Thursday, November 27, 2008

Son of a Gambler's Guide to Holiday Books

Son of a Gambler’s Guide to Holiday Books

It’s a lesson to me, the ablers and the beggars and the thieves

-The Grateful Dead

If you read my book, Son of a Son of a Gambler, you’ll know that my childhood was filled with beggars, thieves and other unusual characters.

But not nearly as unusual as the characters Ed McClanahan has encountered in his life.

Ed was one of the “Merry Pranksters,” a group typified by author Ken Kesey and other legends of the 1960’s counter-culture. Ed novel, The Natural Man, is a literary classic and, like Son of a Son of a Gambler, based in my old stomping ground of Northern Kentucky.

Ed recently released O The Clear Moment, and it is a great read. It is nine autobiographical short stories from a guy who has led a really interesting life. It is funny, insightful and one you won’t put down.

Another book that I didn’t put down was Sniper Bid, Rick Robinson’s follow-up to his hit novel, The Maximum Contribution. Both of the novels are based on Rick’s insights as a former Congressional aide and Congressional candidate. If you have someone who likes political thrillers, this is one to put in his stocking.

There are good guys and bad guys in the world of business, and Joe Nocera writes about both. I wrote about Good Guys and Bad Guys when the book was released earlier, but the book has received wide notice lately as Joe, a business columnist for the New York Times, has been the voice of reason and common sense during the financial crisis.

Joe’s been on highbrow shows like Bill Moyers Journal, and less than highbrow shows, like The Colbert Report. No matter the venue, Joe has interesting things to say.

I mentioned recently on Facebook that I wished Joe had been Treasury Secretary instead of our current Secretary, Hank Paulsen. Someone noted that would make him, “Joe the Treasurer.”

“Joe the Writer” is as good as they come.

Although I read hundreds of books a year (I really do), business books are at the top of my charts.

I previously reviewed the hardback version of The Success Effect by John Eckberg. The paperback edition is updated and is out in time for the holidays. John interviewed a number of business leaders, such as Donald Trump. He asked the people he interviewed what books they had on their nightstand and what music they listen to.

I once used John’s idea in one of my columns. I asked the question to a number of well-known Kentuckians. It told me a lot about each of them.
I’ve been catching a lot of new business book releases recently and one I really like is The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. There are about 50 biographies of Buffett and I have read almost all of them. This is the best. It gives a lot of detail about Warren Buffett the man, not just Warren the money-making machine. It’s 976 pages, but they go by quickly.
Ted Turner is another hero of mine. But I don’t recommend his recently released autobiography. Ted has lived a fascinating life, but he is not an introspective guy. A better book about him is Ted Turner: It Ain't As Easy as It Looks, which came out in 1997.
I did a chapter in Son of a Son of A Gambler about my father’s friendship with Larry Flynt. And Dad also knew Hugh Heffner.
Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream, by Steven Watts, is a stunningly great biography of Hefner. Watts is a history professor at the University of Missouri. He has written excellent biographies of Henry Ford and Walt Disney. As in his previous books, Watts views Hefner from a biographical perspective but also notes Hefner’s impact on popular culture and history.
It is only proper that the son of a gambler and daughter of a gambler be on the same wavelength. I read Martha Frankel’s highly acclaimed, Hats & Eyeglasses: A Family Love Affair with Gambling, when it was released earlier this year. This riveting story is about her childhood as the daughter of a gambler and her addiction to poker playing.
About a month ago I connected with Frankel via Facebook. She had just purchased a copy of Son of a Son of a Gambler and, to answer the John Eckberg question, she had it on her nightstand.
The hardback copy of Hats and Eyeglasses is available for the holidays and paperback is coming soon. You might want to get both. Martha has known a few ablers, beggars and thieves in her lifetime, too.

Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the founder of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Kentucky. He is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win The Lottery. You can read other things he has written at or write to him at

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