Bookmarks Issue: 

The Story of Poker

A-Cowboys FullJames McManus is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, most notably Positively Fifth Street (2003), an account of his fifth-place finish in the World Series of Poker. Recently Reviewed: Physical: An American Checkup ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2006).

The Topic: The popularity of McManus's Positively Fifth Street demonstrated just how widespread the poker craze has become in America and the world. But there's much more to poker than Texas hold ‘em. In Cowboys Full, McManus not only traces the history of the game from ancient times to the modern day but also provides plenty of insights along the way. Apparently, the name of the game comes from pochen, a German verb meaning "to beat up" or "to pulverize," and McManus includes many anecdotes about the game's violent past. But poker can also lead to peace: McManus even speculates that many of the great American diplomatic moves of the 20th century can be ascribed to the poker-playing styles of our presidents.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 516 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780374299248

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"A sequel of sorts to Positively Fifth Street ... Cowboys Full is a deal-me-in delight. Starting with a sweeping survey of the history of the game and its role in American culture, McManus ends with a smart, insiders' analysis of how poker has been--and should be--played." Glenn C. Altschuler

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"While nonplayers may need to come up to speed on the basics, McManus devotes substantive consideration not just to poker's technical aspects but also to its philosophical disposition. ... The book ends, as all good histories do, with a look at the future, including a roundup of current thought on poker ethics and the globalization of the game that McManus believes is inevitable." Clayton Moore

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"McManus has a writer's eye for anecdotes and details that bring the material to life. The book covers a lot of ground, but thanks to McManus' particular blend of skills, it does so with insight, clarity and credibility." Jack Broom

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The thoughts on poker terms and principles in global politics, and on the application of game theory to fields like cancer research, are interesting, although McManus does sometimes exaggerate or stretch a point. ... Cowboys Full is so entertaining, informative and genial that McManus can be forgiven for occasionally overplaying his hand." Robert Pinsky

Critical Summary

McManus's Cowboys Full makes room for everyone at the table. Lightweights will learn something about the basics of the game and why it appeals to so many people, while those already convinced of poker's importance will find much to enjoy here as well. Reviewers indicated that even those who do not normally enjoy history will appreciate the book's insights into how the game's past informs today's political strategies. A few critics considered some of McManus's arguments somewhat overreaching and some of his anecdotes, well, anecdotal--but what would a book about poker be without a couple of good bluffs?