Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  James McManus  

Pen Name: None


Audience: Adult;

Born: 1951 in New York City, New York

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Illinois Connection

McManus lives in Kenilworth and teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Biographical and Professional Information

James McManus is a New York Times bestselling author. He is a poker player, teacher, novelist and poet. His work has appeared in ''The New Yorker'', ''Harper’s,'' ''The Believer'', ''Paris Review'', ''Esquire'', and in Best American anthologies for poetry, sports writing, science and nature, and magazine writing. Both of McManus' degrees came from the University of Illinois Chicago - Bachelor of Arts in 1974 and Master of Arts in 1977. He currently teaches writing and comparative literature at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, including a course on the literature and science of poker.McManus was interviewed by Dan Klefstad, Morning Edition Host & Book Series Editor of Northern Public Radio (WNIU/WNIJ/NIRIS) for the [ #WNIJReadWithME] Winter Book Series. To access the December 28, 2015 interview, [ click here].

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Antonio Salazar Is Dead
ISBN: 0960379401

Syncline. 1980

Out of the Blue
ISBN: 0517551446

Crown. 1992

An account of the kidnapping of Elizabeth Exley from a Chicago suburb and the terrible ordeal faced by her family as they struggle to pay an enormous ransom

Chin music: A novel

Grove Press. 1987

ISBN: 0961464402

Another Chicago Pr. 1986

Book by McManus, James

Ghost Waves
ISBN: 0517110156

Random House Value Publishing. 1993

Going to the Sun: A Novel
ISBN: 0312423292

Picador. 2004

Seven years ago, Penny's boyfriend was savagely attacked by a bear, setting off a chain of tragic events. Now, fighting a debilitating illness and haunted by her past, she finds herself incapable of emotional or sexual intimacy. As a way to break down the defenses she has built up in her safe Chicago life, she sets out on a cross-country bike tour. On this trip she meets Ndele, a beautiful, mysterious black man who challenges her to confront her ghosts and decide whether to put her past behind her and live or succumb to the terrible uncertainties that plague even her dreams.

Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2007

Rough sex, black magic, murder, and the science-and eros-of gambling meet in the ultimate book about Las Vegas

James McManus was sent to Las Vegas by Harper's to cover the World Series of Poker in 2000, especially the mushrooming progress of women in the $23 million event, and the murder of Ted Binion, the tournament's prodigal host, purportedly done in by a stripper and her boyfriend with a technique so outré it took a Manhattan pathologist to identify it. Whether a jury would convict the attractive young couple was another story altogether.

McManus risks his entire Harper's advance in a long-shot attempt to play in the tournament himself. Only with actual table experience, he tells his skeptical wife, can he capture the hair-raising brand of poker that determines the world champion. The heart of the book is his deliciously suspenseful account of the tournament itself-the players, the hand-to-hand combat, and his own unlikely progress in it.

Written in the tradition of The Gambler and The Biggest Game in Town, Positively Fifth Street is a high-stakes adventure, a penetrating study of America's card game, and a terrifying but often hilarious account of one man's effort to understand what Edward O. Wilson has called "Pleistocene exigencies"-the eros and logistics of our primary competitive instincts.

Physical: An American Checkup
ISBN: 0312426496

Picador. 2006

Includes a New Afterword

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

When hard-living, middle-aged American writer James McManus gets a three-day executive checkup at the Mayo Clinic, he is immediately forced to confront his mortality. Will he survive his own cardiovascular system and genetic inheritance long enough to see his young daughters grow up? With great candor and wit, McManus explores not only his own health but also that of the health care system itself and the political realities that have hamstrung stem cell research--which could help his eldest daughter's diabetes. Physical is an unabashed, wrenching, and often hilarious portrait of unwellness in America.

Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker
ISBN: 0374299242

Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2009

From James McManus, author of the bestselling Positively Fifth Street, comes the definitive story of the game that, more than any other, reflects who we are and how we operate.

Cowboys Full is the story of poker, from its roots in China, the Middle East, and Europe to its ascent as a global—but especially an American—phenomenon. It describes how early Americans took a French parlor game and, with a few extra cards and an entrepreneurial spirit, turned it into a national craze by the time of the Civil War. From the kitchen-table games of ordinary citizens to its influence on generals and diplomats, poker has gone hand in hand with our national experience. Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama have deployed poker and its strategies to explain policy, to relax with friends, to negotiate treaties and crises, and as a political networking tool. The ways we all do battle and business are echoed by poker tactics: cheating and thwarting cheaters, leveraging uncertainty, bluffing and sussing out bluffers, managing risk and reward.

Cowboys Full shows how what was once accurately called the cheater’s game has become amostly honest contest of cunning, mathematical precision, and luck. It explains how poker, formerly dominated by cardsharps, is now the most popular card game in Europe, East Asia, Australia, South America, and cyberspace, as well as on television. It combines colorful history with firsthand experience from today’s professional tour. And it examines poker’s remarkable hold on American culture, from paintings by Frederic Remington to countless poker novels, movies, and plays. Braiding the thrill of individual hands with new ways of seeing poker’s relevance to our military, diplomatic, business, and personal affairs, Cowboys Full is sure to become the classic account of America’s favorite pastime.

The Education of a Poker Player (American Reader)
ISBN: 1938160851

BOA Editions Ltd.. 2015


New York Times-bestselling author James McManus offers up a collection of seven linked stories narrated by Vincent Killeen, an Irish Catholic altar boy, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Persuaded at age eight by his grandmother that entering the priesthood will guarantee salvation for every member of his family, Vince eagerly commits to attending a Jesuit seminary for high school. As the meaning of a vow of celibacy becomes clearer to him, however, and he is exposed to the irresistible temptations of poker and girls, life as a seminarian begins to seem less appealing. These autobiographical stories are enlightening and evocative, providing keen, often humorous insight into Catholicism, faith, celibacy and its opposite, as well as America's—and increasingly the world's—favorite card game.

James McManus has been called “poker’s Shakespeare.” He is the New York Times-bestselling author of Positively Fifth Street and Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, among others. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper’s, The Believer, Paris Review, Esquire, and in Best American anthologies for poetry, sports writing, science and nature, and magazine writing. He is the recipient of the Peter Lisagor Award for Sports Journalism, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. He teaches at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Going to the Sun

  • Sandburg Award
  • Society of Midland Authors Award, 1997
  • Positively Fifth Street

  • Society of Midland Authors Award, 2004
  • Cowboys Full

  • Society of Midland Authors Award, 2010
  • The Education of a Poker Player

  • Kirkus Prize for Fiction Nominee, 2015
  • Other Awards

    Speaking Engagements

    Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)

    Contact Information Department of Liberal Arts Art Institute of Chicago 37 South Wabash Avenue Chicago, Illinois 60603-3002