Roll the Bones: Opinion

Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling has garned rave reviews from readers and critics alike.

The book has been named the National Council on Problem Gambling’s Book of the Year for 2006 and has won a prestigious Editor’s Choice 2006 Trippie Award.

Here’s what people are saying:

With Roll The Bones, David G. Schwartz has confirmed his position as the leading historian of gambling. Since changes in the law follow changes in society, the book is an essential tool for anyone who wants to understand the battles taking place over legal gaming today. Fortunately, it is also a fun read.

– I. Nelson Rose, Gambling and the Law

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This tour takes the reader from ancient ages of superstition through to the Enlightenment, which gave rise to the science of probability; from seedy Western saloons to the gilded gambling halls of Monaco; and inexorably onward, as you might have guessed, to a patch of scrappy desert in southern Nevada.

It’s an epic story with an engaging cast…Schwartz, the author of two previous books on gambling culture, does manage to accomplish something remarkable: He’s made Las Vegas seem like a vast repository of history, not a crash site of implosion, rebuilding and reinvention.

–Wayne Curtis, Washington Post, 12/05/06

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To what seems to be the majority of today’s poker players – the 20-somethings who have cut their teeth online – the phrase “back in the day” might easily refer to Chris Moneymaker, the first online qualifier to win the main event, back in 2003. Or, if they have a keen sense of poker history, they might think “old school” means Stu “The Kid” Ungar, who won his first World Series of Poker main event in 1980. But poker’s real history dates back at least 500 years – and gambling in general “is simply older than history,” writes David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (where else?), in this fascinating new book.

Roll the Bones is interesting because gambling is interesting (indeed, one could go so far as to say that gambling makes things interesting). Schwartz makes the colorful history of this sphere of human activity come alive by dozens of separate strands into a comprehensive tapestry, a big-picture perspective that connects those Mesopotamians throwing the bones of a sheep to a vacationer tossing a pair of dice at Bellagio…. Schwartz quotes Pliny the Elder (first century): “We are so much at the mercy of chance that Chance is our God.” When you sit down to play poker, in a cardroom or online, you’re taking part in a drama that spans human history, and Schwartz has written the definitive account of that history in Roll the Bones.

–Tim Peters, Card Player Magazine (full review here, just scroll down)

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People will bet on anything. That is the grand theme of Roll the Bones, David G. Schwartz’s lively history of gambling through the ages.

Schwartz…takes his assignment seriously. He begins even before the beginning, with the great wagers described in ancient religious texts, where even the gods gambled furiously…Having rooted his narrative, rather grandly, in the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, China and India…Schwartz sets out on a quick global march that takes the reader from the gambling dens of Pompeii to the slots at Caesars Palace.

–William Grimes, New York Times, 10/06/06

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Schwartz’s new book, Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, will open your eyes to vast, complex world of addicts, con men, mobsters and corporations. The 500-page-plus tome reads like the definitive history it is, seamlessly bringing together stories of Cincinnati wolf-trap dealers and Australian animal blood sports. Indeed, Roll the Bones provides the most comprehensive timeline of gambling you’re likely to ever find.

Roll the Bones is anything but a gamble. The book deftly bridges the gap between caveman-era knucklebones and Internet cyber-gambling in an informative, entertaining and illuminating way. Schwartz’s history one of those rare accounts that, in spite of its page count, feels like a breezy monograph.

–Jarret Keene, Las Vegas City Life (full review here), 10/16/06

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Schwartz (director, Ctr. for Gaming Research, Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas; Suburban Xanadu: The Casino Resort on the Las Vegas Strip and Beyond) broadens his horizons for a global history of gambling, from prehistoric times to current Las Vegas trends. The premise is certainly engaging enough: it seems most of the earth’s cultures have encountered organized risk and found it to their taste. The rise and fall of many historical figures, fortunes, and governments are shown to be tied to gambling, with mentions of notables from Galileo to Voltaire to William Fisk Harrah…the overall effect is fascinating. Most intriguing, he posits that we have entered a global gambling era, similar to the European gambling boom of the 17th through 19th centuries. Well researched and highly readable, this is recommended for all libraries where interest warrants.

–Elizabeth Morris, Library Journal

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This comprehensive and often entertaining history of gambling begins with the origins of odds and evens as an ancient divination “game” and ends with the 21st-century Internet gambling phenomenon. Schwartz, a historian at the University of Nevada’s Center for Gaming Research, gets credit not only for his thoroughness in describing the development of gambling in Western Europe and the U.S., but also for including gambling in Native American, Chinese and other non-Western cultures.

–Publisher’s Weekly, 7/10/06

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Schwartz (Suburban Xanadu, 2003), a Las Vegas resident and gambling scholar, provides a study on gambling’s deep-rooted place in history, and compelling proof that gambling comes as naturally to humankind as eating…it’s a winning hand for the true student of gambling.

–Kirkus Reviews

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As David Schwartz writes in his fine history of gambling, Roll the Bones, the pastime has a long record of popular appeal and official dissapproval….Schwartz seems almost destined to write this book. He was born in Atlantic City and worked in casino security before going to the University of Pennsylvania and then earning a doctorate in American history at UCLA. He is now the director of the Center for Gaming Studies [sic] at, inevitably, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. By the end of this expansive work, he leaves you utterly persuaded that the yearning to gamble is a near-universal human trait, found in just about all societies and notably conspicuous among their elites…a fascinating book.

–Wall Street Journal, 10/27/06
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Advance praise for Roll the Bones:

“ Roll the Bones is a comprehensive and compelling look at the history of risk-taking—a necessary book in our age of plutonium poker, state lotteries, and billion-dollar Internet gaming sites. David Schwartz, a serious historian writing for a general audience, illuminates an urge we feel deep in our cells.”

—from the Foreword by James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street

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“Simultaneously entertaining, informative, and provocative, Roll the Bones looks through the veils of luxury, elegance, and pleasure that surround mankind’s obsession with lady luck, to give a panoramic view of generations of gamblers, from the Caesars of Imperial Rome to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas . Behind the lively narrative is a mass of information on the origin and rules of most popular games of chance, and a thoughtful analysis of the place of gambling in the 21 st century.”

—Iain Gately, author of Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization

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“David Schwartz has written a masterful and encyclopedic history of gambling, from hunter-gathering peoples to the tourists on the twenty-first-century Las Vegas Strip. Throughout Schwartz maintains an accessible writing style with plenty of enjoyable anecdotes. Both the professional historian and the average reader will find the work rewarding.”

—Larry Gragg, author of Englishmen Transplanted and The Salem Witch Crisis

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“ Roll the Bones is an impressive telling of our journey with gambling, from its evolutionary beginnings to today—a­ great read for both the serious student of gambling history and the merely curious. This book will become the ‘gold standard’ of gambling history.”

—Crandell Addington, championship poker legend and member of the Poker Hall of Fame

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