‘Bringing Down The House’, is one book that showed me how truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. This piece, is a novel-like reportage of the true story of six MIT students who milked Vegas’ casinos, and beyond, for millions. The story itself is a classic and has resulted in numerous documentaries, as well as the popular movie, “21”. However, nothing beats the finesse and skills the author laid out in making an actual story, pass off for a bestseller in fiction on an action-thriller bookshelf. Albeit, all the apparent and, slightly expected exaggerations.
In 257 pages, Ben Mezrich takes us on a ride of adrenaline-pumping adventure and thrill with a few caution breaks here and there. Kevin, the protagonist and the one whose perspective the book is told from, was a typical MIT student who wanted something more than a life behind test tubes. His wishes would eventually come true, when he meets a group of young and undeniably smart MIT whizkids who spent the bulk of their time, ‘winning’ – through card counting. They knew how to beat the casinos in blackjack and the ‘MIT blackjack team’, ensured they did. Kevin joins the team, and that began his highly exciting double life. They enjoy the million-dollar lifestyle, but after a few run-ins with bounty hunters and implied laws of the casinos, they get into a lot of trouble. This is even though card counting remained legal in the United States. The one advice they had to bear in mind, was knowing when to quit.
In the book, we learn the basics of card counting and how the team, and a few others, were able to beat the casinos and cash out. The first point that got my attention, was how well they were able to lead double lives. MIT math whizzes by weekday, and Vegas high fliers by weekend. It even gets more interesting when the team moves beyond faking names and personalities to actually using costumes and makeup to change what they looked like. Not a boring life at all. Occasionally, we also got to see the discord and competition that came with the game. So, even as the team had to fight off angry casino officials, they had a lot of internal discord, rivalry, and competition of their own to worry about.
The story tapered down like any other fiction story, with relevant high points of fun and wins, and the low points of losses and ills. It even had that usual ‘danger’ feel that comes right before the happy ending – much of which have been proven to be formulated. In fact, the only real character was the protagonist who was based on Jeff Ma. The others were coalitions of one or two, maybe more, individuals. Some with dominant personalities and others, completely recreated. Inasmuch as his fictionalizing of reality has stirred up so much controversy, I find it more expected than wrong. Even though the truth has its own kind of unimaginable drama, it seldom comes out as a properly arranged one. It is the job of the creative artist to make it come out as such.
Besides, the exaggeration of truths are as normal as story changing hands generally. This is not to support all his ‘misdeeds’ – creating one too many scenes that did not exist completely moves away from reality. Also, those of us who are not fans of fiction would really appreciate it if our minds don’t get excited over a ‘real-life’ mind blowing scenario that was constructed in the author’s mind. I could not enjoy any of the usual ‘moral lessons’ that come with non-fiction books – should we attempt card counting? What did we learn here? But, the book remains a wonderful read that would stir up your imagination and Vegas fantasies. It is also one of the best creative non-fiction books I have read so far.
I rate it a 4 out of 5. You can give it your own rating below.
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About the Author
Ben Mezrich is an American author from Princeton, New Jersey, United States. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991. Since then he has published eight books with a combined printing of more than four million copies in nine languages. Ben Mezrich created his own highly addictive genre of nonfiction, chronicling the amazing stories of young geniuses making a whole lot of money on the edge of impossibility, ethics, and morality. Mezrich has appeared often on TV, including a stint on Court TV with his own series titled High Stakes with Ben Mezrich. He has also hosted the World Series of Blackjack for GSN, and is hosting for a second season CNBC’s series The Filthy Rich Guide.