In 2011, Grantland magazine gave bestselling novelist Colson Whitehead $10,000 to play at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. It was the assignment of a lifetime, except for one hitch—he’d never played in a casino tournament before. With just six weeks to train, our humble narrator took the Greyhound to Atlantic City to learn the ways of high-stakes Texas Hold’em.
Poker culture, he discovered, is marked by joy, heartbreak, and grizzled veterans playing against teenage hotshots weaned on Internet gambling. Not to mention the not-to-be overlooked issue of coordinating Port Authority bus schedules with your kid’s drop-off and pickup at school. Finally arriving in Vegas for the multimillion-dollar tournament, Whitehead brilliantly details his progress, both literal and existential, through the event’s antes and turns, through its gritty moments of calculation, hope, and spectacle. Entertaining, ironic, and strangely profound, this epic search for meaning at the World Series of Poker is a sure bet.
"Whitehead serves up an engrossing mix of casual yet astute reportage and hang-dog philosophizing, showing us that, for all of poker’s intricate calculations and shrewd stratagems, everything still hangs on the turn of a card."
- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"As a novelist of considerable range, Whitehead consistently writes about more than he's ostensibly writing about...here writing a poker book that should strike a responsive literary chord with some who know nothing about the game...Engaging in its color and character."
"Colloquial, with many personal digressions and heavy on pop-culture references, it reads like a memoir crossed with a literary guide to the often bizarre world of casino-poker tournaments..."
-The Wall Street Journal
"[Whitehead's] reporting on the grimy glitz of casinos and competitive gambling has a funny, tragic, loser-chic sesibility."
-The New Yorker
"...A witty, wandering book about poker...Tom Wolfe crossed with Tom Pynchon,"
-The Washington Post
"Whitehead goes to the table himself, and like a reporter on the front line of battle, he files stories as the action heats up...[Whitehead] uses poker to expand our sense of how human beings work."
-The New York Times Book Review
"Whitehead was rarely lucky - and maybe that's what makes this crass, sardonic tour through America's wasteland of bright lights, overpriced all-you-can-eat menus and windowless banquet hall behemoths so funny."
-The Chicago Tribune
"Mordantly funny from the first sentence...Mr. Whitehead may not have gone home in the money, but he has a way with upstanding sentences."
"...Clever and entertaining, and Whitehead employs entertaining throw-away lines that make you think"
-The Miami Herald
"Whitehead proves a brilliant sociologist of the poker world. He evokes the physical atmosphere vividly, 'the sleek whisper of laminated paper jetting across the table,' as the dealer shuffles. But he also conjures the human terrain, laying bare his own psychology and imagining his way into the minds of others. His book affirms what David Foster Wallace's best nonfiction pieces made so clear: It's a great idea... to turn a gifted novelist loose on an odd American subculture and see what riches are unearthed"
- The Boston Globe
"When a writer is good enough to blur the line between fiction and reality, that's a trick I like to see over and over again...The Noble Hustle is a book that says a lot about America without trying to make any grand sweeping statements; it works because Whitehead paid close attention to everything going on around him, and distilled it in his own unique way... The Noble Hustle, though, is just as great of a look at a real America as it is a book about poker, all seen through the eyes of a writer we know best through the very unreal world of fiction."
"Shares with [David Foster] Wallace's work the close attention of a wry, sharp intelligence to a populist pastime, a mix of casual and highfalutin diction, a self-deprecating voice that you're never sure is totally truthful in its deprecation, and a fondness for broad cultural pronouncements... Whitehead hips us to the popularity and atmosphere of the contemporary game, all without our having to endure a bus trip to Reno or have everything removed from our pockets but the lint."
-The San Francisco Chronicle
"The Noble Hustle, part love letter, part dark confessional, captures perfectly the mix of neurosis and narrative that makes gambling so appealing."
"The Noble Hustle is fierce, funny and totally worth the buy-in."
-New York Daily News
"Whitehead captures the sketchy and zombielike nature of poker tournament play well enough to leave you wishing this book came with a free bottle of Purell."
"This is not one of those poker books about a gang of math whizzes from Harvard who go to Vegas and win a gazillion dollars... A self-described citizen of the Republic of Anhedonia, whose residents are unable to experience pleasure, Whitehead, author of Zone One and other novels, agress to enter the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and see how far his half-dead poker face and a $10,000 stake can take him... Whitehead's account may seem at first like just another 'sad story about a pair of Jacks,' but it's really something very different, much sadder and much, much funnier. He calls his book 'Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shut-ins,' and that pretty much says it, if you remember that the eating part is mostly about beef jerky and the praying is for a pair of aces."
-Booklist (Starred Review)
"In 2011, Whiting Writers' Award-winning author Whitehead (Zone One) attended and participated in the World Series of Poker...Hilarity ensued...Entertaining and absorbing, Whitehead's look at the subculture of gambling and casino tournaments will appeal even to nongambling readers. Also recommended for those who enjoy memoir."
"The Noble Hustle, a darkly humorous work of participatory reportage that finds [Whitehead] (a decided amateur) attempting to play poker with the pros... Hustle is a hoot... Whitehead proves an ideal observer of poker culture... the tale he tells is much more than that of an odds-against-him novice. It's a story of a writer befuddled by fatherhood and middle age. Whitehead may not triumph at the tables, but his new book is a winner."
"...an engine of revved-up witticisms and one-liners."
-The East Hampton Star
"...the narrative glides to a graceful, evocative and crystalline conclusion."
-The Buffalo News