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Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about Addiction by Design, The Big Fix, and The Dylanologists.
(Photo: Igor Zh./Shutterstock)

(Photo: Igor Zh./Shutterstock)

  • Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, Natasha Dow Schüll (Princeton University Press)

Until the mid-1980s, gambling machines like slots and video poker were a minor presence on casino floors; today, they account for the majority of the gambling industry’s profits. Schüll, an anthropologist, has spent years studying these machines and the addicts who use them for hours (even days) at a time, immersed in the “machine zone.” Her unsettling conclusion is that most machine gamblers—who become addicted at higher rates than other casino visitors—get hooked not because they love risk but because they crave certainty. Life may be capricious or insecure, but the machines are always there, and always drain their players’ wallets in the exact same way.

  • The Big Fix: The Hunt for the Match-Fixers Bringing Down Soccer, Brett Forrest (William Morrow)

“The fixing of international soccer matches,” Forrest writes, “has become as epidemic as drug trafficking, prostitution, and the trade in illegal weapons.” Fixers working for international criminal syndicates pay off referees, goalies, and defenders; some even create fake teams from scratch. The book’s narrative thread—which details the battles of a quixotic anti-fixing crusader—isn’t as thrilling as Forrest wants it to be, but he relates plenty of fascinating details along the way. At soccer matches around the world, men with smartphones linking them to the world’s betting markets are sitting in the stands, using secret signals to pass orders to players on the field.

  • The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob, David Kinney (Simon & Schuster)

Some Bob Dylan aficionados track down artifacts of his Minnesota childhood. Others hunt for every Dylan live recording, demo track, and alternate take in existence. The most interesting fans—the true Dylanologists—pore over his lyrics, books, and old notebooks, trying to pin down all the allusions, appropriations, cross-references, hidden messages, and clues to the meaning of life (or at least the meaning of Dylan). In Kinney’s hands, what might have been a fans-only romp becomes instead a surprisingly touching mosaic of stories about the meanings that people (even Dylan himself) seek so energetically from art and artists.

This post originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue ofPacific Standardas “Shelf Help.” For more, subscribe to our print magazine.