‘Here’s another story about some rich kids who got richer’ – Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich

sfbmStraight Flush – taglined ‘The College Kids Who Dealt Their Way to a BILLION-DOLLAR ONLINE POKER EMPIRE – and How It All Came Crashing Down’ – is author Ben Mezrich’s 13th book, and his seventh work of nonfiction. His nonfiction includes The Accidental Billionaires which became the David Fincher movie, The Social Network, and Bring the House Down which became the Kevin Spacey movie 21. He is, to paraphrase Anchorman, ‘something of a big deal’. What interests him – big money, big business, fatal hubris, ego, acts of impropriety – is writ large in each of his books (some of them, you don’t need to get further than the titles to see – Ugly Americans and Breaking Vegas, we’re looking at you). Straight Flush is no exception to the Mezrich rule.

What we have here are a small group of American men, all but one of whom come from money. They decide, after visiting a shady poker place, to establish an online poker business, despite having no technical expertise, make a few calls, draft in a few well-connected wingmen, raise vast sums of money, create a global business (as you do), party at the Playboy mansion, engage in some creative accounting, crash a car, crash a plane, crash and burn and go to jail. That’s pretty much the story you have here in Straight Flush. It’s a poker Entourage and works in exactly the same way as that show – you are supposed to read this, I think, vacillating between gross envy and shameful schadenfreude. Envy at the ease with which wealthy people move through life; schadenfreude because it’s great watching rich people experience not having it easy (except even the schadenfreude is turned on its head because the comeuppance arrives thanks, it seems, to a pair of American senators who sneak a bill through Congress on the back of another related bill and there is something suspicious about the whole affair, as there is about most bills passed in Congress).

In lots of ways, it reads like High Concept, the book about Hollywood producer Don Simpson – but unlike High Concept, Mezrich has a habit of omitting the juiciest details (we sense that there are drugs behind the scenes but don’t see; we know a bit of blackmailing went on in response to some fraudulent behaviour, businessmen stripped to their undies in the jungle – but we are not told what actually happens) – and it feels like he’s kind of buddies with the people he’s writing about and wants us to like them as much as he obviously does. It also feels a little like Mezrich is coasting on his rep a little bit (here’s another story about some rich kids who got richer). The prose feels like it’s been delivered by the contracted deadline. Straight Flush also feels like it’s a series of slightly underwhelming setpieces that could do with a little more shaping and a little more narrative oomph. It isn’t a bad book by any means – but we’ve been here before and maybe it’s time Mezrich really pushes himself. I hear those Pirate Bay guys had some interesting stories to tell…

Any Cop?: As far as nonfiction goes, this is an entertaining enough read – but whether the story warranted a book over, say, an extended Guardian weekend piece is up for debate…


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