By Kevin Cook
W.W. Norton & Company, $15.95, 248 pages
Driven by an insatiable lust for travel, women, and fleecing suckers, Alvin C. Thomas, later called Titanic Thompson, left home at nineteen to become one of the most colorful road gamblers ever to place a bet. Excelling at golf, poker, shooting, horseshoes, pool, and dice, Titanic gambled his way into, and out of, millions of dollars; winning his bets through knowledge and skill almost as often as trickery. He married five teenage beauties, killed five men, and proved himself time and again to be a steel-nerved, slick-talking, one of a kind American legend.
The True Story of Titanic Thompson follows the life of a man who had the good fortune to be a master of his times and the ill luck to outlive them. Set against the vibrant backdrop of the 1920s and 30’s, Titanic’s tumultuous tale is full of old school gangsters, murder, sports, and romance. With his ruthless personality and obviously questionable ethics, Titanic is often difficult to empathize with. Fortunately, the author’s enthusiasm for the old time hustler is so infectious that even the most straight-laced reader will feel a grudging admiration for the gutsy gambler who hustled Al Capone. A truly entertaining read.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Goss