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Inside the Gambler's Mind
David Spanier
Publisher: University of Nevada Press (1994)
Pages: 240
ISBN: 0-87417-242-X
First Publication: 1987
Previous Title: Easy Money
Reviewed: 7/97

The unapologetic thesis behind Spanier's 1987 book (with minor revisions, including the title, in 1994), seems to be that gambling is good for you. I figured this out by reading the foreword to the book, which begins, "Gambling is good for you. That's my thesis, and I don't feel I need to apologize for saying it straight out." Spanier executes a defense of this thesis in three parts. The first is a look at four people associated with gambling, and through whom Spanier, we presume, feels we can glean some insight into the mind of a gambler. The second is a mix of vague reports from psychological studies and Spanier's own insights into the psychology behind gambling. The third is a series of historical vignettes from the history of gambling in Monte Carlo, the United States, and Great Britain. He concludes with short chapters on morality and on the role of chance in life, the universe, and everything.

I have to admit up front that I have a hard time reading a lot of British writing. I frequently just don't get it. Tony Holden I feel I can understand. And A. Alvarez, based on very limited reading, I can even admire. But in this book, Spanier often gave me the odd feeling I was missing the point in a way that's oddly similar to when I know I've missed a joke on a British sitcom. That said, I think I can still comment in a way that's not entirely unfair, but since I didn't like it all that much, I wouldn't want to claim I'm the ideal reviewer.

I found the book to be most weak in those sections which were intended to provide insight into the gambler's mind. A great deal of this seemed to me more like pseudo-scientific babbling than well-founded analysis. I don't fault Spanier for the lack of scientific rigor, as I don't think his intention was to prove any particular theory. But I do fault him for what seemed to me a rambling and ultimately uninformative analysis of gambling psychology. I also was not particularly impressed with the overall quality of writing. I didn't find the book especially engaging, and many of the chapters read more like disconnected thoughts only partly thought out. In other words, it wasn't always clear that there was any particular point to what he had to say, just that he'd found something relevant to report.

I did find some of the more narrative sections interesting, including some cute stories included with the historical material towards the end of the book. But I still feel the book failed either to provide either a rigorous analysis of or an intuitive feel for what's inside the gambler's mind. Spanier also didn't really devote much energy to supporting his thesis specifically, leaving the reader to try to make coherent sense of the material. And lastly, for a book supposedly on gamblers' minds, there was surprisingly little direct inspection. It would have been nice to see just a bit more evidence on what's going on inside the minds of those who like to gamble.

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