Thursday, October 09, 2014

“Blood Aces” by Doug Swanson – The Birth of Gomorrah

Blood Aces by Doug Swanson – Book cover
Big great cities, especially ones revolving around gambling, are almost guaranteed to have some sort of bloody history behind them, with their founding fathers (and/or mothers, of course) being drenched so deep in corruption they revel in it. As you can imagine, the history of Las Vegas is far from being different; gangsters have put in place, managed and controlled (and let's face it, still do) the whole thing around the concept of gambling.

Though there are certainly many to either thank for or blame, depending on your point of view, for what modern Las Vegas has become, Benny Binion is certainly someone who played a crucial role, and is yet somewhat under-explored and left out from most history books.

In Blood Aces by Doug Swanson, we are presented with a rather comprehensive chronicle of Binion's life, beginning from his poor and humble beginnings in Texas, going all the way through the cultivation of his empire, and ending of course, with his natural death. Throughout the whole thing we get to understand where Binion came from and the kinds of experiences that have led him to become the man he died.

We get to witness him building up his character, effectively morphing into a shrewd, intelligent, cold and calculating mob boss, but one who was nevertheless rather gentle (at least in terms of mannerisms and appearance) and managed to become a true gambling icon in his home country. He was certainly a special man, with the capabilities to ceaselessly outsmart his opposition, where it came from the inside, other rivals, or J. Edgar Hoover himself.

To say that Blood Aces reads like a true crime novel taking place in the prohibition era would be an understatement. The whole thing has been novelized, and though there are certainly blanks filled in with the help of the author's imagination, the important facts (and even most of the unimportant ones) are accurate, and that is why it's such a joy to read through it, to read about a life so splendidly vast and exciting that it can actually be read as a fictional book.

Benny Binion
Benny Binion
At the end of it, there are no doubts whatsoever left in the reader's mind as to the fact that Binion's many different character traits, words, and actions committed in private and in front of the public merge together to make for perhaps one of the most frighteningly-intelligent criminals of the century. Many labels can be associated with him, and its this complexity of character that makes his life one worth chronicling.

Perhaps my favorite bits of the book were the ones about how Binion operated while building his empire up piece by piece, how he decided who to bribe, which direction to run the business in, who to rub shoulders with, and who to kill. The fact that he managed to lead such a double life while creating and shaping Las Vegas, while constantly being scrutinized by the people, his “colleagues in the field”, and the government itself, is something worthy of being remembered as a testament to, at the very least, the ingeniousness of the human character.

All in all, if you are yearning to read a truly informative, knowledgeable, thrilling and entertaining gangster novel about the rise of one of its most prominent figures, ones who helped to shape Las Vegas, then you are definitely going to be in for a treat here.

Doug Swanson

Doug Swanson

Doug Swanson is an American journalist who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, working for The Dallas Morning News. At the moment, he is benefiting from a fellowship at Stanford University. He is also an author, having written numerous Jack Flippo mysteries, as well as Dreamboat and 96 Tears.

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