A true story that takes place in the inaugural period of the Internet boom, Bringing Down The House tells the story of a group of MIT students who successfully plot to (legally) take money from the Vegas casinos through a complicated system of blackjack play. The drama in the story rests on the extent to which they succeed, and the vicarious thrill of observing activity only a hair removed from serious stakes spy work.
The book resides in nonfiction, but reads very much like a novel. Mezrich relays the story from a detached perspective, expect during a brief stint near the end where he is given the opportunity to perform some of the more basic feats of the team at a real casino. By writing this way, he manages to force the reader into determining just how much sympathy we have for the challenges of someone making six figures from an activity of questionable morals. And to his credit, Mezrich does not shy from bringing up the moral issue: the main character struggles with it himself and with his family. Most importantly, Mezrich occasionally brings in a peripheral figure (such as a casino security head) to discuss the legality and morality of the blackjack method.
Without the nod to our own sense of right and wrong, the book would be little more than a “Look at this!” moment. With it, we are permitted to follow the story and listen to the little voice inside our heads all at once. Although Mezrich miscalculates by overemphasizing the physical, rather than the legal, ramifications of the team’s activity, the story still plays out dramatically. And unlike most underdog stories, we get to decide for ourselves just how heroic we want these figures to be.