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on 20 May 2017
good stories
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on 6 March 2015
I enjoyed this book. It held my attention so well that I finished it within two days. It transported me vividly into the seedy underbelly of late nineteenth century America. I found myself in the presence of such larger than life characters as Salt Chunk Mary, the Sanctimonious Kid, Smiler, and “Foot-and-a-half” George. I could smell the scent of cheap rooming-houses. I could feel the tension of slowly sneaking a wallet out from under a sleeping man’s pillow.

I bought it because of its much-documented influence on William Burroughs. He first read it aged thirteen and it remained a significant part of his inner landscape for the rest of his life. It is easy to see why this book had such an attraction for the young Burroughs. It’s almost as if the thirteen year old knew where he was heading as soon as he had read this book. Prose style, life-perspective, and many of the characters could (and do) walk straight out of “You Can’t Win” and into a Burroughs text.

Anyone who knows anything about “El Hombre Invisible” will recognise the following: here is the Sanctimonious Kid advising the young Jack on page 118.
“Do you want everybody to look at you? Do you want everybody that looks at you to remember you? You do not. You want as few people to look at you as possible, and you want those few to forget you as soon as possible,” he continued with emphasis.
“What you want is clothes that will not detain the eye for a second. Expensive as you like, and well-fitting, but not loud or striking. You want clothes that a man or woman could not describe as blue, brown or black five minutes after looking at you. You want neutral clothes. Be as positive yourself as you like, but no positive clothes. You’ve got to watch yourself, Kid. You know that ‘old maxim’, eternal vigilance.”

This book is well worth reading. The illustrations by Joe Coleman are also memorable.
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on 21 March 2015
A terrific book and a revelation. The life and hard times of Jack Black who survived as a hobo, thief, prison victim and opium fiend around the beginning of the 20th. century.
"You Can't Win" opens a door onto a lost and forgotten world. It is written with great intelligence and awareness. Black chronicles his wrongful first arrest, and then the underworld of criminality and the viciousness of the prison system that hardened many of its inmates into seeking a kind of revenge on society. His description of the relationships amongst the hobos, the outcasts, the techniques of deception and theft are fascinating and eye-opening.There are thrilling and gripping stories of how he spent hours completing silent burglary at night - taking an age to slip a wallet from under the pillow of a sleeping man without waking him for example. Or how he hides the proceeds of a robbery on a piece of wasteland and later returns to find a house has been built on top of it...and so on.. Later in his life, having "reformed" he found some fame as a newspaper columnist and campaigned for the brutality that held sway in prisons to be eradicated. Ironically, and sadly, at the end of the book he expresses hope that the penal system in the U.S. is on the road to a much greater humanity. But he never excuses himself for his criminal activity, and the bulk of the book is taken up with fascinating tales of the underworld life.
Jack Black disappeared in the 1930s and is thought to have killed himself. He left behind this powerful testament of the unrespectable world with its own loyalties and conflicts that existed as a parallel universe alongside the other world of conformity, hypocrisy and often disdain.
The book is written in a straightforward, economical style. A tremendous read.
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on 30 October 2013
Hardy boys gone wrong. This supposedly real account of a cat burglar's (more so safe robber and Prison escapee) life and adventures.

Although it takes a while to get going its worth it - I read this book years ago and it frequently pops into my head.

Jack is an intelligent turn of the century guy who ended up in the wrong business.

William Burroughs favorite book.

Read it before you see the upcoming movie.
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on 5 December 2016
A must read for any 'beatniks' or fans of Kerouac etc. Starts off with serious momentum but does peter out slightly towards the end. It's a great yarn and also the more time that goes by the more important this record of the 'other side of the tracks' will become.
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on 23 January 2017
I quite liked this look at life from the other side of the tracks so to speak. You will recognise several phrases if you are familiar with Bill Burroughs books.
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on 2 January 2015
A snapshot from a criminal time long gone, but not forgotten. Highly recommended.
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on 3 April 2016
Great book, great story, one you will not put down until its finished.
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on 23 February 2016
Brilliant read,recommend
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on 26 May 2015
Great read
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