This is just not that good.
It started off promising, there's a confidence to the writing, it's a world I know nothing about -- so I could learn a lot, it starts with a whole bunch of colorful characters, and Manzione's passion for the subject is evident and real. But it didn't take long for me to see that the confidence isn't necessarily deserved, the cast wasn't being used well, and I wasn't going to learn all that much (at least not right away, it turned out), and while he cared a lot -- I just didn't. Eventually, around the half-way point, the book found its way and became tolerable -- but, by then it was too late -- Manzione had already lost me.
The first few chapters are a hodgepodge of stories about the "Action Bowling" scene in and around NYC in the 1960s. They center around wunderkind Ernie Schlegel, but Manzione spreads the wealth -- telling stories about several bowlers of similar aptitudes at the time. But really, these chapters aren't a stories of bowling, they're stories about small-time gangsters (see the subtitle) -- think of some of the small anecdotes in Wiseguy, told without Pileggi's style. The bowling's just an excuse for criminal and/or stupid behavior.
The last half of the book is all about Schlegel's professional career -- from the rocky start, to accomplished (but not championship heyday), to the last bits of glory. This is the best part of the book, no doubt about it. But Manzione has difficulty maintaining the story line, keeping the narrative tension going, and basically becomes rabid fanboy (I've got no beef with rabid fanboys, readers of my reviews or blog
know I can go that way myself -- but it didn't fit here)
The greatest weakness of this book has to be the writing. Manzione has a tendency to "nest" stories in other stories that in other stories worse than <b?Inception. It'd be pretty easy to lose track of the ball when he's doing this. He frequently seems to operate on the philosophy: never use one sentence when you could use three instead. Throughout there's an overuse/over-reliance on superlatives. And lastly, I'm not sure how many Ali/Frazier metaphors one book can take (but it's less than this one tries)
One unexpected pleasure for me was that as a long-time listener to The Nerdist podcast, it was fun reading so much about Billy Hardwick.
Just can't recommend this one, it wasn't horrible, but I'm sure there are better books about professional (or gambling-enhanced amateur) bowling out there for anyone who's looking for that.