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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Something for Nothing: Luck in America
I was reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback today (I recommend him to all NFL fans), and he recommended a book that might be of interest to the poker world: Something for Nothing: Luck in America, by Jackson Lears. Here's the Publisher's Weekly description from Amazon.com:
Public moralists cannot abide the obsessive gambler. They bemoan the disintegration of a solid work ethic and condemn the search for the quick buck, the belief that it's possible to get something for nothing. But Lears, a historian at Rutgers and editor of the journal Raritan, finds a much more complex issue at the heart of gambling in America, one that raises fundamental ethical, religious and philosophical questions that strike at the very core of our culture. He writes, "Debate about gambling reveals fundamental fault lines in American character, sharp tensions between an impulse toward risk and a zeal for control. Those tensions may be universal, but seldom have they been so sharply opposed as in the United States, where longings for a lucky strike have been counterbalanced by a secular Protestant Ethic that has questioned the very existence of luck." Lears offers a history of conflicting attitudes toward luck, beginning with early English settlers and continuing up to September 11, 2001. The book often reads like a course in Western Civilization, moving easily among the disciplines of religion, history, literature, art, economics, philosophy and science. And yet the vast assemblage of information becomes so overwhelming, it's easy to lose the book's primary thread; i.e., the ways that gambling, chance and luck have shaped American culture. Furthermore, the emphasis on men as the primary actors is too narrow; where are the women in this cultural history? Despite its flaws, however, this challenging, erudite and original book is a significant contribution to American cultural studies.
Many a poker player and many a poker blogger has ruminated on the nature of luck, and how important it is to be aware of the roles that both luck and skill play in the game. Good poker players know that your successes are not due to skill alone, and your losses are not necessarily a result of poor play; bad players have a hard time with these realities. This book sounds like a really in-depth discussion of the two mentalities, and could provide some interesting perspective on the poker boom.

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