Maile Chapman described Las Vegas as “the only American city where the chances against you are all posted in plain sight, literally and psychologically,” calling it “half meritocracy, half crap shoot. Read her blog post about vital Vegas literature—from Fear and Loathing to modern fiction depicting the difficulties of life in Vegas outside the Strip—but can there ever enough novels in a list? Our readers had a lot more to say, and we’ve compiled a list of their favorites.
Super Casino: Inside the “New” Las Vegas by Pete Earley (2001)
This book, written by journalist and author Pete Earley, blends history of the city’s gambling industry with biographical sketches and vignettes of everyday life. In the author’s own words:
The Luxor, a billion-dollar, pyramid-shaped casino on the Strip, was the first place I went “inside.” Every character in the book has a unique perspective on the events that transpired, from a hard-working casino owner to an accomplished blackjack player to a showgirl with aspirations of one day working in the gaming industry.
If you’re looking for an in-depth look at how things work, this is the book for you.
Vegas: A Memoir of a Dark Season by John Gregory Dunne (1974)
Mr. Joan Didion, Dunne’s pseudonym, published her first novel in this long-out-of-print book. “In the middle of his thirty-seventh year and first mental breakdown, reading obituaries of college mates in the alumni rag, the husband-author manque of Joan Didion finds an apartment in the town that’s always open,” a Kirkus review reads. With little time to do anything other than sleep and watch TV quiz programs, he meets some of the city’s occasionally wealthy but perpetually destitute residents. a $10,000-a-week stand-up comic Jackie Kasey, a hooker who racked up 1203 “multiples,” 24 S, and one M, and a private dick, Buster Mano, who catches wayward conventioneering hubbies and hustles gambling debts. ‘It’s a solitary existence,’ Kasey tells the New York Times. More than promising, to say the least.
ID5882060 deems it a “great novel,” despite the book’s poor sales and obscurity. A review in Esquire magazine termed it “the best Las Vegas novel you’ve never read”.
The Stand by Stephen King (1978)
It is widely acknowledged that The Stand by Stephen King, first published in 1978 and reissued in 1990 as a “uncut edition” containing all 1,100 pages, is one of his most significant works as a horror writer. After reading it on a holiday, James Smythe wrote in the Guardian, “While I knew I loved King before that holiday [where he read it], afterwards I’d have followed him to hell and back. What inspired me to become a writer in the first place is The Stand. I’ve read all of his other works and started this series because of it. “The Stand is the beginning and the end of Stephen King’s writing for me,” novelist Richard Thomas commented on Buzzfeed.
“Nothing in The Stand is accidental. Both a story about good and evil clashing and a story about destiny are explored in this book. People that survived Captain Trips are able to gather in Las Vegas, where they have been summoned from all over the world by their dreams. Were they able to locate one another on their own free will or was it forced upon them? Smythe’s story continues. Reader CoronationChicken suggested the book.
Fools Die (1978) and Inside Las Vegas (1977) by Mario Puzo
The novel Fools Die, recommended by banjodsp, and the non-fiction book Inside Las Vegas, described by Face56 as a “world-weary account of the place,” were both written by the author of The Godfather. These are also examples of a foreign author settling in New York for a period of time and writing about their experiences. A “degenerate gambler” like Puzo, he thought Las Vegas was an honest and clean place.
In Nevada: The Land, the People, God, and Chance by David Thomson (1999)
Reader leroyhunter said that although covering the entire state, the book “focuses very much on the neon center of the activity.” According to film critic David Thomson, his exploration of the American West will serve as both a “contemplation” and a “idiosyncratic travel guide” for those interested in learning more about the history of the region and why “Nevada is the place where Samuel Clemens became Mark Twain, Frank Sinatra was chairman of the board, divorce was an industry, and gambling was an institution.” “The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino, and The Misfits have formed and played upon our expectations about Nevada and Las Vegas,” the New York Times remarked in a review of Thomson’s book.
About a Mountain by John D’Agata (2010)
One of the most remarkable books ever written about the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, which is located around 100 miles from Las Vegas, is a lyric essay (in the plans of the government since the 80s). During the summer of 2002, when D’Agata assisted his mother in making the transfer to Las Vegas, the US Congress was moving through with its plans, and the writer and essayist remained to research the history of it all (as well as investigate the mysterious suicide of a boy who jumped off a hotel-casino). According to NPR’s description, the book is “a reporter’d notebook that reads like poetry” in its structure. According to the New York Times, D’Agata possesses “an encyclopedic mastery of the form’s subtle artistry.” Ce Santiago “highly recommended” it.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2014)
According to our readers, Las Vegas plays a significant role in Donna Tartt’s best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which is set in the city (along with Amsterdam and New York City). The boredom and frustration of attempting to live a normal life in its suburbs rather than “blah blah Sin City” that is depicted in The Goldfinch’s portion set in Vegas impressed me much. – benzedrine
With its depiction of a semi-deserted housing complex and a broad desert backdrop, the book’s depiction of Las Vegas brought it to life (insofar as that term may be employed). It gave the impression of being a desolate, sterile, and hateful place, full with the low-life. Boys who grew up in a home where their parents gambled and stole had no hope of following in their parents’ footsteps. – JHawkinson.com The Goldfinch, hands down. It perfectly captures the sand-blasted desolation of the suburbs. — DeputyPeck
Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien (1990)
A fiery tale of booze, love, self-destruction and suicide, it was eventually turned into an Oscar-winning film, starring Nicholas Cage. Reader DeputyPeck “thought it was heart-wrenchingly sad; no Las Vegas winners in that book.”
The Underworld USA Trilogy by James Ellroy
It was only natural for the LA crime writer to set some of his works in Las Vegas, which is “just up the road” in American terms, as reader mydaray pointed out. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the Vietnam War and other pivotal moments in American history are all part of this trilogy, which contains the novels American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood’s a Rover. The Mafia has a substantial presence in Las Vegas, which is known as a Mafia stronghold. kelso77 and DJKM also endorsed it. A line from The Cold Six Thousand by James Lee Ellroy that is eerily evocative of Ellroy