Friday, October 7, 2011

Poker Without Cards: Book Review

I read this book about a month ago, Poker Without Cards by Ben Mack. It's another e-book, but the site I downloaded it from,, isn't working, and I'm having a hard time finding it at other supposed download sites (EDIT: I think this one works, it's probably easier to read if you download it); fortunately for me I have it saved; finally, it is available on Amazon in paperback. I was going to write a review on it, but I wasn't sure how to, and then I got busy with work and other things. But I found it fascinating, read it twice.

Like the last book I reviewed, God's Debris, Poker Without Cards is more about the ideas than any plot, though it too is nominally fiction. The book takes the form of a transcript of a series of supposed interviews between a psychiatrist, Dr. William Fink, and the interviewee, Howard Campbell. Dr. Fink has contacted Campbell over a patient he has in his mental hospital, Richard "Bucky" Wilson, a catatonic who was found with a note on him saying, "My dearest friend Howard, please explain."

From there, the book delves into such wide ranging topics as memes, psychology, advertising, sanity and insanity, mind control, religion, corporations, pirates, government, capitalism, left brain/right brain, history, and other such things, much of it revolving around Bucky's eventual mental breakdown several years before when he and Campbell attended Bennington College. Most of the discussion seems to be based on ideas from Buckminster Fuller and Aliester Crowley, mostly the former, though there are many other references. There are a ton of books mentioned which I intend to look into. (Two that are mentioned that I have read and also recommend are Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and its sequel Lila, both of which are well worth reading).

I don't really know how to review it, though. To comment on the ideas discussed would take a long time, and you'd be better off just reading the book rather than my summary of it. As for the storyline, well, it's hard to imagine such a conversation actually happening, it seems rather contrived but does build into a rather unexpected finale. So, instead of a real review, I'll simply recommend reading it if you're interested in any of the above topics, and will leave you with a few quotes.

one of the reasons I find the Bible incredulous is that when god speaks to people, nobody ever really freaks out and questions their sanity. I find that awfully convenient. Or, when these preachers on TV say god spoke to them, what the fuck. Shouldn't this be front-page news? Either god is speaking to them and we have a modern day prophet and the newfound words of God should be published everywhere, or they are insane.

Look at the way capitalism is set up: Fuller cautioned that year after year, less and less "money" is available to the average person. The rich are getting richer. At a certain point, this system will fall apart. You don't hear politicians discussing this.

Foucault asked if the legal ramifications of insanity was just a device that a society could use to discredit and invalidate minds that didn't think according to the society's ordained patterns. Is there much of a difference between a jail and a hospital if they won't let you leave?

Psychoanalysis is the disease it purports to cure

Centuries ago, Christian Huygen noticed how separate entities will fall into rhythm with one another. Specifically two pendulum clocks placed in close proximity that began to keep the same time. In 1665, he coined the word "entrainment" to describe this phenomenon

Most people entrain with the masses. This binds the illusion of free will.


  1. Sounds interesting. As a former poker player whose played hundreds of hours of poker online for real money, I find the title very intriguing. Even if it has nothing to do with the actual game of poker itself, this is a book I would probably read. Have to put it on the back burner though for another time, am not reading e-books anymore on my computer, because I'm strapped for cash and am paranoid that my computer will crash if I use it too much and I won't be able to replace it (such the addict that I am it would be very rough). So I'm trying to take it easy, not put a lot of excessive wear and tear on it. Have to wait until I can get an e-book reader, or find a paper copy of it, but I'll definitely put it on my to-read list, right next to "Gods Debris", although that one is available at the library, so I'll probably read it sometime before the end of the year.

    I do remember reading both of those Robert M. Pirsig books over a decade ago and liking them at the time. Would really like to read Bucky Fuller. Crowly I have mixed feelings about. But yeah I'll check it out. It's good to talk about books, sometimes things you take for granted as being well known, may be a completely new revelation to some of your readers (something they've never heard of before and would really want to read).

  2. Very true.

    By the way, Poker Without Cards is available in paperback on Amazon. Should have mentioned that.

  3. "Psychoanalysis is the disease it purports to cure"

    This sounds a little like Tom Cruise....

  4. Brandon... Thank you for reviewing PWC, and a thank you to whomever introduced you to the memeplex.

    I was Googling PWC references to drum up an audience... Can you make this? Can you bring a friend?

    12/23 Live reading of Poker Without Cards 2:23 NYC time
    replay will be at
    (209) 647-1600 conference 170373#
    (see more for Skype instruction)

    Call-in to listen LIVE 12/23 at 2:23 PM New York City
    Starring Anna Zinova as Psychiatrist #1
    Erik Julian Hughes as Howard Campbell
    Julian James as Dr. Fink
    Blair Murphy as Ben Mack

    Skype Instructions: first add 'freeconferencecallhd.0000000000' (zeros present assigned conference dial-in number) contacts. At the scheduled date and time of the conference call, select the contact and click Call. Next, locate the key pad and enter 170373# when prompted.

    THANK YOU!!!