Honest Sid
  • Honest Sid
  • Honest Sid

Honest Sid

4.6 16
by Ronald Probstein

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If you're going to live outside the law, you'd better be honest. This seeming paradox was the operating principle of Sid Probstein's life. Guileless and endlessly optimistic, he was known as Honest Sid around his stomping ground of New York's Broadway. Sid wasn't a tough guy, or even a bad guy. He just never had the patience for the "straight" life, grinding out a…  See more details below


If you're going to live outside the law, you'd better be honest. This seeming paradox was the operating principle of Sid Probstein's life. Guileless and endlessly optimistic, he was known as Honest Sid around his stomping ground of New York's Broadway. Sid wasn't a tough guy, or even a bad guy. He just never had the patience for the "straight" life, grinding out a living at some monotonous desk job.

He was the quintessential American dreamer, always sure that the good life was just one big score away, a man who never stopped believing in his own good luck, even when the evidence said otherwise. He had all the tools, he was charming, good-looking, quick-witted and decent, but he had an obsession he couldn't escape.

Honest Sid is the story of an American archetype as seen through the eyes of his son, Ronald, who loved him, and who almost lost him. It follows Sid's adventures in the world of bookies and bettors, fighters and fixers, players and suckers set against the often-romanticized backdrop of Depression-era New York. It is also the passionate tale of the great and tempestuous love between Sid and his wife Sally, and of his son Ronald whom he idolized.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Probstein (Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus/MIT) offers a delightful life story of his father, Honest Sid, "a gambler, a horseplayer, a bookie… a ticket scalper" and an all-around nice guy. "Even though his lifestyle was crooked," writes Probstein of his father, "his intentions were loving and honorable." It was just that he had neither an interest in nor a temperament for a real job. In his youth, in the early decades of the past century, he'd been a promising baseball player—until he threw a game. He'd tried being a booking agent for vaudeville acts—Adam and Eve the Twin Bowling Monkeys were a big draw—but that was too straight a profession. And so, seemingly inevitably, he made his life and living amid the denizens of New York's Broadway—shady characters with bright suits that Damon Runyon would later turn into American archetypes. This, then, was the setting of Probstein's childhood. His playgrounds were boxing gyms, betting parlors and theater basements along the Great White Way. While other kids learned to hunt or fish with their dads, Probstein learned to handicap horse races and calculate betting odds, skills that would serve him well in his later science career. Life was not easy for a freelancing ne'er-do-well and his family in Depression era New York. A good week would mean Sid brought home a large stack of cash to his wife, and the love of his life, Sally. A bad week meant the shylocks would come calling. Good times meant Sunday dinner at Lindy's, bad times meant quick exits from transient hotels. Nevertheless, Probstein adored his father and this affection imbues the book with an appealing nostalgia. A lithe, dashing figure in his tailored suits, Sid was never anything but kind and devoted to both his son and Sally. An eternal optimist, he was sure that the next bet, the next horse race, would be their ticket to the good life. It never happened, but despite the bumps along the way, Probstein cherished life with this charming dreamer of a dad. With humor, a rich eye for detail and a storyteller's knack, the author brings to life a time and place now long gone. Probstein is clearly having a good time here—the reader will as well.
Personal - Marie Clark
Written with great sensitivity this memoir of the life of Sid Probstein adds yet another unforgetable and colorful character to the cast created by Damon Runyon. Honest Sid, the father of the author Ronald Probstein, was an inveterate gambler, bookie, and hustler who scalped tickets in New York in the 1920s and 30s. He and his family lived on the edge. He taught his son how to handicap horses, how to eat for free at the Automat, and how to pack up and leave a residential hotel when the rent...
Online - Book LoverRome
Honest Sid is the story of a father, a gambler, a bookie, from the Broadway area of New York City. The author, Ronald Probstein, is the Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has written other books, though mainly scientific. Taking a break from his science background Probstein shares his story of his father and a family dealing with the depression and the darkness of the gambling world in the city.

This is an intriguing book
Online - Midwest BookReview
To make ends meet and to keep your sanity is a hard compromise to make. "Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man" is a son looking back towards his father and reflecting on how he lived his life. Ronald Probstein reflects on the figure known as Honest Sid, who he knew as Dad, and how he lived his life. Giving original insight in how the families of these individuals who will delve into the underworld to make ends meet and how they are not necessarily bad people, "Honest Sid" is amazing.
Online - DP Hart
Honest Sid is a story that has universal appeal. I recommended it to my mother who was born and raised in Iowa on a farm. Though not a typical Midwesterner, she does share many of the same values and background. She wrote to me "I just finished reading the book you recommended: Honest Sid. What a remarkable story!

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Product Details

iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date:
Rising Star Series
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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Honest Sid 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are so many wonderful gems in Honest Sid.The setting is New York City in the first half of the 20th century and the story comprised of recollections of a young boy's experiences growing up as the city and country grew. Historical events in our collective consciousness are recounted in a way that gives fresh awareness and a new perspective. Remember Orson Wells and transistor radios? The two will be cemented forever in your mind. Descriptions of everyday family life are delightful. You may know that food was once served from Automats (or maybe not?), but you'll gain a new appreciation for how exciting automation was back then. Don't think the New York City subway could have anything to do with perfecting a fishing rod? It's a Huck Finn moment in the big city. Just after I read Honest Sid I watched Coppola's The Cotton Club and realized anew why this is such a remarkable book. The setting for the movie is New York City in the same time period as the book. The movie captures the glamour and glitz of the fashion and lavish décor born of the exuberant milieu of the music and dance of the same era. It is a fascinating account of how gangsters footed the bill for this "high life' with crime and pervasive violence. But, we don't really see the lives of ordinary citizens in The Cotton Club. Here's why the book is often better than the movie-and in this case why Honest Sid is a more fascinating account of the times. In Honest Sid the glamour, glitz and gangsters serve as a well illustrated back drop for the equally dramatic account of the gritty struggle of a family to survive in the midst of it all. The story is told through the experiences of a child growing up in New York City when it was often extraordinarily difficult for ordinary families to secure a roof over their heads and food for the table. This family's struggle is all the more difficult because the man of the house can't quite find his place in the world, can't find an occupation suitable for his vision of himself that will also enable him to provide stability for his family. The father gambles a fine line. He knows he doesn't have the heart of a thug and wouldn't survive immersed in the gangster world. Yet he knows he wouldn't survive the everyday grind of an everyman's job either. We see his struggle through the eyes of his son who has no choice but to ride the rollercoaster of his father's ups and downs; in the money, out of money, moving uptown and down, and ultimately the shame of no more moves to make. Strangely enough, this is not an unhappy tale. There is a special tenderness in this father's love for his son that somehow remains untainted-for both of them. While the historical and cultural backdrop of this family's struggle is well documented and interesting, Honest Sid is a gem because it's an intriguing look at a father-son relationship that beats the odds in very difficult times.
muki More than 1 year ago
This is the remarkable and beautifully written story of a fascinating family in New York in the 1920s to 1940s. The father, Sid, is a gambler, fixer, hustler, bookie and ticket scalper, always south of the law but always honest and trustworthy. The mother, Sally, keeps the family going in hard times, which is most of the time. The son, Ronald, fishes coins through subway grates in the sidewalks to help the family, and rises to become one the most distinguished scientists of our time. The author paints a vivid picture of Broadway in the Roaring Twenties and during the Depression and the Second World War, a picture that could have served as the real life model of the blockbuster fictional play "Guys and Dolls" . Along the way the author meets crooked politicians, policemen, and theater workers, and unforgettable characters like Harry the Horse the gambler, Champ Segal the mobster, Joe Louis the Brown Bomber, and Cardinal Spellman, who saved Sid from going yet once more to jail. This entertaining book, full of joy and sorrow, anecdotes and life, is written in a riveting style that makes the reader feel as if he were part of the family, witnessing the events first hand.
Marked-Elliott More than 1 year ago
Emotional story from a boy point of view growing up in the 30's in New York. Author shared his personal tale about his father, who was not afraid of taking risk. How the young boy learned truth of life from his father, Author goes in to the details about his father gambling life and how all of this left prints on this boy's mind. Very touching story and a fast read, if you want a walk in to the past of a New yorker of that time this is for you.
PAT-240 More than 1 year ago
Honest Sid by Ronald Probstein is the heart-warming, extremely honest and vividly detailed account of the author's early life experiences and upbringing in betting parlours, fighter gyms, cigar shops and endless places of residence with his handsome, gentle natured, loveable rogue of a father, Sid. We follow the family through good times and bad, through the war years and in peace time,and feel their love but also their pain. This captivating and compelling read will keep you page turning from the start to the emotionally charged ending. I loved this book and highly recommend it. Happy reading everyone
little-lizzie More than 1 year ago
An exceptional story of overcoming struggle and adversity.  A boy can see his father through a unique prism and that happens in this story of love and family.  This is a piece of work that surely should be at the top of it's genre.  
Maybank-Books More than 1 year ago
Honesty pours through in every fibre of this delightful story. A beautiful and unique view of one families journey through from the 1920's. This book will give each reader something different and will never disappoint. 
Elizabeth_Duggan More than 1 year ago
Remarkably written and a true message - no matter how tough life gets, you're family will always be your family and their love will pull you through. A book I wish I could read for the 1st time over and over. 
CharleneR More than 1 year ago
Can one man that doesn't live by the law make you want to be more like him? Yes is the answer. A fabulous story that will have you captivated from start to finish. 
SandraLene More than 1 year ago
A true sense of family coming together against all odds and against any enemies. Beautifully written in a way that you, the reader, feel a part of this families struggle and never fading love. 
GuySmiley More than 1 year ago
A brilliant coming of age story set in a mesmerising time and a wonderful city. I have already recommended this novel to friends and family. 
ChrisT88 More than 1 year ago
The struggle is great but the reward is greater... A story that resonates just as much now as it did back then. An emotional roller-coaster seen through the eyes of a young boy. A wonderful read and something I will definitely be reading again.
TabithaJR More than 1 year ago
This book has something for everyone, all set at a time and in a place where anything is possible! This book stands out amongst the many, many memoirs out there. A brilliantly crafted piece of work.   
TrinityTrinTrin More than 1 year ago
Love, love love. Thank you for letting us into your world! I laughed, I cried, I hoped and I dreamed along with these beautiful characters. 
Cass-a-Nova More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. A wonderful journey that I truly felt I'd experienced first hand. The author brings you directly into this word. I highly recommend this great novel.
TommyG26 More than 1 year ago
A captivating story, beautifully crafted, that will leave you with a great sense of nostalgia. 
CassandraND More than 1 year ago
I have read quite a few memoirs and biographies but this is a slice of America that really makes one nostalgic for that time when anything felt possible.  Whether it would be to cast your lot with a roll of the dice or on a fast horse, you really do feel that the world is there for the taking.  Honest Sid is just that, HONEST at it's core and the author really comes across with an authentic voice.  I highly recommend this novel to people who want to see the world from the eyes of a man who was destined to beat the grading curve of humanity.