Las Vegas, the fastest-growing city in the US, as seen by a skeptical—and often funny—journalist. Martinez, a native of Mexico who has worked as a lawyer and Wall Street Journal reporter, operates from a goofy plot angle that would chill most freelance writers: He committed the whole of his $50,000 advance for this book to research—that is, to gambling. His sensible wife protests at the outset, “Why don—t you just write your book about Vegas, but keep the advance?” However, Martinez, evidently working from the George Plimpton journalist-as-participant school, presses on, and each chapter closes with a tally of his occasional wins yet usual losses until, four weeks later, his advance has been whittled down to $5,120. Martinez, obviously, could have kept the money and written a whiz-bang book; he’s a sharp and witty observer of the passing scene, he has done his homework, and he has a delicious sense of irony, all of which serve his narrative well. Still, the hundreds of hours he logged before the green felt of the gambling tables give him an unusual peg on which to hang his story, which is one of dislocation and weirdness, populated by losers, con artists, and, even more, ordinary folks just looking to get a break. Although they never do, of course, they keep trying in the face of staggering odds. So does Martinez, who finally closes with an admission of defeat after having entertained the delusion he might just make it out with his grubstake intact: “The war was over. Any chance of amassing unspeakable riches off this clever boondoggle was now foreclosed, and the finality of that realization was overwhelming.” Call it pop sociology, gonzo journalism, or social criticism: It’s all good fun.