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The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  384 ratings  ·  43 reviews
The rags-to-riches story of one of America’s wealthiest and least-known financial giants, self-made billionaire Kirk Kerkorian—the daring aviator, movie mogul, risk-taker, and business tycoon who transformed Las Vegas and Hollywood to become one of the leading financiers in American business.

Kerkorian combined the courage of a World War II pilot, the fortitude
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published January 23rd 2018 by Dey Street Books (first published 2018)
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Start your review of The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History
William C. Rempel was an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He has written the biography of Kirk Kerkorian (1917-2015). The author covers Kerkorian’s life from boyhood to death. The book is full of all types of celebrities from business to sports. Rempel states that Kerkorian was a big-time gambler in casinos, business and life.

The book is well written and researched. The writing is in the style of a journalist. While researching this book, Rempel interviewed many peop
D. Thrush
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating true story of Kirk Kerkorian who dropped out of school after the 8th grade and became a billionaire. He enjoyed the game of making deals and was very good at it. His handshake was his word and he believed in treating everyone fairly. His business involvements included airlines, professional boxing, Las Vegas, movie studios. He was intensely private, generous, and loyal to friends. Because he trusted those he was close to, he fell prey to a woman who claimed he was the father of her c ...more
Amy Ingalls
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways, nonfiction
I won this book in a giveaway. It was interesting to learn more about someone who I had never heard of, but it did get a bit repetitive at times due to all the similar deals being made. There were certain aspects that I wish had been gone into deeper, or from more points of view, because the author almost always made Kirk seem like a really nice guy and I do think that anyone that cutthroat in business is not always nice. There has to be a ruthless side and that was a bit glossed over. I will sa ...more
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I struggled through this book, skipped over the endlessly boring details about business but ultimately realized that was who Kerkorian was mostly. Personal life (which is what interests me in a biography) was superfluous to him.
Kate Stafford
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
This review is strictly about the quality of writing, and not about Kirk Kerkorian himself. Sometimes biographers fall in love with their subjects. I’ve never seen such a clear example of this as this book. Kirk Kerkorian was presented as a saint/savant without faults or failures. People who were not part of club Kerkorian were treated with undisguised disdain by the author. The result was a portrayal of a man who lacked nuance, and it was utterly dull.

Kerkorian was notoriously priva
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Giving this book 5 stars is probably a bit of a reach, but I REALLY enjoyed it. It was a fun ride through Kirk Kerkorian's life, all of his business deals, and insights into his personal life. I was familiar with him by name, but didn't have any deep knowledge of his background going into the book. He had an amazing career, starting with running a smaller charter airline operation (clients included famous icons like Bugsy Siegel), grew into owning his own fleet (Trans Intercontinental Airlines), ...more
Tom Grover
The pop-culture historical narrative of Las Vegas includes such figures as Bugsy Siegel, Howard Hughes and to a lesser extent Benny Binion. But none of these figures has had even a fraction of the impact as Kirk Kerkorian, whose reign over the Las Vegas Strip extended from just after WWII until his death in 2015. His absence in the mind of the public was by design. While Kerkorian was a player in the biggest business deals of the 20th century, he valued his privacy and worked to maintain a low p ...more
Ross Mckinney
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting biography about someone I knew little about, Kirk Kerkorian. He managed to work his way up from poverty to one of the richest men on earth. This book tells that story, and it's generally well written and engaging. I barely put it down. There are a few sections that are repeated, and the other quibble is that there's something missing. The author clearly likes KK, although he never met him, but there are times where the portrayal of KK and his motivations don't seem to mat ...more
Feb 06, 2019 rated it liked it
A fascinating biography of one of the most successful entrepreneurs and financial capitalists. I began to think the author was bordering on hagiography but it turned out Kerkorian's nature was such that he did not project a lot of negatives unlike similar moguls.

Coming from humble origins he simply took on risk that most would cringe from to stair step his was to an incredible fortune. Amazingly shy and withdrawn for someone on the glare of the spotlight of success. Evidence of this
William Krasne
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kirk Kerkorian was a minor player in a great book that I read last year called "Win It All" about the casino business in Las Vegas. Despite his brief appearance, he came across as a very compelling individual and I was excited for this biography to get released. The book didn't disappoint. Kirk's tale is almost beyond belief, he grew up penniless in Los Angeles and didn't make his first million until well into his 40s, but at his peak he was worth $20B. Kirk was the consummate gambler, willing t ...more
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting biography

I knew the name Kirk Kerkorian, but I didn't know anything about his life. This book is well researched and well written. The emphasis is on Kerkorian's business dealings. His personal life is dealt with in a detached manner.

That said, it wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. You need to get excited about business deals to really appreciate it. It's not the writing, which is great, that slowed me down. I just couldn't get into all the stocks and takeovers and such.
Feb 17, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is well-written and expertly-narrated. It is quite a joy to listen to. The only hinderance to receiving four or five stars from me is the source material. While Kerkorian lived an interesting youth anything after his first business is fairly dull. He bought and sold a few companies, built a few buildings, brushed up against Howard Hughes, got taken by a grifter and died. Kerkorian comes across as a thoroughly nice guy but there are few stunning moments. But again, author and narrator c ...more
David Skinner
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Next to Steve Jobs, this is the best biography I’ve ever consumed. I learned through Kirk’s ups and downs and was educated in a completely new business to me of casinos and film while being engaged by his personal life, understanding his emotional responses, and learning about his drive to succeed. He also breaks the mold of ultra successful business people who are brash and don’t care about people, he was a very calculated man, but had compassion and empathy for the people with whom he dealt, e ...more
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-book-shelf
Kirk Kerkorian's story of rags to riches. Rempel traces Kirk's history well. Amazing how he bought and sold MGM so often. He truly made big bets and influenced industries from aviation, movies, & Vegas.
Also interesting with his involvement and patience with Lisa Bonder.
I knew a little about his business deals but not much at all about his personal life and ties to Armenia.
This is really a good story. Reads more like a novel than a biography.
John K
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you consider all of the other books that have this super investor in it. This book gives you more color as to the true beauty of the individual. His exploits in the earlier years and his humility in later years are easy to connect. It will also motivate you to use your abilities to move your life forward. You want to keep reading the book and it will keep you interested with events that make going to Las Vegas more enjoyable.

Good Book - about - A Good Man
Nathan Boler
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was a very well done biography on a lesser known billionaire businessman. I had never heard his name before, but he had an amazingly lengthy career building his businesses in aviation, leisure, and movies. Quite an impressive story, and an enjoyable read if you're interested in finance/investing, the creation of the Las Vegas industry, or the Hollywood movie industry of the 1960s-80s.
A sad personal life, with multiple divorces and everyone trying to get a piece of his fortune.
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was very interesting and well written. I had never heard of Kirk Kerkorian before, and picked it to read for the rags to riches story. It turned out that he also had an exceptional honest character and was someone I wanted to see succeed. It was informative in the areas of the gaming industry, deal making, WWII aviation, Armenians, and psychology. Many of the other people in the are also very interesting. I highly recommend it.
Ron L Williams
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An Extraordinary read for someone like myself who fancies himself as a future dealmaker as well. Kerk Kerkorian was the kind of man that I wished I could have worked for and with. I would have enjoyed it and I would have learned so much. Again, a truly great story of someone from humble beginnings and who shunned the spotlight. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and can hardly wait to read it again.
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wish I could have met him. His word was his bond. The title should have been Maxwell house because Kirk's life was good to the last drop.

Pears of Wisdom "Things my ear picked up on"

The smaller you bet, the more you lose when you win
I had took you at your word and I have come to regret it.
Bought and sold MGM 3 Times
Flipped Airplanes
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, biography
Have not experienced such a great business biography like this in a very long time. Had a little bit of everything I enjoy. Great Horatio Alger like life and characters in it. Great settings Las Vegas, Los Angeles, private jets and yachts. Great Adventures in capitalism financing hotels and movies. Big thumbs up!
Alex Kirby
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic story about a guy I'd never even heard of, because he didn't like a lot of personal publicity. The guy came up from nothing, started as an amateur boxer, became a pilot, built half of Las Vegas, made billions selling and then re-buying MGM, and all the while was dating women in their 20's long into his late 80's.
Cynthia Smith
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting, easy read about an extremely successful businessman. He had high principles, treated everyone with respect and was fiercely private - rare in today's business world. He was a philanthropist extraordinaire with the caveat - his name was not to be disclosed.

His name was familiar to me but I had no idea what an interesting life he lead. I really enjoyed this book.
Fast-moving but superficial biography of the billionaire financier. With the exception of his contentious late-life romance with Lisa Bonder there's practically nothing about his personal life and his two daughters are almost entirely absent from the narrative. Perhaps we're still too close to Kerkorian's passing to get a true "warts and all" accounting of his life.
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
good for those interested in: M&A; Vegas; how air travel effected banking, globalization, biz history from 1920 until 2010.

ever look at a sky scraper and wonder how someone financed giant projects? read this book.

the spine of the book is an account of Kirk's business life, walking through the context and tactics of Kirk's raiding adventures.

a bit of real life citizen Kane thrown in as well.
Mark Bunch
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very well written book. I learned the back story on one of the biggest business forces in the USA over the past 100 years. Easy to read and complete in its coverage of his career. He flew in WWII , made a fortune of surplus airplane. He bought up Hollywood, he built Vegas.
Ragavendhra Perumall
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the finest bio about Kirk Kerkorian , Kirk is a very interesting character The frugal man who was known for his Hostile Takeovers and a few failed attempts . I’ve modeled how to make Big Bold Bets from this man !
Mike Kostka
May 16, 2018 rated it liked it
The man basically built Vegas even though he was a 8th grade dropout. Started his own plane chartering business which soon leads him building at the time the world’s largest hotel and casino. All his deals were done with a handshake. He also donated billions of his own money to countless charities.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Wow, this guy lives for a very long time
, One thing I learned from this book, no matter how smart you are, you can't escape good digging whores . He was a corporate raider but the author refuses to see it that way. I never knew there was much money in second hand airplane sales.
John Machata
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this account. Author is skilled. KK was a fascinating man.
Steve Hawkins
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Las Vegas King

I learned a a lot about the Halifax express and the building of Las Vegas. Admiration for the guy that still did business with a handshake
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Bill Rempel’s long and eventful career at the Los Angeles Times, both as a writer and an editor, produced an impressive collection of high-profile projects and change-makers. His reporting triggered government investigations, exposed White House and Pentagon scandals, and prompted reforms of state courts and consumer protection laws.

Groundbreaking reports on Osama bin Laden and al Qaed