“Bringing Down The House” by Ben Mezrich

I just finished reading “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions”.  It is a nonfiction book about six MIT students and an ex-MIT professor who use a card counting system, acting skills, sometimes makeup, and teamwork to win, and on a few occasions lose, a lot of money – duffel bags full of money -at the blackjack tables in Vegas and other cities that have legalized gambling.   It was a fun read.  If you liked “Poker Nation” or “The Biggest Game in Town”, then you will most likely get a kick out of this book.

The story is compelling for several reasons.  You experience the tension that comes along with the risks involved in winning a lot of money from the casinos, risks such as being caught and harassed by security in the casinos and in the airports.

You feel the conflict of how one of the MIT kids, Kevin, the main character in the story, has to stuggle with living a double life.  You see how he becomes enamored of the pleasures of a high-roller life in Vegas, but also how he has to deal with his straight-laced girlfriend and conservative asian family, people who would have considerable difficulty understanding and accepting his life of gambling. You get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a high-roller in Vegas, where you get comped for many luxuries, from penthouse rooms, to premier boxing matches, to first class restaurants, strip clubs, and brothels.

You see how celebrities and beautiful women want to be with you because of the money you can win with your blackjack skills.  You also get to see some of the seedy underbelly of Vegas.  Whatever you think of Vegas, and I am certainly no fan, it is extremely exciting to read about the sort of wild things that go on at all hours in the City of Sin.

Mezrich writes in a clear and breezy way.  The dialogue is sharp, the plot moves quickly, and the characters are real.  My dad went to MIT and would tell me stories of his classmates, how brilliant and geeky many of them were, and so the characters were true to life.

I do have some doubts about whether the books is entirely nonfiction, in part because some of the details are so accurately captured, I have suspicions that they may be fabricated or at least enhanced by Mezrich’s vivid imagination.  The other reason that I’m suspicious about the alleged veracity of the story is that I’ve started reading another book by Mezrich, entitled “Busting Vegas: The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to their Knees” and so far it reads very much like “Bringing Down the House,” similar plot and characters.

Kind of coincidental.  If blackjack players can fool casinos, then clearly writers about blackjack players can fool readers.

I want to believe this high-octane book is a true story.  And if it is, or at least if most of it is, then it’s definitely worth reading, especially if you’ve ever fantasized about beating the casinos at blackjack, something which you learn from reading the book can still be done.

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