Tuesday November 3rd, 2009

A History of Poker

mcmanus-cowboysOver at the Barnes & Noble Review, I take a look at James McManus’ new history of poker, Cowboys Full. Click here for the whole thing. Here’s the beginning:

Cod, of course. And salt. Coffee, cotton and coal. Vanilla. And chocolate. The pencil. The potato. Penicillin. Bananas, olives, and corn. Tobacco and aspirin. Rats and pigeons. Honey. Gunpowder. Even dust.

In recent years, all of these subjects have had their “biographies” published. So why not poker? It’s certainly more popular than rats. In 1999, 393 players participated in the World Series of Poker’s main event. This year, 6,494 hopefuls ponied up $10,000 each for the privilege. And who better to write the game’s history than James McManus, whose 2003 bestseller Positively Fifth Street immediately joined the ranks of poker classics like The Biggest Game in Town by Al Alvarez and Big Deal by Anthony Holden?

One feels an initial wave of relief and gratitude that McManus chose a relatively modest subtitle — “The Story of Poker” — for this history, resisting the temptation (and the likely pressure from the marketing department) to go with something like, “How a Card Game Transformed America and the World Forever.” But in the first chapter, we get this ominously ambitious statement of purpose: “My goal is to show how the story of poker helps to explain who we are.”