on 17 February 2014
What if every decision in your life was based on the roll of a dice?
That's essentially the central premise of the book. It's written as a faux biography, about a psychiatrist called Luke Rhineheart (the writer of the book) who stumbles upon a new way of living life: by the dice.
The novel starts off well, and hooked me in from the beginning. The tone of the book was comically dark, and the author writes with a skewed, ironic, subversive sense of humour which I liked--and he never, even during the more serious moments, takes himself (or the novel itself) too seriously; the more sombre moments of the novel are offset by dark humour. However, having said that, this is also the reason the novel doesn't fully work.
I feel like it lacked direction, or purpose. The plot is as sporadic and random as the decisions of a dice--which is kind of the point, and also gets a mention, but it's annoying. There's no real structure. There's no drive, no direction. The book is a series of funny or clever scenes, which, as a whole, makes the book kind of slow moving after the initial hundred pages. I found myself not wanting to read on, yet enjoying the book every time I did read it.
Near to the last hundred pages I just wanted it to speed towards a conclusion; but even then, I was letdown by the ending. It was too easy and rushed. The book basically moved from one scene to the next, with no real connections between them: no real heart, no real drama. It was practically a sketch show of dark dramatic comedy. I guess what I'm saying is that it's worth checking out--it has some good writing, some smart ironic scenes, and it's occasionally funny.
But--it's also a slow read, boring, and ultimately unrewarding.
So read it and then give up halfway through.
Or just don't bother at all.
on 14 August 2005
"The Dice Man" was first published in 1971; written by George Cockcroft under the guise of his alter ego, Luke Rhinehart, the book attracted a cult following and has remained a popular - and controversial - work, seen by many as subversive and permissive.
Cockcroft had worked in the mental health field in the USA, obtaining his doctorate in psychology from Columbia, then taught English and psychology before becoming a full-time writer with the success of "The Dice Man". Marketed with the subheading, 'This book can change your life', it poses as a work of non-fiction, apparently written as an autobiographical insight by successful New York psychoanalyst, Luke Rhinehart. Rhinehart reflects on his successes and notoriety, the book being presented as a retrospective on his life, an explanation of how he came to discover the dice phenomenon and the major changes to his life occasioned by it.
Inspired by an intriguing happenstance, Rhinehart one day makes a decision. He lists half a dozen options then rolls the die to decide which one he should follow. The result pushes his boundaries and opens up a new set of experiences. Bit by bit, he hands his life over to decisions made by roll of the die. The result is a hilarious, amoral rampage of a novel as he infects others with his ideas and injects a pattern of chaos into the chaotic order of his urbane, successful world.
Rhinehart pushes the boundaries to extremes and beyond. It contrasts with Cockroft's own dicing lifestyle - he says he started rolling dice to break down his shyness and stuffiness as an academically inclined teenager. He saw rolling a die as a means to break away from habit and reformulate himself. It wasn't until he was teaching psychology that he posed the question to one of his classes, asking them whether the ultimate freedom lay in making all decisions randomly, by throw of the die. Thus were sown the seeds of "The Dice Man".
Written at a fast pace, the novel swings back and forth between first person and third person perspectives, pasting together material apparently drawn from a variety of sources and maintaining the fiction that it is, in reality, a piece of fact - a confessional written by a notorious pillar of the anti-psychiatry movement.
The novel is a savage indictment of psychoanalysis and the therapy culture, and some of the funniest moments are where he debunks the role of the shrink, presenting it as the imposition of a set of subjective, professional values and interpretations rather than any healing or liberation of the individual. Psychoanalysis is presented as enforced dependency, the individual dancing to the tune of the therapist's cash register and ego.
Cockcroft says he feels that use of dice is a means of challenging the ego, of allowing experimentation with self. People are desperate for change, are never satisfied with what they've got or who they are, but they are trapped by their own habits and constrained thinking.
The die provides a series of windows into another you, another life. He famously argued that we should, everyday, make a conscious decision to tell one lie - he's not encouraging deceit in order to harm others, but an acting out of fantasy, taking your conscious self into new areas where you are forced to live by your wits and think, thereby giving you a new perspective on yourself and your identity.
Life too easily becomes a set of habits, a pattern of routines. Cockroft insists that life is too precious to just allow it to drift, to allow habit to dictate, making the same decision again and again. More dangerously, he feels, we can become slaves to our perceptions of morality and order. He believes that religious certainties are highly dangerous - we cannot allow individuals to impose on us their specific view of what their god is supposed to have said, we cannot allow people to present morality and belief as a set of textbook certainties which demand blind obedience and adherence.
Though the hero of the book is male, and some of the female characters appear only to serve male fantasies and needs, Cockroft insists that women are more subservient to roles than are males - there is greater social pressure on them to conform to more limited roles, to fill specific stereotypes. They therefore have a greater need, and greater opportunity to break the mold - though doing so may provoke greater criticism.
Reading "The Dice Man" may not change your life, but its ribald, explicit amorality should make you laugh ... and will hopefully make you think. This is not a bland novel, one which can be treated with indifference. It will outrage some, it will intrigue others, it might inspire ... you might even find yourself looking in the toy cupboard for a set of dice. A very funny book, very 70's, but with the ability to reach down the years and still amuse, it remains a passionate indictment of psychoanalysis and the therapy culture, and should be compulsory reading for anyone following a psychology, social work, or medical course.
on 22 January 2015
I first became aware of Luke Rhinehart's "The Dice Man" whilst studying psychology at university, although I can't remember if it was merely mentioned in passing or if it actually appeared on one of my reading lists. The idea is naturally fairly intriguing anyway, but particularly for someone who already has an interest in psychology and even more so if that interest extends more towards the abnormal side of psychology, as mine did and still does. For all the complexities and unknown's involving the human psyche, it's at its most interesting when something goes wrong.
Luke Rhinehart seemingly has it all. He has a moderately successful psychiatric practice, an attractive wife and a couple of seemingly lovely children. Unfortunately, he also seems to be experiencing something of a mid-life crisis which has left him bored with his life. Until, in an effort to remove his boredom, he rolls a die to see if he should rape the wife of his partner in the psychiatric practice. On a one in six chance, the die tells him that he should and the first act of Dr Luke Rhinehart's "dicelife" has begun.
Entranced by the idea, Rhinehart starts letting the die, or dice, make more and more decisions in his life. Soon both his personal and professional lives are taken over by the dice and he sets about becoming a totally random personality. However, Rhinehart's randomly changing personality alienates family, friends and colleagues with many of the latter believing he is becoming psychotic, rather than random. Equally, however, others are entranced by the theory and he wins a number of converts to his schemes.
It's pretty difficult to assign a style of writing to this tale, as it does vary quite wildly. The author begins by warning that the "autobiography", much like the "life" it describes is being dictated by the roll of a die. This means that you can get long chapters, followed by some that are no more than three or four words long. There are long sections on his life just before he hands over control of it to the dice, but unlike in a standards autobiography, nothing from before then. The outlook is totally in the present and generally pretty hedonistic, with sex frequently becoming an option.
That said, whilst there are frequently new avenues to follow, dependent on the options given to the die and on what the die selects, it does become a little repetitive before too long. The cover blurb tells you that "sex always seems to be an option" and it is, but reading about it too often does get a little boring, despite the supposed randomness of the kind of sex involved. The reason for this is that no matter what options are presented to the die to choose between, these options have to be selected by the person in the first instance, so they are restricted by the interests and desires of the person choosing the options. Whilst reading about sexual experimentation might be fun the first time, it does get a bit boring after too much of it.
Sadly, "The Dice Man" is only a faux-autobiography, actually a work of fiction written in the style of an autobiography. That said, however, it has as its basis a thoroughly intriguing idea, particularly for those with an interest in psychology. As far as I can remember from my studies, the psychological theories he quotes are valid, merely twisted slightly to suit his own aims.
Psychologically, this is certainly an interesting idea and it is quite easy to be tempted to follow Rhinehart's philosophy into making decisions on a random basis, particularly if you are struggling with some aspects of life, as he was. This isn't a book to be read when you're in the midst of a crisis of any kind, as that would be when the ideas contained within "The Dice Man" may have a stronger appeal.
If it's not a book for the indecisive, neither is it one for the prudish, because of all the sexual activities described within and some of the language used to describe them. But for those who aren't likely to be put off by that, it's actually quite a good read. Despite all the jumping around in terms of style and the frequent dropping in of extracts from "The Book of the Die", which is essentially the Bible for "dicelife", it is pretty readable. Rhinehart's style, for the most part, is quite casual and almost conversational at times, even when he's talking about psychiatric and psychological things. Whilst the book might hold greater interest to those with an interest in those fields, it's not so heavily based in them that those with no prior knowledge would struggle to understand.
That said, you do need to be in the right frame of mind to read this, as it can be a little left of centre. Whilst many books and autobiographies may have frequent stories of a sexual nature, very few of them are combined with stories from therapy or mixed in with the other activities that make up Rhinehart's existence, such as it is.
It's a very old book, but it hasn't aged greatly. Dice are still easy to come by and the actions and options Rhinehart chooses are essentially timeless. It's not difficult to forget that this book is now better than thirty years old, although you do have to wonder if this could have come out of any other decade than the somewhat permissive 1960s.
It's a book that should only be read by the strong of heart and the strong of mind, for it is the kind of book that intrigues and tempts. If you are both and cannot decide whether to read it, however, maybe you could make that choice on the toss of a coin, or the roll of a die.
This review may also appear under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
on 25 May 2005
One of the best books I've ever read.. Despite the ridiculous, it is entirely seductive in it's plausability. The temptation to completely relieve yourself of responsibility for your actions (despite disturbing and ridiculous consequences) is tapped into completely by this novel. The most disturbing element being how compelling the argument to relinquish all control of your life can be - regardless of the consequences. Well worth reading if you are willing to suspend your disbelief.
on 24 February 2012
An interesting piece, though not as interesting as many have claimed, the narrative dips in and out of brilliance as the protagonist abandons his own personality and all of its various hangs-up mysogyny (which is so acute that the first 120 pages are like wading through tar), hetrosexuality, marriage, fatherhood etc. There are lot of interesting games played with the reader in the dialogue about the dice system presenting us with evidence and arguments against it whilst showing it as exciting and effective.
The book could have stood to be about a third of the size it was, the prose is a little turgid at times, the jumps between narrative voice are often rather dull and break up the flow of the piece. Furthermore the set pieces tend towards sexual acts that would probably have been considered more shocking in the days before internet porn but that have all long since passed into cliche. There is a lot of great ideas to consider and the novel is definitely one of the more thought provoking books I have ever read however it lacks the grace of style that would earn it a place in the cannon of great philosophical works
on 23 August 2000
In a similar vein to fight club, The Dice Man shows the transformation of a bored individual who influences thousands with his beliefs, and begins the dissolution of society. Reinhardt is an author of considerable talent, his inventive, hilarious and controversial style will attempt to open your eyes to the idea of the dicelife. This book can, if you let it, change your life.
This is an interesting premise, probably worthy of a good short story, made into a long book.
I liked a lot of the ideas, and the unflinching approach to most topics in terms of human behaviour, but found that the same basic idea was repeated over and over again. Like many hollywood movies, I think this would have been a lot better if edited down somwhat into a leaner story.
I understand the main character's dilemma and the notion of using the dice to overcome this, it's just hard to see how role playing different characters at a party to basically piss everyone else off, based on rolling some dice, contributes to anyone's general state of being, bored or otherwise.
To summarise I think this book is worth reading, but you might be rolling some dice half way through to see if you can be bothered to finish it or not.
on 3 June 1999
Fantastic book. You have to read this book. Hilarious at times, this would make a terrific film. I was engrossed by the story of this bored, middle-aged man, turning his life over to the dice. I can imagine there are some people who could fancy giving Dr.Reinhardt's dice theory a try. I must admit to being a bit tempted myself. Enjoy.
on 15 June 2007
The basic premise is simple: create a series of options, roll the die to decide between them, and then follow though whatever the die chooses. However, this book presents what is in fact a sophisticated philosophy, or even religion. Most of the ideas behind it are not new. Most of them come from Buddhism. The central one is that there is no self - instead we are made up of an almost infinite number of continually changing `selves' which manifest themselves in ever-shifting, often contradictory, desires and beliefs.
What is new here is the method that is given for realising the absence of the fundamental Western (perhaps human) assumption of the self: the dice.
Luke Reinheart, main character and pseudonym for the author, develops his dice theory in order to give a voice to all the `minority selves' within us that otherwise would not be given the chance of expression, supressed as they are by our dominant `self'. Luke typically gives a peripheral desire, usually to do something controversial and/or socially (and often legally) unacceptable, a long shot and then roles the dice to see if this desire gets to be satisfied.
Part of the appeal of this book is its total amorality. The die leads Luke to places deeply abhorrent and offensive to the dominant world view in our society. Absolutely anything goes, and nothing is sacrosanct. This is a foul-mouthed, visceral, even dangerous read, not for the weak-hearted or the politically correct.
Discovering where the die leads Luke is a journey well-worth taking. This book is outstanding: a well-written, considered, daring, highly intelligent masterpiece.
on 5 January 2007
Having been the type of child who always did what I was told not to do, I licked my lips with anticipation when I picked up this book. Having read all of the other reviews that have gone beforehand, I came to the conclusion that you should not read this book if a) you are a woman, and b) you are a philosophy graduate. The last time I checked, I am both.
Briefly, the story is pseudo-auto-biographical, based upon the experiences of our "Diceman" and resident psychiatrist, Luke Rheinhart. The book starts with a typical mid-life crisis lament over a game of poker with his fellow colleagues. For Luke, life has become "boring" and "predictable". He asks his mentor and fellow colleague "how" can can escape this mind-set and he is told that he can't - for fundamental boredom occurs when we become so used to our own habits, routine, and way of thinking: to abandon these is to abandon the very person that we are. Luke, thus, sets about trying to overcome this boredom WITHOUT changing the person he is by detaching himself from the actions he embarks upon - hence the need to roll the dice.
The story itself is both tragic and comic. There are moments of hilarity - for example, the heist at the very end of the book when the TV station is stormed. On the other hand, there are some very touching moments, like when Linda and Luke are lying on the beach and she realises that he can never be the companion she dreams of, despite joining him in his dice games, because, by following the command of the die, Luke's love for her can disappear from one moment to the next.
What seems to let the story down, however, is the story-line itself. Although we are led to believe that the autobiography has been dictated by the dice (Luke claims that he rolled the decide to decide which events to narrate, and which to leave out), in reality, we know that the story-line is pre-meditated by the author. As another reviewer has already observed here, "the randomness is never truly random", and you can't help wishing that the story-line had followed the roll of the dice that we never get to see.
On the plus side, however, what makes the book such an interesting read is the concept of the "Diceman" himself. How many of us genuinely contemplated raiding the "Trivial Pursuit" box for a set of die whilst we were reading this? I know I did. My advice to you who decide to take it one step further... make sure you use the dice to LIMIT your options when you are bored and need to decide what course of action to embark upon because using it to OPEN UP your world can lead to a trail of chaos and destruction - as Luke finds out, to his cost.