The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History

Unlike many of today's billionaires, Las Vegas mogul Kerkor "Kirk" Kerkorian didn't inherit a financial launch pad. He got rich the bootstrap way. The son of an often broke opportunist immigrant from Armenia, he picked up English in the streets of Los Angeles. He learned to be comfortable with risk as a teenaged amateur boxer and as a young pilot with the Canadian Royal Air Force Ferry Company (CRAFFC) during World War II.

After Kerkorian's death in 2015 at age 98, Los Angeles Times investigative reporter William C. Rempel (At the Devil's Table) took on the challenge of uncovering the story of this notoriously private man. The Gambler is the first in-depth Kerkorian biography in almost 50 years. With a reporter's tenacity, Rempel digs through archival CRAFFC records, business contracts and divorce proceedings. He talks reluctant friends and business associates into substantive recollections of the man who three times built the world's largest hotel casino and tried single-handedly to rescue "the big three" United States automakers in their darkest hours.

As Rempel's title suggests, Kerkorian was at heart a gambler who "believed there was no point in placing small bets." With financial leverage and guts, he parlayed a small charter airline company into an empire with hotels, casinos, film studios and real estate. Along the way, he rubbed shoulders with mobsters and celebrities. On the famous Strip, he even went toe-to-toe with that other Las Vegas kingpin Howard Hughes--and won. Somewhat lean regarding Kerkorian's three wives and two children, The Gambler is nevertheless rich in the details of his business transactions, philanthropy and infamous negotiating style. It is tycoon biography at its best. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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