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The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death [Kindle Edition]

Colson Whitehead

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"Whitehead serves up an engrossing mix of casual yet astute reportage and hang-dog philosophizing, showing us that, for all of poker’s intricate calculations and shrewd stratagems, everything still hangs on the turn of a card."
   - Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"As a novelist of considerable range, Whitehead consistently writes about more than he's ostensibly writing writing a poker book that should strike a responsive literary chord with some who know nothing about the game...Engaging in its color and character."
   -Kirkus Reviews

"Colloquial, with many personal digressions and heavy on pop-culture references, it reads like a memoir crossed with a literary guide to the often bizarre world of casino-poker tournaments..."
-The Wall Street Journal

"[Whitehead's] reporting on the grimy glitz of casinos and competitive gambling has a funny, tragic, loser-chic sesibility."
-The New Yorker

"...A witty, wandering book about poker...Tom Wolfe crossed with Tom Pynchon,"
-The Washington Post

"Whitehead goes to the table himself, and like a reporter on the front line of battle, he files stories as the action heats up...[Whitehead] uses poker to expand our sense of how human beings work."
-The New York Times Book Review

"Whitehead was rarely lucky - and maybe that's what makes this crass, sardonic tour through America's wasteland of bright lights, overpriced all-you-can-eat menus and windowless banquet hall behemoths so funny."
-The Chicago Tribune

Mordantly funny from the first sentence...Mr. Whitehead may not have gone home in the money, but he has a way with upstanding sentences."
-The Economist

"...Clever and entertaining, and Whitehead employs entertaining throw-away lines that make you think"
-The Miami Herald

"Whitehead proves a brilliant sociologist of the poker world. He evokes the physical atmosphere vividly, 'the sleek whisper of laminated paper jetting across the table,' as the dealer shuffles. But he also conjures the human terrain, laying bare his own psychology and imagining his way into the minds of others. His book affirms what David Foster Wallace's best nonfiction pieces made so clear: It's a great idea... to turn a gifted novelist loose on an odd American subculture and see what riches are unearthed"
- The Boston Globe

"When a writer is good enough to blur the line between fiction and reality, that's a trick I like to see over and over again...The Noble Hustle is a book that says a lot about America without trying to make any grand sweeping statements; it works because Whitehead paid close attention to everything going on around him, and distilled it in his own unique way... The Noble Hustle, though, is just as great of a look at a real America as it is a book about poker, all seen through the eyes of a writer we know best through the very unreal world of fiction."

"Shares with [David Foster] 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... Whitehead hips us to the popularity and atmosphere of the contemporary game, all without our having to endure a bus trip to Reno or have everything removed from our pockets but the lint."
-The San Francisco Chronicle

The Noble Hustle
, part love letter, part dark confessional, captures perfectly the mix of neurosis and narrative that makes gambling so appealing."
-Mother Jones

"The Noble Hustle is fierce, funny and totally worth the buy-in."
-New York Daily News

"Whitehead captures the sketchy and zombielike nature of poker tournament play well enough to leave you wishing this book came with a free bottle of Purell."
-Entertainment Weekly

This is not one of those poker books about a gang of math whizzes from Harvard who go to Vegas and win a gazillion dollars... A self-described citizen of the Republic of Anhedonia, whose residents are unable to experience pleasure, Whitehead, author of Zone One and other novels, agress to enter the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and see how far his half-dead poker face and a $10,000 stake can take him... Whitehead's account may seem at first like just another 'sad story about a pair of Jacks,' but it's really something very different, much sadder and much, much funnier. He calls his book 'Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shut-ins,' and that pretty much says it, if you remember that the eating part is mostly about beef jerky and the praying is for a pair of aces."
   -Booklist  (Starred Review)

In 2011, Whiting Writers' Award-winning author Whitehead (Zone One) attended and participated in the World Series of Poker...Hilarity ensued...Entertaining and absorbing, Whitehead's look at the subculture of gambling and casino tournaments will appeal even to nongambling readers. Also recommended for those who enjoy memoir."
   -Library Journal

The Noble Hustle,
a darkly humorous work of participatory reportage that finds [Whitehead] (a decided amateur) attempting to play poker with the pros... Hustle is a hoot... Whitehead proves an ideal observer of poker culture... the tale he tells is much more than that of an odds-against-him novice. It's a story of a writer befuddled by fatherhood and middle age. Whitehead may not triumph at the tables, but his new book is a winner."
- Bookpage

" engine of revved-up witticisms and one-liners."
-The East Hampton Star

"...the narrative glides to a graceful, evocative and crystalline conclusion."
-The Buffalo News


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 from the online online magazine Grantland to see how far he could get in the World Series of Poker.  But since it stems from the astonishing mind of Colson Whitehead (MacArthur Award-endorsed!), the book is a brilliant, hilarious, weirdly profound, and ultimately moving portrayal of--yes, it sounds overblown and ridiculous, but really!--the human condition.
After weeks of preparation that included repeated bus trips to glamorous Atlantic City, and hiring a personal trainer to toughen him up for sitting at twelve hours a stretch, the author journeyed to the gaudy wonderland that is Las Vegas – the world’s greatest “Leisure Industrial Complex” -- to try his luck in the multi-million dollar tournament.   Hobbled by his mediocre playing skills and a lifelong condition known as “anhedonia” (the inability to experience pleasure) Whitehead did not – spoiler alert!  - win tens of millions of dollars.  But he did chronicle his progress, both literal and existential, in this unbelievably funny, uncannily accurate social satire whose main target is the author himself. 
Whether you’ve been playing cards your whole life, or have never picked up a hand, you’re sure to agree that this book contains some of the best writing about beef jerky ever put to paper.

From the Hardcover edition.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 1493 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 258 Seiten
  • Verlag: Anchor (6. Mai 2014)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Nicht aktiviert
  • : Nicht aktiviert
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #392.222 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 3.0 von 5 Sternen  121 Rezensionen
13 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen A satire of all those other stunt memoirs 8. Mai 2014
Von Kindles & Wine Book Blog - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition

First of all, you should know that I am a total sucker for a good "stunt memoir" (or "participatory journalism," if you want to get fancy). You cooked a Julia Child recipe every day for a year? I want to read about it. Read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica? I'll preorder your book. Played in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) as a reporter for a magazine? I'm all-in, if you will. My fascination with getting a peek into different subcultures is definitely satisfied by authors doing crazy things and then writing about them.

This, however, is not your typical stunt memoir. So for a while I was a little confused--I wanted more of a plot, more of an inside scoop on the scene at the WSOP. Then it finally hit me--he's doing a satire of all of those other stunt memoirs! Gosh, that's clever! Because while I do love those stunt memoirs, they usually are pretty predictable--person decides to do something crazy/unique/ill-advised, does it, writes about it, learns a valuable life lesson and then finds love/a job/a new passion for living. This book is like the anti-that.

And Colson Whitehead flat-out won me over with his satirical sense of humor, witty observations, and terrific writing. Whitehead is an AMAZING writer! His writing is so slick sometimes I almost couldn't stand it. At the beginning, he takes some time to explain the game of poker to those readers who aren't familiar with it:

"To start, when judging a five-card hand of random crap, the highest card determines its value...Whoever has the better stuff wins. Sound familiar, American lackeys of late-stage capitalism?"

Come on, that's pretty funny, right? Well, the whole book is basically like that. I'm not kidding. I had to sort of forcibly stop myself from highlighting something on almost every page. I also had to stop myself from reading huge chunks out loud to my husband.

"For my part, I was not enthused about reading a poker how-to while queued for the omelet station of the buffet. Might as well get caught highlighting Beyond First Base: Advanced Booby Tips of the Pros on the way to prom."

I do have a couple of criticisms, though. There is a running gag throughout the book about the Republic of Anhedonia (where Whitehead claims to be a citizen). Toward the end I found it got to be a bit tiresome. Also, even though I was eventually OK with it not being a "typical" stunt memoir, I still had a little trouble when he moved back and forth between a couple of different years of the WSOP. I thought it interrupted the flow of the narrative.

This is a quick and very funny read full of sharp observations and witty takedowns of modern society under the guise of a memoir about playing in a poker tournament. And you do still get a peek into the inside world of poker tournaments--just through a very different (and sometimes quite pessimistic) lens. Look, "sometimes you have to accept a casino trip for what it really is: an opportunity to see old people."

Recommended for readers looking for a funny read with a bit of an edge. Anyone who likes cards or gambling (or beef jerky, for that matter...there is a surprising amount of information on beef jerky in this book!) should give this one a go.

Rating: B+

Note: I received a review copy of this title courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
30 von 35 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Negatively fifth street 11. April 2014
Von Aaron C. Brown - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
You know what would be a great story? A novelist and casual home-game poker player gets sent to Las Vegas by a magazine. Using his expense money to enter a satellite tournament, he'd win to buy into the main event at the World Series of Poker. He'd get to the final table, and hobnob with top pros and old-style outlaw Vegas royalty, while thinking of life and friends and wife and kids. Between hands he'd get involved in a murder trial of a stripper accused of using a horror-movie technique to dispatch a casino owner. The whole tangled tale would climax in a double lap-dance session.

That, of course, was Jim McManus' great Positively Fifth Street. Take away the murder, stripper, great title, lap dance, celebrities, constructive thinking and journey from lowly satellite seat to the final table and you have Colson Whitehead's interesting slacker version. It's much shorter without all the collateral stuff, and is intensely negative both in the sense accentuating unpleasant aspects of everything and showing more interest in what is missing than what is happening.

The Noble Hustle belongs to an older poker tradition, the gritty decay of The Man with the Golden Arm and The Cincinnati Kid (the books, not the movies in which star power obscures the message). But this is Generation X Brooklyn and leisure-industrial complex casinos, not illegal private games in Depression-era Cincinnati or post-WWII Chicago. The protagonist is a couch potato who has lost interest (or never had it) in his life and his marriage, not a heroin addict right out of jail or a rambling-gambling man unable to accept his position in life nor change it. The author does not engage life with a bang, but with a whimper.

Out of this affectless half-hearted struggle emerges an engaging account of a subtle metamorphosis. Add some manic gonzo energy and lots of drugs and you'd have something like Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (or better, another magazine commission about a gambling/sporting event: The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved). The author portrays his journey as changing himself from soft and unappetizing fatty raw meat to delicious, lean and tough beef jerky; not through trials by fire, but slow, gentle sunlight.

The writing is crisp and funny, recursive, ironic and mockingly self-referential. But all the posturing and artifice does not obscure the clear human voice. It's a simple, little story, barely more than an anecdote, but it carries as much weight as much longer works. You can read it for the pleasure of the writing, or for the insight. Befitting its negative orientation, you will not have favorable or unfavorable feelings about the protagonist-author, but you will have intense sympathy for his absent ex-wife.
9 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Bad Luck Schleprock Goes to Vegas? 4. Mai 2014
Von T. Karr - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
Colson Whitehead feels the need to go into training when he is staked by “Grantland” magazine to participate in the World Series of Poker. He has played in home games, but never before ventured into a casino to play poker. He fears the humiliation and shame that comes with bowing out early in the big tournament.

But then again Colson Whitehead feels that doom and humiliation lurk around just about every nook and cranny of life. The looming tournament just adds to his burden.

Mr. Whitehead’s self-deprecating humor is what makes this poker memoir different from others that have gone before. “The Noble Hustle” is awash in pop culture and literary references which also adds to the fun.
21 von 25 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Poker Face 28. März 2014
Von takingadayoff - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
I'm new to Colson Whitehead's writing, but I'm always on the lookout for a good book about gambling and Las Vegas. The Noble Hustle filled the bill on both scores, and does it without any scams or cheating of any kind, which must be a first for this kind of book.

Whitehead emphasizes the fact that he lives in a state of anhedonia (or The State of Anhedonia, as he puts it) which means he is unable to experience pleasure. Perhaps he really does have a degree of anhedonia, but he seems to like playing poker, he certainly enjoys eating beef jerky, and he must get a kick out of writing, because he's pretty good at it.

The narrative follows Whitehead, a New York novelist, practicing to compete in the World Series of Poker. He is a casual player but is ramping up his game in preparation to write a magazine article about the World Series experience. He plays in tournaments in Atlantic City to get toughened up. Then it's on to the Series in Las Vegas.

Along the way he meets some characters, such as The Coach, a poker tournament pro who looks like an upper middle class housewife. She gives him pointers and strategies and cheers him on. As something of a fish out of water, she can relate to Whitehead, who is also not the typical Las Vegas pro poker player, with his dreadlocks and lack of a killer instinct. But in his favor, he has an unbeatable poker face, due of course, to his anhedonia.

Whitehead has a light way of writing, even as he maintains his gloomy demeanor. He tells of a player at the World Series who encourages him to check out the "hooker bar," which throws Whitehead, since that seems a bit forward even for Las Vegas. He pretends not to realize that the enthusiastic patron was probably talking about a "hookah" lounge.

The Noble Hustle is adapted from a magazine article, so it does feel a bit drawn out occasionally, and the poker lingo was over my head at times, but unlike the anhedonic Whitehead, I enjoyed this book very much.
15 von 18 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen A Busted Flush 9. Mai 2014
Von Mike Byrne - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
Have you ever taken a long flight by commercial jet and found yourself sitting next to a drunk who won’t stop talking? Well, that’s something like reading “The Noble Hustle.” On the plane the drunk keeps leaning into you and telling you un-funny jokes and breathing on you and you just wish he would go away or maybe fall asleep. Then when he finally does fall asleep his head finds a comfortable spot on your shoulder and you wish he’d wake up again if only he would then refrain from telling his stupid jokes and finding himself so fantastically funny and breathing that rancid alcoholic breath on you. And his legs are splayed out and you wonder if you can climb over his legs to get to the rest room and maybe ask the stewardess to find you another seat. And if the seats are all taken you think maybe you might just ride the entire rest of the flight sitting on the John?

I thought I would enjoy this book. I like to gamble. I now live in Vegas after spending eight winters here and returning home from Las Vegas to New York each summer. I have watched the World Series of Poker with some enjoyment. And I heard that the author was a MacArthur Fellowship recipient and that the book had been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

The book is supposed to be funny. Well, I found the humor humorless. When (I guess) I was expected to chuckle at points in the book I more often found myself groaning. I usually finish reading the books that I begin reading but I could not finish reading this book. I only finished reading seventy-four pages. It took me three frustrating days of reading to get through those seventy-four pages. I kept thinking the book was terrible but I kept forcing myself to give it another chance. But I can’t take it anymore. I glanced quickly through the remaining pages and it seems to be just more of the same.

It turns out that I shared a few things in common with the author, and therefore at first I felt at home with the book which is autobiographical. I lived in Brooklyn as did the author; I met regularly with wannabe authors (mostly in Manhattan, and we didn’t play poker; ) as did the author; and many of the locales in the book were familiar to me. So the book should have been right up my alley. But, it wasn’t.

I am sure there are people who will find the book hilarious and wise, and I wish them and the author well, but I can’t in good conscience give the book more than two stars.
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