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

by James McManus

ISBN 0312422520 / 9780312422523 / 0-312-42252-0
Publisher Picador
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

To provide some background to Positively Fifth Street, in 2000, novelist and poet James McManus was sent to Las Vegas, innocently enough, by Harper's magazine to write a story about the World Series of Poker held annually at Binion's Horseshoe. But then, as so often happens on trips to Sin City, something kind of "happened". Rather than becoming an objective report, McManus's article evolved into a memoir as he put his entire advance on the line, got lucky with his cards, won a spot in the competition, and came much closer than anyone expected to winning the darn thing. The result, Positively Fifth Street, is just as dazzling, exciting and disturbing as Vegas itself.

McManus details his battles not only against his opponents but also against "Bad Jim", the portion of his own personality that needs to get in on a poker game in spite of both common and fiscal sense. Besides telling his own story, he relates the considerably more unpleasant tale of Ted Binion, whose grisly death was blamed on Binion's former stripper-girlfriend and her ex-linebacker beau. In the hands of a lesser author, the pursuit of these separate threads, of poker and of the seedy personal lives of wealthy casino heirs, may have lead readers to wish the author had picked just one subject. But under McManus's careful watch, they're really pretty similar: steeped in adrenaline, mystery, deception and skating on thrillingly thin ice. Each story underscores the other, a neat little "narrative as metaphor" device, while also painting a vivid picture of Vegas casino life. Poker, as anyone who has lost at it will tell you, is an intricate game and it's nice to see a top-notch author and player relate its finer points in an entertaining style that will appeal even to non-players. The author's hilariously self-aware and at times self-loathing style make Positively Fifth Street a fun read. But beyond that, his account of nearly winning the biggest poker tournament in the world and subsequently watching as the verdicts are announced for Binion's accused murderers makes for a great story. Even if it wasn't the one he was sent there to write. --John Moe, Amazon.com [via]