fiction this feels puffed out - a noted writer was given the buy in to the main event and spun a book out of it. Its always much better when a book has a story that is compelling or a writer with so much interesting to say that a book is needed to
...more
Jessica Woodbury
If you've only read Colson Whitehead's novels, you may not be aware of his deep capacity for deadpan. His novels certainly have plenty of misery and meditation, but they won't have you prepared for this book. The only thing that can adequately prepare you is to start following him on Twitter. Right now. (He's @colsonwhitehead.) He's glorious, one of the best tweeters ever. His tweets are depressing and ridiculous and the funniest things you'll ever read.

What's amazing is that he takes the
...more
Alex
Oct 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
In 2011, Grantland paid novelist Colson Whitehead's entry fee in the World Series of Poker. Whitehead, freshly divorced and perpetually morose, trains for and then attends the World Series, and The Noble Hustle is his account of the experience.

Whitehead is depressed. He writes like a witty, gambling addicted Eeyore. His depression is the most enjoyable aspect of the book. You sort of expect him to drop the shtick and flash a little optimism, or express the human emotion of joy, but he never
...more
Mieke Mcbride
Sep 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
I've only read one other book by Whitehead-- Zone One (arguably his most popular book). Zone One is best described as a boring (but incredibly well-written) zombie book. I saw Whitehead read from The Noble Hustle at BookPeople and found the sections he read amusing so decided to grab this book from the library and give Whitehead a second chance. He's clever and has a way with words, so I was hopeful. Plus this book is short. How dull and slow moving can a short book be? (Sadly, the answer is ...more
Tristan
Aug 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
Besides my rating being abysmal let me explain what reading this book was like. It's like, you're on a long flight to Vegas and you're intrigued by your soon to be first HUGE gambling experience. Suddenly, some guy sits beside you and says, "Hey, been to Vegas before?"
And you say, "Actually this will --"
"Great kid. Now, let me tell you this story of when I got to play in the World Series of Poker, and lost!"

...And he goes on telling this pointless and dull story of his time in Vegas for 15
...more
Brad Wojak
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Poker has never really been my thing. I have played it, poorly, in garages and at stags. I picked this up solely based on my love of beef jerky, and the other writings of Mr. Whitehead. I was not disappointed. This book is not going to improve your game much, or assist you in being a brighter, happier person. It will however, give you an enjoyable companion for a while and tell you a great story.
Mike
Oct 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
When your book is described as a "hilarious memoir", you have, I think, a certain standard up to which you should live. Mr. Whitehead fails miserably! Perhaps, "a frequently uninteresting, at times rising to mildly amusing, travelogue cum self-deprecating navel gaze which manages to make the World Series of Poker a bore" would be more accurate.
Mocha Girl
Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
I’ve read Whitehead’s work before and have enjoyed other works more than this offering. I learned little about poker and laughed even less at his antics. I was disappointed -- too much rambling about nothing -- I closed the book wishing I could reclaim the time I lost.
Stacy
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
On one hand, this book is a hot mess--full of jargon, tangents, and the author's own neuroses. On the other hand, I'll read anything Whitehead writes. He's smart, funny, and a master of simile and analogy.
David Dinaburg
Sep 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I learned a lot of things during my long, bizarre trip.” I’ve stated before that tearing out the where and when from a book you read isn’t possible.

About myself and the ways of the world.” I finished Noble Hustle at a beach house in Northern California surrounding by my lifelong friends the morning of my wedding.

One, do not hope for change, or the possibility of transcending your everyday existence, because you will fail.” I picked it up after discussion of Colson Whitehead’s work kept
...more
Ashley *Booksbrewsandbarks*
As someone who has a sordid history with the world of poker and the characters it creates, I thought this book would be a slam dunk. I turned a blind eye at the reviews beforehand and attributed the rating to people that did not have a close relationship to the cards like I once did. While I hoped this would be a love story for the sport and the culture behind it, it felt more like a criticism of the present day poker generation as well as an extended therapy session with the author that I did ...more
Matthew
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In 2011, budding writer Colson Whitehead was staked $10,000 to compete in The World Series of Poker and write about it for the online magazine Grantland. Whitehead realizes he must up his casual game, so he hits the books, studies the latest game theory, explores Atlantic City tables (juggling single-parent duties between drives), and even hires a cool and casual "housewife" poker coach to help him play his game. Representing the "Republic of Anhedonia" (roughly translating into those who are ...more
James Rindfuss
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Not really a fan. I picked this up a while back in Seattle for like 5 bucks on sale as it sounded interesting. Grabbed it to read while traveling to Montreal this weekend. Parts were entertaining but it wasn't really for me. It's kind of funny because I finished it last night and was thinking, wow this guy is a bad writer, being unfamiliar with his name. And then today he's everywhere! Front page story on NPR about his new book that just came out. Turns out the dude won the Pulitzer Prize like ...more
David Szatkowski
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fun read. If you are doing a 'read harder challenge', this book may qualify under a couple headings (sport (poker), minority author (African American), prizer winner (NPR Book of the year)). The prose is very easy to read. The book reads as if you asked a friend - so how did you get into the World Series of Poker? And the book is the style of 'well, no kidding, here's what happened.". It is as easy to read as a guy's beach read, as fun as a light hearted romp.
Emily
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably closer to 3.5

This little book about poker brought me back to the mid-2000s when everyone thought it was possible to be a poker superstar. The writing in this novel was beautiful, which is a weird thing to say about a poker novel, but that's what you get when Colson Whitehead is at the helm. I felt like parts of it came off a bit-try hard and like there was a good deal of padding, but overall it was an enjoyable read with a lot of nostalgia.
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I'm the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. I've also written a book of essays about my home town, The Colossus of New York, and a non-fiction ...more
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