Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Book: Steve Fischer, When the Mob Ran Vegas: Stories of Money, Mayhem and Murder (Berkline Press, 2005)

Why: An engaging look at the dark side of the entrepreneurial spirit.

My copy of Webster’s defines “entrepreneur” as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” My colleagues and I are accustomed to using the term to apply to someone who is effecting a positive result—someone who plays by the rules while developing new and innovative products or offering improved services that redound not only to the entrepreneur’s own interests, but also in some way (or perhaps it’s better to say more or less) to the public good as well.

But take another look at the dictionary definition. It is, in and of itself, morally neutral. This was brought home to me by one of the good guys (I’m looking at you, Damon), with whom I escaped from a lackluster legal seminar one afternoon to visit the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement (better known as the Mob Museum) in Las Vegas.

The museum itself was a bit of a disappointment, but my friend suggested I read When the Mob Ran Vegas, and he helpfully passed along his own copy (autographed!). It proved a most illuminating read about entrepreneurism on the dark side. It is, in essence, a collection of stories about the people who built Las Vegas not as we now know it, but in an early, darker manifestation. Many of these people are famous (and infamous), most are now dead, but all contributed to creating an adult playground in the midst of a desert.

For me, though, this book is most notable for the arcane facts that I’m sure will someday, somehow, be useful for me to know. For example, I learned that “4,000 quarters is $1,000 and weighs exactly 10 pounds.” Of course, I knew the first part of that and, in case it isn’t obvious from all of my prior posts, I wasn’t even a math major. But the second half must be worth remembering, right?

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