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“A delightful, breezy account of the most outrageous grifter who ever worked the dark side streets of the American dream. Titanic might have been the most talented golfer of a generation that included Nelson and Hogan. He became, instead, the premier con man of the twentieth century who never held public office. If this was fiction, you wouldn’t believe it. But it’s all true, and it’s all here.”— Mark Frost, bestselling author of The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Match

“Kevin Cook’s biography vividlyilluminates the life of TitanicThompson, perhaps the craftiest golferand poker player—and certainly the most dangerous hustler—of his, or just about any, generation.”—James McManus, bestselling author of Positively Fifth Street and Cowboys Full


“Titanic was a legend, one of the toughest, smartest gamblers of all time. Kevin Cook's terrific book brings him back to life.” —Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, member of the Poker Hall of Fame

from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: Cook (Tommy’s Honor) introduces his portrait of the larger-than-life “Titanic” Thompson (1892-1974) as a self-made man from the Ozarks who loved games of chance and had a knack for winning incredible sums of money. In a lyrical account of the gambling legend who inspired Damon Runyon’s character Sky Masterson (Guys and Dolls), Cook describes Thompson as a “rogue wind that lifted girls’skirts and turned gamblers’ pockets inside-out.” Thompson possessed the steel nerves of a card shark, the bravado of an outlaw, and the staying power of a satyr, preferring his girls young and pretty. Rumor has it that he drove a swank Pierce-Arrow (driving from town to town to ply his hustling trade), carried a gun (he reportedly killed five men) and a suitcase full of cash, and rubbed elbows with Houdini, Capone, and gamblers Arnold “the Brain” Rothstein and Nick the Greek. Thompson excelled at golf before PGA Tours began, competing with professional golfers Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. Cook’s raucous narrative introduces readers to an eccentric, fascinating personality.

from KIRKUS BOOK REVIEWS: Former Sports Illustrated editor Cook provides a raucous retelling of the life of a consummate gambler, grifter and quintessential American character. At age 16, Alvin “Titanic” Thompson bet a man his dog could fetch a stone he threw into a river. Suspecting a trick, the man demanded an X be scratched on the rock. Sure enough, the dog retrieved the rock. Of course, Thompson had spent the day before throwing hundreds of X-marked rocks into the river. Soon after, around 1910, Thompson left Arkansas and for the next 50 years proceeded to gamble on anything and everything, fleecing suckers wherever he found them, killing five men (mostly in self-defense) and marrying five times, all of them teenage brides. He would win, and lose, millions. “His goal, his compulsion,” writes Cook, “was to prove he could beat any man at anything.” Blessed with astounding physical dexterity and a mind that could calculate odds like a computer (even though he was illiterate), Thompson beat the best at cards, dice, pool, horseshoes and anything else he could think of. A road gambler, he would “sail between towns like a pirate, skinning the locals and hitting the road again before they felt the breeze of his passing.” Along the way, Thompson found himself in the company of a pantheon of iconic American personalities, including Houdini, who did not much impress him; Al Capone (Thompson had the good sense to fleece him only once); Arnold Rothstein, fixer of the 1919 World Series; Damon Runyon, who based Sky Masterson from Guys and Dolls on him; Minnesota Fats, to whom Thompson lost and then won back $1 million; and a host of other high- and lowlifes Whether a colorful trickster or amoral predator, Thompson becomes an irresistible folk legend in Cook’s capable hands.

from BOOKLIST: In one respect, this biography of a gambler intersects with Cook’s previous title, Tommy’s Honor (2007): it involves beaucoup de golf. For the Thompson in question—whose real name was Alvin Thomas—was skillful enough to set up country-club hustles with such future icons as then-unknowns Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. However, Titanic’s interest was not in the sport but in the spread, and as late as his 70s (in the 1960s), Thompson was booking wagers on a match he arranged between kids named Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd. By then, Thompson may have aged, but his wives never did: five times married, Titanic affianced each one in her teens, winning dames over with his charm, looks, bankroll, and dangerous, predatory lifestyle. Cook has Thompson killing at least five men. Fascinated by how Thompson—a clever conniver Cook recounts as cheating at poker, dice, checkers, billiards, horses, and, naturally, golf—was never plugged himself, readers will revel in every rambunctious page about an outlaw spirit who lurked on the frontiers of society, sports, and fair play - Gilbert Taylor