The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death

3.7 6
by Colson Whitehead
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 02/10/2014
The eternal tension between good luck and remorseless odds animates this loose-limbed jaunt through the world of high-stakes poker. Novelist Whitehead (Zone One) was staked to a berth in the World Series of Poker by Grantland magazine, a mission for which he frankly declares himself unqualified, owing to his rather desultory pick-up games, haphazard training regimen featuring yoga lessons, deep and semi-baffled immersion in the arcana of poker-playing manuals, and bus trips to Atlantic City for seedy practice tournaments. His journey unfolds in a series of jazzy, jokey riffs on the cultural detritus of poker: the take-over of the game by young “Robotrons” honed by online gaming; Vegas’s “Leisure-Industrial Complex,” a terrain of soulful soullessness where “your true self is laid bare with all its hungers and flaws and grubby aspirations.” Along the way, poker emerges as the national sport of “the Republic of Anhedonia,” his habitually depressive, fatalistic State of mind that recognizes that “eventually, you will lose it all”—and that playing it safe is therefore the ultimate sucker’s strategy. 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. (May 6)
From the Publisher
"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 about...here 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."
-Flavorwire.com

"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

"...an 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

Library Journal
04/15/2014
In 2011, Whiting Writers' Award-winning author Whitehead (Zone One) attended and participated in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas as part of an assignment for Grantland magazine. There was just one problem: he had never before played in a casino tournament. Having only six weeks to prepare, the author began to hone his skills in the casinos of Atlantic City while trying to maintain some semblance of a home life. Hilarity ensued. Whitehead quickly developed a rhythm of dropping off and picking up his kid from school; riding the Greyhound bus to New Jersey with the "day-trippers, day-workers, and hollow-eyed freaks"; gambling; and then returning home to sleep. The author's satirical descriptions and observations of his days spent preparing, filled with playing cards, eating at artery-clogging all-you-can-eat buffets, and his interactions with the people who haunt the casinos there are only prolog for the grand finale of the Leisure-Industrial Complex (LIC) of Vegas. VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/13.]—Mark Manivong, Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-19
An assignment to compete in the World Series of Poker allows the author to meditate on his identity, failings, writing, appetite for beef jerky and challenge to make the leap from decent house player to high-stakes pro gambler. As a novelist of considerable range, Whitehead consistently writes about more than he's ostensibly writing about, turning a futuristic zombie novel (Zone One, 2010, etc.) into a parable of contemporary New York and here writing a poker book that should strike a responsive literary chord with some who know nothing about the game, though for those who want to read a poker book, much of this contextual elaboration might feel like padding. It begins with a definition of "anhedonia: the inability to experience pleasure," preceding the first chapter, "The Republic of Anhedonia," of which the author proclaims himself a citizen and representative. The first sentence: "I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside." He also has an ex-wife, a young daughter, a weekly poker game and an assignment from Grantland to cover the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas as a participant. Even the assignment is something of a gamble—his freelance payment is the entrance fee, and whatever he wins (or, presumably generates in subsequent book royalties), he keeps. But if he loses, as odds are he will, he gets nothing but memories and experience for the article he must write. As he writes of warm-up sessions in Atlantic City, training with his "Coach," competing with more experienced players in Vegas, he sometimes seems to be trying too hard—"Pick your fights like you pick your nose: with complete awareness of where you are"—while drawing parallels between poker and writing ("We were all making up stories, weaving narratives"). Since his narrative doesn't proceed chronologically to a natural climax, he jumps around a bit with time. A minor work by a major novelist, a busman's holiday, but engaging in its color and character.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385537056
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/06/2014
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
752,328
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

COLSON WHITEHEAD is the New York Times bestselling author of Zone OneSag HarborThe IntuitionistJohn Henry DaysApex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York.  A Pulitzer Prize finalist, a recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Brooklyn, NY
Date of Birth:
November 6, 1969
Place of Birth:
New York, NY
Education:
Harvard College, BA in English & American Literature
Website:
http://www.colsonwhitehead.com

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The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Written by a poker player, interesting and fun to read, you'll enjoy if your a poker player at any level.
mshoni More than 1 year ago
“I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside.” That first sentence let me know that this book would be full of the dry, sometimes, self-deprecating humor that I have come to love about Colson Whitehead. Originally published as a series of essays for the magazine Grantland, The Noble Hustle documents Whitehead’s participation in the World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas. We follow him from his practice runs in Atlantic City, where his descriptions of his fellow players are hilarious, to the big event with a few poker flashbacks. I have no knowledge of poker and reading about some of the technical aspects of the game made this not as enjoyable for me. I kept reading because the stories of the people who participate in these tournaments, including himself, and all of their different strategies and motivations were fascinating to me.  I’ve gone on record about my love of Colson Whitehead over and over again. He is firmly ensconced in my top ten favorite writers and there he will remain.
KaneH More than 1 year ago
Since I love poker, I got this book because it deals with the noble game. And I'm glad I did, because Whitehead's book is a great find, at least for me. His wry wit and bizarre journalistic fluctuations are fun, but not for everyone, who won't know what he's talking about half the time. He's like that weird guy on the subway, who may be crazy, or brilliant, or both. The writing style is like Hunter S. Thompson with a dash of Tom Wolfe, underscored by a jazz riff that melds into rap. Through it all is an entertaining peek into his life and philosophy, and a slice of American life. If you're tired of the same-old-same-old, give this a try.
gamboolman More than 1 year ago
Very disappointed in this "book" - cannot recommend.  Joke 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is really falovor full and the gambles are intresting 8----- 8-----)--