Bringing down the House
Ben Mezrich

In the "About the Author" blurb it states that Bringing down the House is the author's seventh book and his "first foray into nonfiction". This is somewhat odd considering that the story is a work of fiction, albeit based loosely on the endeavours of the MIT card-counting teams (there was more than one) during the 1990s. It's similarly the case that the plot of the 2008 movie "21" was only loosely based on the incidents from this book, and so really the movie's portrayal is twice removed from being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I can't say I'm overly surprised, as if this book and the movie stuck too closely to the facts they would have turned out to be pretty dry and geeky, possibly only appealing to dry and geeky people with an interest in casino gambling.

This book is written from the perspective of a young writer who attended MIT and is researching the background to a card-counting team's activities, and also through the eyes of one of the members, Kevin, who is recruited to the team and after an apprenticeship regularly returns from weekend visits to Las Vegas with a share of the team's substantial winnings. It's written in an uncomplicated, easy to absorb style, is fairly fast paced and provides an insight into what the team members got up to before they were finally "made", and the casinos' welcome mats were withdrawn. I reckon the ending lets it down a tad, being somewhat of an anti-climax after the rest of the story and leaving a lot of the sub-plots in limbo - did Kevin ever meet up with Teri, the luscious cheer-leader from LA, again? Did the IRS give him a clean bill of health after their investigation into his gambling earnings? Did he ever tell his conservative parents what he'd been up to? I think we should have been told.

If you're looking for a detailed history of the MIT blackjack team; how it was formed, the players recruited, prominent personalities, their actual results the lengths that the casinos went to to trace them etc etc, this is not the book for you. If you want this, you'll need to schedule an appointment with Mr Google. If you're looking for some lightweight reading of how the smart guys took the bad guys for telephone numbers whilst living the high-life at their expense, you could do worst than taking this one off the bookshelf - just don't expect too much in the way of detail and don't give it too much credence for what actually happened. If these two minor considerations aren't an issue you'll be fine.

Ben Mezrich is a professional writer, and you can find out more about him from his official web site at

December 2014.