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The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death.


The Noble Hustle

Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death

By Colson Whitehead


Colson Whitehead is the recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his novel John Henry Days (2001). He is also the author of The Intuitionist (1999), Sag Harbor (**** SELECTION July/Aug 2009), and Zone One (***1/2 Jan/Feb 2012). In The Noble Hustle, Whitehead tries his hand at high-stakes poker.

THE TOPIC: An interested amateur at poker since his college days, Colson Whitehead took an assignment from Grantland magazine to cover the 2011 World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas. His fee for writing the article: anything he could win. Whitehead hired a coach, spent a few weeks reading up on strategy, and honed his skills in low-stakes games in Atlantic City before heading to the big time. There, his poker face inscrutable, he took on pros who had spent their adult lives clawing their way to the top of the profession. Writing from his own self-styled "Republic of Anhedonia," the realm of "the shut-ins, the doom-struck, the morbid of temperament," Whitehead describes a scene that has taken on mythic proportions in American culture.

Doubleday. 256 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780385537056

Seattle Times ****

"A [divorce] with a kid, Whitehead comes off to readers as a stoic guy who wears his joylessness with honor, but contrary to the way he describes himself in the opening line of the book, he's not half-dead inside. ... Whitehead's humor, like his general outlook, is dry as a bone, so when he writes that 'luck is merely the temporary state of outrunning your impending disasters,' he does so with the pride of a true cynic rather than self-pity." TYRONE BEASON

USA Today ****

"Because Whitehead is such a gifted and resourceful writer, he is able to seamlessly weave his personal tribulations into The Noble Hustle's prevailing narrative of 21st-century poker and its place in what the book characterizes as the 'Leisure Industrial Complex.' Even as you learn about both the rules and subtler nuances of playing 'Texas Hold-Em,' you are also getting both the big picture of the game's contemporary mythology of star players and burgeoning pots and the smaller, more vivid sensations of what it feels like to have to figure out the best time for bathroom breaks in the midst of playing a major hand." GENE SEYMOUR

Christian Science Monitor ***1/2

"The most interesting pervasive character in The Noble Hustle is Whitehead himself. For this journey, he's our guide, and he recreates himself as a sort of gifted but lazy schmuck from the unfeeling country of Anhedonia (as in anhedonic--incapable of pleasure) who lands himself in interesting places but can't appreciate it." JANET SAIDI

Miami Herald ***1/2

"The Noble Hustle holds up despite Whitehead's disadvantages.... Like everyone who writes about Vegas, Whitehead writes about the city's ridiculousness." SUSANNAH NESMBTH

San Francisco Chronicle ***1/2

"The Noble Hustle, Colson Whitehead's new book about poker, a supposedly fun game, will undoubtedly draw comparisons to David Foster Wallace's nonfiction. It shares with Wallace's work the close attention of a wry, sharp intelligence to a populist pastime, a mix of casual and highfalutin diction, a self-deprecating voice that you're never sure is totally truthful in its deprecation, and a fondness for broad cultural pronouncements" JAY JENNINGS

Washington Post ***

"It's sort of Tom Wolfe crossed with Tom Pynchon, with poker as the nominal subject.... By the end, the lightness or lack of overall substance, as if we're walking away with nothing, makes the book a little disappointing" STEVEN BARTHELME

New York Times **1/2

"Colson Whitehead's poker memoir, The Noble Hustle, is a throwaway, a bluff, a large bet on a small hand.... The upside of The Noble Hustle is that Mr. Whitehead is such a gifted writer, even when he doubles down on his calculated schlubbiness, that he nearly pulls this all off" DWIGHT GARNER

Los Angeles Times **1/2

"Whitehead has the steady hand needed to wield a razor wit, but by the fourth or fifth go-round, even as entertaining a concept as the Leisure-Industrial Complex tires.... Noble Hustle is a charming but slight bit of high-brow hustle from a talented writer playing his readers for rubes" ROBERT ANASI


A departure for Whitehead, The Noble Hustle reprises America's fascination with poker described in such books as Frederick and Steven Barthelme's Double Down (1999), Ben Mezrich's Bringing Down the House (2002), and James McManus's Positively Fifth Street (2007) and Cowboys Full (2010). With the meteoric rise of interest in poker over the last decade or so, books on the game and its players have become a cottage industry. Whitehead throws his hat in the ring in an effort he describes as "Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shutins." The author's self-deprecating, ironic humor carries the day here when the book works, but overall it's a slight affair, falling prey to the publishing model in which an ambitious magazine article struggles to reach its potential in the long form.



A timeless book to be read by all


One of the best of its genre

*** GOOD

Enjoyable, particularly for fans

of the genre


Some problems, approach with caution


Not worth your time
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Date:Jul 1, 2014
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