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Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker    by James McManus order for
Positively Fifth Street
by James McManus
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

James McManus, the journalist-poet-novelist, loves poker -- I mean he really loves it. Been playing it all his life, pretty much. By the spring of 2000, he'd been playing the game for nearly forty years; it seemed like an excellent idea, then, for Harper's Magazine to send him to Las Vegas to cover the famous World Series of Poker, the tournament begun three decades earlier by casino owner Ted Binion. Little did McManus know what he was in store for ...

He went there with the idea that he'd enter the WSOP -- cover it from within, profile some of the contestants, give the reader a real insider's look at this most famous of poker tournaments. However something else started to creep into his story: the trial of Sandra Murphy, Binion's girlfriend, and Rick Tabish, Binion's friend (and Murphy's on-the-side lover), who were accused of murdering Ted Binion. McManus found that the story was too big for a magazine article.

Positively Fifth Street is a remarkable book, a lively portrait of two Las Vegases: the one we all know, with the neon lights and the high rollers and the glitz, and a darker city, where success breeds greed and, in some cases, murder. McManus is a graceful writer; his descriptions (of people and places) are so vivid that we feel like we've been plunked down, right beside him, at the poker tables. The book is packed, too, with colourful characters, like A. Alvarez (the noted poet and editor best known for his poker playing) and T.J. Cloutier (the former football player who's among the best poker players in the world) and Kathy Kolberg (the illegitimate daughter of a WSOP champion, former girlfriend of Rick Tabish, and lie-detector expert) -- men and women who seem like they could only exist in Las Vegas.

There have been a lot of very good books about this little Nevada city. This one's one of the best.

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