Ben Mezrich: Chronicler of the New Age or Still a Fiction Writer?


Be careful dude has a new book out!

Warning: The following does not express in all likelihood the views of a sane man. The slanderous opinions below are my own true beliefs, and I’ll claim to the death I meant them all in jest and don’t own much to pay a lawsuit off.

MIT alum Saro Getzoyan’s win in the 2007 WSOP $5000 Limit Event made me think of the chronicler of the bad ass MIT crowd, Ben Mezrich.

Bringing Down the House, Busting Vegas, and Ugly Americans: Lots of copies sold very entertaining, in a life on the run con man type of roguishness. They always say that truth is more amazing than fiction, but then I started to wonder if it was really just good fiction being pushed off as the truth.

Bringing Down the House was the story about the MIT Blackjack card counting team, who learned to count cards. The only way to catch card counters is by seeing them suddenly upping their bets when the count got way in their favor. The MIT team wouldn’t vary their bets. They had a captain, who when signaled a good count would sit down and become a suddenly lucky whale, while the rest just played solid blackjack and broke about even.

This was eminently believable to me. I used to trade stock options on the floor of the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange. Yes, the one where they filmed that Kevin Bacon classic Quicksilver a couple years before I got there, which means my degrees of Kevin Bacon is two. I have a friend named Rasheed, who gained about 150 pounds in that couple of years so it is a shock to see him in that movie’s epic if idiotic climax.

To see why it was idiotic check out my earlier analysis of this blockbuster piece of entertainment:

Anyway, a number of the traders on the floor had been members of similar teams and I had heard that story so I skipped the book. He even has poker pro Andy Bloch to back him up so I’m sure it’s quite true.

His second “non-fiction” book was called Ugly Americans: The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions.

This concerned derivatives traders in Asia. Well I refused to move to Asia because I couldn’t handle the diet or the craziness, but I was a derivatives trader too. This book is exciting reading. It has tons of deranged sex. It has the Yakuza. It has violence and a hero and a villain.

Great stuff. Now I’d be willing to bet about a third of my net worth that it’s complete fiction. If anyone wants to put down some money and get Mezrich to answer questions to Miss Cleo while on a lie detector. I’m game. Here’s why I think it’s all nonsense.

1. It’s really just Wall Street. There’s a Gekko and a Bud. Bud turns on Gekko, but in Mezrich’s version Bud gets them both really rich first, and neither go to jail. Instead of flipping to the Feds, Bud just flips Gekko off and moves to an island with a pure daughter of a Yakuza Big Wig, and lives happily ever after on a carribean island. I know. You’re saying it could happen. But wait:
2. Mezrich wasn’t as stupid as James Frey. The beginning of his book tells you that since the main character is wanted by the deadly Yakuza that he has had to change all of the protagonists names, and even fudged a few details for their protection. This is where it gets absurd. On like page 13 of this book, Bud is described as setting an NCAA Division One Reception Record at Princeton in the mid-80’s. So either protecting this guy’s name isn’t that big a deal, since it took me 40 seconds and Google to look up his real name, or he just made up the whole story about him setting a record and needlessly endangered some innocent record holding reciever, who could for all we know right now be dead due to Mezrich! If this is slanderous and I could get sued, I promise to put up a similar forward apology as the one in Mezrich’s book. Mezrich never apologized to Oprah and I’m not either! Now run Michael Lerch run, the Yakuza is after you! Relax, I didn’t just out him, his name is actually listed on the Wiki entry for the book!
3. Every one in Ugly American’s has wild demeaning to women kinky geisha sex, except Bud, who stays true to his true love Yakuza daughter and they also if I remember correctly are the only two characters in the book who are not snorting up half of Columbia every other night. This guy comes off as Luke Hamill, biding his time with Darth Vader for a couple years, they blow up a couple of planets and then he retires to Tatooine and marries Billy Dee Williams.
4. Bud gets fired from his first two jobs for working for James Jett and Nick Leeson, who happen to be the center of the two biggest derivatives scandals of the last 25 years. The ones that made me consider crossing out derivatives trader from my resume and replacing it with drug dealer.
5. The whole Yakuza subplot with the motorcycle chase.
6. An amazing passage that goes something like this: “I went to Wall Street to meet Alan. He had a big Santa Clause beard on and chain smoked pure PCP, but really his name isn’t Alan and he doesn’t have a beard. I have to alter the details for both Bud and “Alan’s” protection.” This is perhaps the most amazing passage I’ve ever read in my life. Why go into all this detail describing this guy and then tell me none of it is essential or true? I want that mega second of my life back. Ben Mezrich is genius. No really, he’s not. See isn’t that irritating?
7. This is my favorite part of the book. Our intrepid reporter goes to a China Town club where they traffic in the slave trade and a little old asian woman makes him pull out his penis to prove that he isn’t a cop. This may be true for all I know, but I don’t need to know that. I thank Mezrich for avoiding writing “It was an ugly bent penis, well no but I needed to write that to protect the identity of my penis.”

If 1/10th of this nonsense is true, I’ll clean Mezrich’s swanky townhouse for a month. He just sat down watched Wall Street, Platoon, Natural Born Killers and mixed them all together. Whoever bought Mezrich that Special Edition Oliver Stone set for Christmas is owed some royalties.

As if Bringing Down the House hadn’t down enough damage to Vegas the MIT guys were back to bust Vegas, in Busting Vegas. This one is about the supersecret double alpha cell of the MIT Cardcounting Team. This book also has fugitives so Mezrich again gets to make up as much stuff as he pleases. The book flap even pictures like 10 fake ID’s of the protagonist. So we get like tons of fake beard shots and six or seven fake names to choose from this time. This book has more credence in my eyes since Mezrich does release their con which was fascinating because it upped the edge from just counting by like ten times and it depended on betting large sums of money at one time. But again there is so much pulp included you wonder if the Mickey Spillane estate is also due some cash. Let’s just say that this fugitives marries his true love and turns himself in to save his friend who is passed out in a Vegas brothel dying by the minute from drug addiction!

So I have to lay the gauntlet down: Ben, I love your stuff, please sue me I need the notoriety so I can make up stuff about my brothel visits in the late 90’s

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