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Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio CD]

James McManus
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Mar 2003
In the spring of 2000, " Harper's Magazine" sent James McManus to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker, in particular the progress of women in the $23 million event, and the murder of Ted Binion, the tournament's prodigal host, purportedly done in by a stripper and her boyfriend. But when McManus arrives, the lure of the tables compels him to risk his entire Harper's advance in a long-shot attempt to play in the tournament himself. This is his deliciously suspenseful account of the tournament--the players, the hand-to-hand combat, his own unlikely progress in it--and the delightfully seedy carnival atmosphere that surrounds it." Positively Fifth Street" is a high-stakes adventure and a terrifying but often hilarious account of one man's effort to understand what Edward O. Wilson has called "Pleistocene exigencies"--the eros and logistics of our competitive instincts.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: MacMillan Audio; Abridged edition (Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559278846
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559278843
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 12.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,458,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James McManus is best known as a poker writer and player. He finished fifth in the 2000 World Series of Poker (winning almost $250,000) and used the experiences for his bestselling memoir 'Positively Fifth Street'. He has also published novels, poetry and has been the poker columnist for the 'New York Times'.

Product Description

Amazon Review

To provide some background to Positively Fifth Street, in 2000, novelist and poet James McManus was sent to Las Vegas, innocently enough, by Harper's magazine to write a story about the World Series of Poker held annually at Binion's Horseshoe. But then, as so often happens on trips to Sin City, something kind of "happened". Rather than becoming an objective report, McManus's article evolved into a memoir as he put his entire advance on the line, got lucky with his cards, won a spot in the competition, and came much closer than anyone expected to winning the darn thing. The result, Positively Fifth Street, is just as dazzling, exciting and disturbing as Vegas itself.

McManus details his battles not only against his opponents but also against "Bad Jim", the portion of his own personality that needs to get in on a poker game in spite of both common and fiscal sense. Besides telling his own story, he relates the considerably more unpleasant tale of Ted Binion, whose grisly death was blamed on Binion's former stripper-girlfriend and her ex-linebacker beau. In the hands of a lesser author, the pursuit of these separate threads, of poker and of the seedy personal lives of wealthy casino heirs, may have lead readers to wish the author had picked just one subject. But under McManus's careful watch, they're really pretty similar: steeped in adrenaline, mystery, deception and skating on thrillingly thin ice. Each story underscores the other, a neat little "narrative as metaphor" device, while also painting a vivid picture of Vegas casino life. Poker, as anyone who has lost at it will tell you, is an intricate game and it's nice to see a top-notch author and player relate its finer points in an entertaining style that will appeal even to non-players. The author's hilariously self-aware and at times self-loathing style make Positively Fifth Street a fun read. But beyond that, his account of nearly winning the biggest poker tournament in the world and subsequently watching as the verdicts are announced for Binion's accused murderers makes for a great story. Even if it wasn't the one he was sent there to write. --John Moe, Amazon.com --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"James McManus bet big and won. His Positively Fifth Street, an exhilarating chronicle of the 2000 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, will go on the shelf with the classic that inspired it, The Biggest Game in Town, A. Alvarez's account of the 1981 event...As tension packed as any thriller...A great story." --The New York Times Book Review (cover) "Artfully woven...McManus captures the adrenaline-juiced tension of the game, and he also captures the anomalous mix of skill, bravado, gamesmanship, and sheer good fortune that a player needs to succeed; the bantering rivalry and comraderie that engulf the survivors; and the knowledge, as Conrad once put it, that 'it is the mark of an inexperienced man not to believe in luck.'" --Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times" "Astounding...wildly entertaining."--"Men's Journal" "Irresistible. . .McManus gives the reader a riveting over-the-shoulder view of the hand-by-hand action....His prose is flashy, funny, and unexpectedly erudite, but McManus hardly even needs it--with material this rich, he's holding the writer's equivalent of a royal flush."--"Time" "In writing about poker Jim McManus has managed to write about everything, and it's glorious." --David Sedaris, author of "Me Talk Pretty One Day" "James McManus is the only literary poker-player ever to have made it to the final table in 'the Big One, ' and he did so by playing brilliantly. I admire his achievement, envy his skill and discipline, and was completely absorbed by his subtle, detailed, lively account of the longest four days of his life." --A. Alvarez, author of "The Biggest Game in Town" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a lousy read 4 Jun 2007
By aiya
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I suspect the two previous US reviewers who gave this book a high rating are mates of the author. One called this 'one heck' of a read, well, the truth is, JM is one heck of a lousy writer, ( and he teaches creative writing!) He took a flimsy story of his try8ing to play pro poker with the big guys, at best enough material for an article, and padded it out so it is book length. To do that, he intercut his story with big chapters on history of poker, his own very boring backstory and domestic minutiae and half the book is devoted to the tawdry sordid lives of the people who own the horseshoe casino in Vegas. Not only is the interrupted flow annoying, ( reason people read this book is to find out about the gamek, not what JM's wife think about strippers, nor why the casino owner got murdered which is widely covered news) whats more

disappointing is that the action he tries to describe falls way short of the standard of poker classics, like Michael Craig's ' the professpr, the banker, and A; Alvarez's the big game . These are elegantly written and hooks the reader with beautiful telling details right to the end. JM simply can't nail his characters and bring them or the games to life. I forced myself to read to the end but boy was that a struggle. And in the end, I can't recall anything worthwhile about any of it other than the torture of his turgid prose
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
I spent two days lost in this book. Quite a performance by Jim McManus, and I don't mean only the writing. For a fancy wordsmith, he is one heck of a poker player. To come to Las Vegas and play in your first tournament and make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker is one very fine achievement.
Jim McManus, 49-year-old novelist, poet, teacher, and sometime journalist on assignment in Las Vegas for Harper's Magazine takes part of his $4,000 retainer and buys into a satellite tournament hoping to win a pass to play in the big one, the $10,000 buy-in no limit hold'em event that annually decides the world championship of poker. Not coincidentally he is also covering the trial of Sandy Murphy, a saucy, skanky Vegas lap dancer and her linebacker beau Rick Tabish who are accused of the murder of Ted Binion, brother of Becky Behnen, host of the tournament, and one of the sons of Benny Binion, the long time owner of the sponsoring Horseshoe casino.
What results is a suberb example of a genre that I call "participatory journalism," the sort of thing the made George Plimpton, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson and some other very fine writers famous. What happens in participatory journalism is the journalist himself joins in the action and becomes part of the story. Because of McManus's cleverness with the pasteboards (actually they're made of plastic of course), his discipline, and because he did indeed get lucky a time or two on Positively Fifth Street, his experience became more than just part of the story. As he covers the trial and the World Series of poker from the inside, he focuses intimately--sometimes perhaps too intimately--on himself and what it was like, first person singular, to play the kind of high stakes poker that most of us can only dream about. And to win.
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James McManus (fiction author, sports journalist and sometime poker player) went to Vegas to cover the trial of the murder of Ted Binion (whose father started the World Series of Poker (WSOP)) and to cover the rise of women at the WSOP. He ends up taking part of the advance money, winning a play-in satellite tourney, and getting a seat at the 2000 WSOP.

He made it to the final table and fifth place.

He intertwines his own story (an amatuer amongst some of pokers greatest names) with stories of the trial (where Ted's girlfriend and best friend are accused of murdering him), Jim's own personal history, the history of poker and the WSOP and the parallels he sees between them all.

The insights into the game, the hands, the mannerisms, and particularly what Jim is thinking at the time (fold? call? raise? who's that beautiful dealer named Red?) dividing the voices in his head (see? not just me!) into Good Jim and Bad Jim, make the writing of the actual WSOP satellite and tournament the best part of the book. But the other stories are woven in intricately and smoothly (with only a few abstract jumps), mixing in Dante and Dostoyevsky to prove his point.

Since the book has been written, the number of players entered into the big Texas Hold-em WSOP tourney has climbed in from the $1.5 million Chris "Jesus" Ferguson won (and 512 entrants) in 2000 to 2006's $12million Jamie Gold won amongst the 8,773 entrants (and around 12,000 are expected this year).

Read it before the big one this July 6, and it will help you imagine the action.
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