Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man by Ronald Probstein

Honest Sid coverNovel Facts:

  • Published: February 26th, 2014
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Pages in Paperback: 208
  • Quote: “To live outside the law you must be honest.”
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Book Depository
  • A copy of this book was provided by Pubshelf for free in exchange for an HONEST review. Pubshelf is a site dedicated to promoting self-published authors.
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Plot:

If you’re going to live outside the law, you’d better be honest. This seeming paradox was the operating principle of Sid Probstein’s life. Guileless and endlessly optimistic, he was known as Honest Sid around his stomping ground of New York’s Broadway. Sid wasn’t a tough guy, or even a bad guy. He just never had the patience for the “straight” life, grinding out a living at some monotonous desk job. He was the quintessential American dreamer, always sure that the good life was just one big score away, a man who never stopped believing in his own good luck, even when the evidence said otherwise. He had all the tools, he was charming, good-looking, quick-witted and decent, but he had an obsession he couldn’t escape.

Honest Sid is the story of an American archetype as seen through the eyes of his son, Ronald, who loved him, and who almost lost him. It follows Sid’s adventures in the world of bookies and bettors, fighters and fixers, players and suckers set against the often-romanticized backdrop of Depression-era New York. It is also the passionate tale of the great and tempestuous love between Sid and his wife Sally, and of his son Ronald whom he idolized.

Author Info:

One of America’s foremost engineering scientists, Ronald Probstein is Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His undergraduate training was at New York University’s night school and his graduate work in aeronautical engineering and physics at Princeton. He has played a principal role in some of the most important scientific and technical achievements in the post World War II era, involving spacecraft and ballistic missile reentry physics, hypersonic flight theory, comet astrophysics, desalination, synthetic fuels, and the electrokinetic remediation of soil. For these achievements, he has been honored as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, International Academy of Astronautics, and awarded an honorary doctorate from Brown University. Author, editor, lecturer, inventor, Professor Probstein has ten critically acclaimed scientific and technical books to his credit. Born in New York City in 1928, he lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with his wife, Irène. He has one son, Sidney, and three grandchildren.

ronald probstein

Review of the Characters:

Sid– He was an honest crook. Impossible? I thought so too before I read this novel, but Sid was walking evidence that crooks aren’t all bad guys. He was a genuinely nice guy that had one passion in life, betting. That’s what he was good at and he couldn’t picture anything else. His son, our eyes, often wonders why he won’t just get a real job, especially when times get tough. They hit rock bottom during the depression but Sid keeps on smiling and assuring us that everything was okay all the while bookkeeping with crooks. You would think this character would come off as unlikable but the author gave him a certain persona that charms the reader. He was engaging and you couldn’t help but nod your head with him, even though you asked the same question his son was asking.

Sally– I really sympathized with her position. She was absolutely in love with a man who wouldn’t get an honest job. She was strong, she had to be, to face the hard times of the depression and have the world crash around her. The author wrote her part well, her reactions felt real as you slowly watch her affection for her husband grow hostile. She was a good mother, and did right by her son. Sid was a lucky man to have her.

Ronald– He was the only one that I felt disconnected from but that’s partly because he’s telling us the story of his father and he just happens to be in it so we don’t really get to examine Ronald’s feelings. The one thing that is clear though is his admiration for his father and in part shame. He idolizes his father from  a young age, admiring someone with a passion such as he, but when it becomes clear that his father is a crook, he can’t help but feel ashamed. His admiration never goes away though, and how could it with Sid smiling all the time? He provided an interesting if not luxurious  life for Ronald, who made it clear that he will always be grateful.

Review of the Story:

The story is a bit slow in the beginning as the story is told through the son’s eyes, and since the beginning of the story takes place before the son is born it reads fact after fact after fact. Once the son is born the actual story seems to start and the juice starts flowing. The story is rich in a historical backdrop and the life of Sid is an interesting one. Sid’s life is not a normal Joe life, and set in the Depression era, it’s like opening a curtain and seeing a play that you’ve only heard of but never seen.

I think the only problem with this novel was the author’s balance of fact and story. While the history was fascinating and enhanced the overall story, sometimes it felt like that was the sole purpose of the book instead of the life of Sid. I think if we had deeper moments with the characters instead of asides to explain what was going on at the time, it would have been a great deal improved.

Review of the Writing:

I’ve never read anything by this author before, which always makes me nervous, but he did an outstanding job. His writing flows and keeps the reader tuned into what is going on the entire time. His descriptive devices work wonders and not only can you see old-time New York, but you can smell it too. His writing will immerse you into the story and you won’t want to stop for air.

Rating:

This is a great story if you’re looking to understand Depression era New York better. It gives you an insider view of the bookies and crooks, all the while making you side with the same guys that probably scammed your great grandparents. It was a fascinating read that although suffered from too much asides to explain facts, was engaging and powerful.

Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Book Depository

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Overall Rating:

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P.S.– My next read is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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3 thoughts on “Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man by Ronald Probstein

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