Busting Vegas by Ben Mezrich

Wait, so this is the second book he wrote about MIT students who figured out how to scam casinos?

Anyway, the story itself is compelling enough, but the writing is violently purple. The best description I’ve encountered of his writing style is “non-fiction pulp”: tolerable enough for a book, I guess, and much improved by the time The Accidental Billionaires, the only other book I’ve read of his, is published 4 years later. And while I enjoyed Semyon’s story (and found the techniques they discussed absolutely fascinating) I thought the epilogue rather disingenuous, and am willing to put the blame for that more on Ben Mezrich than Semyon: if there had been a progression displayed in the book of Semyon’s movement from sheer self-interest to enlightened enmity towards the casinos, then I’d have found it much more believable.

As it is, very useful for those interested in blackjack and casinos, tho the writing style is a bit of a slog.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2015/10/24/busting-vegas-by-ben-mezrich/


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  1. I read his first book about MIT & Vegas in an afternoon or so. It was fun, but slight. I’d be willing to bet that it began publication life as a magazine article, and was best in that form.

  2. Possibly if it were in a long form article in a lifestyle magazine like Rolling Stone. I remember a reporter covering Asian politics for Time writing in this manner back in the 90s. I was completely repulsed by the inappropriateness of it.

    But yeah, Mezrich tends to have a rather tenuous relationship with truth/facts, so a book was probably the best way to go. Easier to treat as entertainment rather than non-fiction.

  3. I’ve found a Wired article from 2003, but it seems that it is adapted from the book rather than a predecessor. Probably just means that I read the magazine first, since I was reading a lot of Wired back then.

    I’m intrigued by your first paragraph, though. Was it badly done gonzo? Did the reporter just not know what he (I presume we’re talking about a he) was talking about?

  4. Lol, yes, it was a he. He was trying very hard to make a fairly innocuous conversation sound sinister, portraying a minor politician as a backroom heavy, complete with description of cigar smoke wafting into the humid night air. Which would be fine for certain types of story, even a political profile, but was just really, really inappropriate for a current state of politics news article. The writer (I don’t even want to use the word “reporter” since he wasn’t just relaying the news) was blatantly embroidering in an attempt to sway opinion, and I expected better from Time back in the day.

  5. Gotcha, and thanks for the explanation.

    In re Time, “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.”

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