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Roll the Bones: The History of Gamblingby David G Schwartz
Synopses & Reviews
Advance Praise for Roll the Bones
“Roll the Bones is a comprehensive and compelling look at the history of risk-taking¬—a necessary book in our age of plutonium poker, state lotteries, and billion-dollar Internet gaming sites. David Schwartz, a serious historian writing for a general audience, illuminates an urge we feel deep in our cells”
¬—From the Foreword by James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street
“Simultaneously entertaining, informative, and provocative, Roll the Bones looks through the veils of luxury, elegance, and pleasure that surround mankin‛s obsession with lady luck, to give a panoramic view of generations of gamblers, from the Caesars of Imperial Rome to Caesa‛s Palace in Las Vegas. Behind the lively narrative is a mass of information on the origin and rules of most popular games of chance, and a thoughtful analysis of the place of gambling in the 21st century”
¬—Iain Gately, author of Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization
“David Schwartz has written a masterful and encyclopedic history of gambling, from hunter- gathering peoples to the tourists on the twenty-first-century Las Vegas Strip. Throughout Schwartz maintains an accessible writing style with plenty of enjoyable anecdotes. Both the professional historian and the average reader will find the work rewarding”
¬—Larry Gragg, author of Englishmen Transplanted and The Salem Witch Crises
“Roll the Bones is an impressive telling of our journey with gambling, from its evolutionary beginnings to today¬—a great read for both the serious student of gambling history and the merely curious. This book will become the ¬Ďgold standar‛ of gambling history”
¬—Crandell Addington, championship poker legend and member of the Poker Hall of Fame
"This comprehensive and often entertaining history of gambling begins with the origins of odds and evens as an ancient divination 'game' and ends with the 21st-century Internet gambling phenomenon. Schwartz, a historian at the University of Nevada's Center for Gaming Research, gets credit not only for his thoroughness in describing the development of gambling in Western Europe and the U.S., but also for including gambling in Native American, Chinese and other non-Western cultures. Similarly inclusive is his examination of the doctrinal attitudes of each of the world's major religions toward the human penchant for gambling. Schwartz adds interesting anecdotes, even if likely apocryphal: aces, for instance, supposedly became superior to kings as a result of 18th-century French revolutionary fervor. But this thoroughness leads Schwartz to devote too much space to the rules of archaic games of chance and to the exploits of famous and not- so-famous gamblers. Although he doesn't ignore the underside — such as compulsive gambling and cheating — this aspect is underdeveloped. Also, a more in-depth inquiry into why people gamble and the societal impact of government-sponsored gambling, such as lotteries, would have made this encyclopedic effort even more complete." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Last year an executive for a major slot-machine manufacturer gave me a tour of his Las Vegas headquarters. Don't be misled by the dozens of flashing, clanging slots in the showroom off the lobby, he told me. His wasn't a gambling company. 'We're an entertainment company,' he said. Unlikely as it may sound, slots, with their bright video screens and realistic sound systems, have become curiously... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) sophisticated mini-movies, complete with engaging characters (sly geishas, say, or crafty penguins) and plot twists (an unexpected game within a game), all built upon a deep understanding of the human-machine interface. Slot designers are forever searching for the precise combinations of sight, sound and potential payoff that will keep a player handing over cash, all the while ensuring the experience is not so intense that it induces seizures. Is that really so different from Hollywood? This collusion of advanced mathematical modeling, Pavlovian conditioning and multiplex smarts is intriguing. But what's even more fascinating is how this whole enterprise can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamians rolling sheep hucklebones to see which of the four sides would come up. That's the tale told in 'Roll the Bones' by David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Studies at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Schwartz starts in the foggy borderlands between augury and chance, when prognosticators looking for clues about the future would roll the bones and interpret the results. It wasn't a huge step to start wagering on the outcome of these rolls. And it may be that humans are genetically hard-wired for such behavior: Dice arose independently in various civilizations. The first dice in India were fashioned of brown nuts; Native American dice often were made from shells or beaver teeth. Among the many telling facts Schwartz touches upon: Dice carved with symbols actually predate the use of numerals. From dice, it's onward to playing cards and wagering on the outcome of everything from insect fights to basketball games, from lottery drawings to wheels of fortune. This tour takes the reader from ancient ages of superstition through to the Enlightenment, which gave rise to the science of probability; from seedy Western saloons to the gilded gambling halls of Monaco; and inexorably onward, as you might have guessed, to a patch of scrappy desert in southern Nevada. It's an epic story with an engaging cast. You'll learn a bit about Denmark Vesey, a Charleston, S.C., slave who won a lottery and used his earnings to purchase his freedom (successfully) and fund an insurrection of some 9,000 slaves and freemen (unsuccessfully). And there's John Morrissey, the bare-knuckle fighter turned gambling baron turned nearly respectable congressman, who was a major figure behind the rise of Saratoga Springs as a mid-19th-century gambling resort. Chronicling a tale with such sweep has its challenges, not all of which Schwartz has overcome. The evolution of gambling refuses to follow a linear path; you can't trace a neat line from dice to the OTB parlor. Schwartz leaps around to give each form of gambling its due, as if in a frenzied game of Whac-a-Mole. (Speaking of which, his detour through the world of crooked carnival games is among the book's more engaging sections.) All that hurrying around can be a bit aggravating, giving the book a jumpy feel. Leonie Leblanc, 'the most famous Baden-Baden female gambler,' is given only two sentences. And will anyone not feel shortchanged by this brief note: 'One man even proclaimed his "killer duck" an interspecies champion and pitted it against all canine challengers.' The narrative finds a more satisfying pace about halfway through, when the spotlight swings to the origins of modern gambling in the United States. We begin in New Orleans (where craps and poker took root), then travel with cardsharps up the Mississippi on steamboats, then push on to San Francisco during the gold rush and then Las Vegas. Schwartz makes little effort to draw any grand conclusions about what this five-millennium-old habit can tell us about ourselves. He seems content to simply note the obvious: that gambling is an ingrained part of our everyday life. 'Roll the Bones' could have used more analysis and less inventory. Still, Schwartz, the author of two previous books on gambling culture, does manage to accomplish something remarkable: He's made Las Vegas seem like a vast repository of history, not a crash site of implosion, rebuilding and reinvention. The book's last chapter describes a stroll through the splashy new Wynn Las Vegas, a $2.7 billion casino that is 'the most expensive ... yet built.' Schwartz sees a ghostly reminder of the past at every turn — from the rise of fancy casinos in Italy, which is reflected in an Italian restaurant, to the specter of the early-19th-century German spa resorts, as seen in a lavish indoor garden. And in casino impresario Steve Wynn, if you look hard enough, you can see a caveman rolling some animal bones. Now, that's entertainment." Reviewed by
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The first narrative history of gambling spans the Stone Age to the Internet era, examining how it evolved with--and influenced--human civilization. Halftones throughout. 8-page photo insert.
The first narrative history of gambling from the Stone Age to the online casino.
The first narrative history of gambling, spanning the Stone Age to the Internet era, examining how it evolved with¬—and influenced¬—human civilization
In Roll the Bones, historian David G. Schwartz tells the epic story of gambling, beginning with its early emergence from divination rituals and ending with toda‛s global gaming culture. In a sweeping, rollicking narrative, Schwartz looks at the betting games people have played since the dawn of history, and argues convincingly that gambling has always been a crucial part of the human experience.
The book begins with the rolling of knucklebones in prehistoric times, progresses through the casting of lots portrayed in the Bible and sacred Hindu writings, and traces gaming through the heights of the Greek and Roman civilizations. Schwartz continues through the Middle Ages, investigating the mysterious invention of playing cards in twelfth-century China, the birth of the casino and table games such as baccarat in Venice, and the British Empir‛s work in spreading gambling throughout the world. Schwartz describes how lotteries financed some of the first American colonies, how gambling prospered in the Civil War and the Old West, how organized crime exploded in the twentieth century by running illegal gambling operations, and how gambling dollars transformed Las Vegas into the worl‛s number-one tourist destination. Packed with colorful characters from Julius Caesar to Casanova, George Washington to Steve Wynn, Roll the Bones is an all-in history of humanit‛s fascination with chance.
About the Author
David G. Schwartz was born in Atlantic City, where he has worked in casino security and surveillance. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he earned his Ph.D. in United States history from UCLA. He is currently the director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is the author of the academic books Cutting the Wire and Suburban Xanadu. He is a consultant and frequent commentator on gambling and related issues.
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