REVIEW: Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man | Indie Publishing

Title: Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man
Author: Ronald Probstein
Website of Author:  Wiki
Book Website
Genre: Memoir
Publication date: May 2009
ISBN: 1440141878
ISBN 13 : 978-1-4401-4187-4
Length:  208 pages
Format: Paperback 
Reviewed by Michael

Americana Norman Rockwell Never Painted
Ronald Probstein is an eminent scientist, physicist and current Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds degrees from New York University, Princeton and is author of ten critically acclaimed texts in his field. He can now add biographer, advocate and champion of his father, Sidney "Honest Sid" Probstein, to his impressive résumé with his wonderfully touching, amusing and poignant homage, Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man. 

The author takes us through the life of his father starting with his 1894 birth in New York City, one of twelve children born to Austrian Jewish immigrants, and ending with his death in 1953. In between we learn that as the second youngest in his brood, Sid quickly developed negotiating and diplomatic skills needed to forge alliances with siblings to insure he received his fair share of the family's limited resources. Skills that would serve him well in later years when he operated outside the law as a ticket scalper and bookmaker before going legit as a Broadway and sports ticket broker. 

Honest Sid's story has elements of Charles Dickens with crushing poverty crying out for social reform in his childhood and during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when along with his wife and toddler son - author Ronald Probstein - climbing down fire escapes with little more than the clothes on their backs was the only way to deal with landlords looking for rent that had been gambled away at the race track in hopes of that one big hit putting them all on Easy Street. Reading this book is like watching an old Jimmy Cagney or Humphrey Bogart movie where the tenements of Manhattan would come alive with unique, oddball characters, or experiencing the writing of Damon Runyon in all his colorful glory, except Honest Sid is very real and drawn in vibrant hues by his son. 

Ronald Probstein describes a father who worked vaudeville as a booker of acts, served overseas in the trenches during World War I and played minor league baseball for the premier team of the time, legendary manager John McGraw's New York Giants. The author vividly illustrates this Guys and Dolls world by describing how his father rubbed shoulders in Prohibition era speakeasies with the likes of notorious New York gangster Owney "The Killer" Madden, Abe Attell, former world featherweight boxing champion and bagman for gambler Arnold Rothstein in the scheme to fix the 1919 World Series baseball championship which came to be known as the "Black" Sox Scandal, and Champ Segal, a member of the Jewish Mob and associate of gangster Al Capone. Sid wined and dined Sally, his future wife and mother of the author, at swinging nightclubs, her favorite being Harlem's famed Cotton Club, where they saw such legends as the elegant pianist, composer, orchestra leader Duke Ellington, flawless tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, sultry blues singer Ethel Waters and amazing songwriter, jazz pianist Eubie Blake. An entire book could be written just on the iconic entertainers Sid and Sally Probstein witnessed during their early courtship when the wolf was not at the door.

Probstein sets the stage for all this with a brutally honest, well- written book that not only captures the breezy high times, but also the heartbreaking lows of Honest Sid, a gambling man, an honest man and a troubled man. A man always looking for his ship to come in, but usually left on the dock looking wistfully off towards the horizon. Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man brought me nostalgic smiles for a long ago romantic era while gently tugging at my heartstrings with the story of a man providing for his family as best as he could, with not always the best results for his family. The odds are in your favor that you will greatly enjoy this story of a Gambling Man. Well done, Ronald Probstein, your book has finished in the winner's circle.

About the Author: Ronald Probstein made it out of the Broadway street scene early in life, and is a distinguished professor at the Massachusetts of Technology. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with his wife, Irène.
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