Category Archives: Biography

A New Look At Old Las Vegas

A Las Vegas comedian/entertainer explores the colorful life of Willie Martello and his El Ray Club.

The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club

The King of Casinos: Willie Martello and the El Rey Club

This tongue-in-cheek look at a little known chapter of Nevada history is meticulously researched and chock full of first-person accounts from Willie Martello’s family, friends and business associates. The author’s treatment of his subject is even handed and gives us a good sense of the charming, funny guy whose Big Plans for the desert town of Searchlight, NV crumbled under their own grandiosity. Andy Martello ( no relation to Willie!), a collector of memorabilia, stories, and friends is supremely present in his work. The story of how he came to write the book–and the challenges he faced completing it–are as fascinating as the main tale. He’s honest about his struggles with his material and the struggle to find a balance between his role as “objective” chronicler of history and a human being who truly admires his subject and has an emotional stake in rehabilitating the guy’s image.

And Willie Martello had his issues. Funny thing is the prostitutes (far fewer than you’d imagine) and financial recklessness (if this fellow had soundly reinvested a FRACTION of the money that came his way <>…) didn’t leave me with a negative impression of this larger-than-life character. There’s a certain sweetness and optimism that makes up for all of his excesses. Except for the burros. Nothing funny about selling wild creatures (under BLM protection, no less) to some anonymous guy on his way to Idaho. He might have ground them up for dog food for all anyone knows. Yes, the burro incident ticked me off. Were Willie still around, I’d go over to his assisted living facility and tell him exactly (and with plenty of profanity) what I think about that one.

Burro-gate aside, however, I like the Willie Martello I met in KING OF CASINOS, and consider his story a one-of-a-kind addition to the Nevada historical record

What Makes A Good Life?

A biography of literature’s first essayist organized around twenty-one answers to the question: How to Live?

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

Bakewell’s exploration of Michel de Montaigne gives us a good sense of the man, his time and his philosophy…or rather his attempt to arrive at a philosophy. Montaigne was an admirer of the Skeptic and Stoic branches of Hellenic thought, which basically tells people to a) question everything and b) take life as it comes. This is a great prescription for studying the world and one’s own mind, but wasn’t all that conducive to one’s health and safety in a time of religious fanaticism and civil strife.

The author does a good job presenting the complicated political and religious conflicts of the time in a way that is understandable to those without specific knowledge about life in 16th-century France. She also shows us how Montaigne, a politician as well as a thinker, managed to negotiate his way through these troubles while keeping his humanity in tact.

Some chapters are harder work than others. Bakewell juggles three time lines: biographical, historical and literary. It requires time and close attention to take it all in. For me, it was the literary time line that lagged. All the intrigue about the many versions of the essays produced in Montaigne’s lifetime and then the petty intellectual battles surrounding the editing and interpretation of the work through the centuries got a bit tedious.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent introduction for Montaigne and it made me add his daunting ESSAYS to my reading list.