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Publisher's Summary

In 1989 a woman fishing in Texas on a quiet stretch of the Colorado River snagged a body. Her “catch” was the corpse of Johnny Jenkins, shot in the head. His death was as dramatic as the rare book dealer’s life, which read, as the Austin American-Statesman declared, “like a best seller”.

At the time of his death, Jenkins was about to be indicted by the ATF for the arson of his rare books, warehouse, and offices. Another investigation implicated Jenkins in forgeries of historical documents, including the Texas Declaration of Independence. Rumors of million-dollar gambling debts at mob-connected casinos circulated, along with the rumblings of irate mafia figures he’d fingered and eccentric Texas collectors he’d cheated. Had he been murdered? Or was his death a suicide, staged to look like a murder?

His undercover work for the FBI, recovering rare books stolen by mafia figures, had also earned him headlines coast to coast, as had his exploits as “Austin Squatty”, playing high stakes poker in Las Vegas. But beneath such public triumphs lay darker secrets.

How Jenkins, a onetime president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, came to such an unseemly end is one of the mysteries Michael Vinson pursues in this spirited account of a tragic American life.

The book is published by University of Oklahoma Press. The audiobook is published by University Press Audiobooks.

“Michael Vinson has told Johnny’s tragic story in amazing detail and with astonishing candor.” (Ron Tyler, former director of the Texas State Historical Association)

“Brilliant, entertaining, and troubling, this book will keep you engaged from first page to last...." (J. P. Bryan, lifetime board member of the Texas State Historical Association)

“A lively account of a renegade bookseller and a wild period that might otherwise have been forgotten.” (David Streitfeld, Pulitzer Prize - winning reporter for the New York Times)

©2020 University of Oklahoma Press (P)2020 Redwood Audiobooks

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Bluff, Bluster & Self-Deception

"He's a sneaky, clever rat, and that's not a put-down; John Jenkins is as fine a man as ever put gun-powder on a safe."
- Amarillo Slim, quoted in Bluffing Texas Style, Michael Vinson

I'll disclose at the beginning that I'm friends with Michael. Last time we met was for dinner with my family and Michael while he was in NYC for the 60th Annual New York International Antiquarian Book Fair and we were there trying to grab a vacation (our trip to Spain had just been cancelled) before Coronavirus hit hard (we seemed to surf that last week of normal in NYC in early March 2020).

As much as I like Michael, this is not the type of book I'd normally seek-out, read or review. I do love collecting books, but my most expensive/rare book is probably worth less than $1500. I purchased a copy of Bluffing Texas Style because that's what you do for friends, you buy their damn books. I also thought I'd get around to reading it sometime in 2020 or 2021, but after seeing the book get attention in the WSJ I'd speed it up my queue.

First, the book is well-researched. The last 44 pages of this small book are notes, interviews, and bibliography. It also comes with the author's background in rare books and archives. I can only imagine how difficult it is to draw a picture of a linear historical figure but writing about one who is a fabulist and forger, adds additional complexity to the task of trying to capture Johnny Jenkins.

I remember first reading about Jenkins in Calvin Trillin's piece in the New Yorker once when I was spending an extended amount of time in an Army Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. I'd totally forgotten about that connection till I was about 1/2 way through this book. Vinson also does a great job of capturing the energy of the Texas rare books and documents market (and the many colorful idioms of Texas). Texas appears an almost perfect setting for rare documents (like California for grapes). It is a state with tremendous pride in its history and people, combined with a significant number of wealthy, competitive men (and women) interested in owning a rare part of Texas.

I wondered why? Why would what normally would be considered a fairly regional character and story would find its way into the New Yorker in the late 80s? Why would Vinson's book (from an Oklahoma Press) about a forger who died 30+ years ago would be covered by WSJ? I think it goes to the root of what this book is REALLY about. Forgery is a type of fraud. Fraud isn't regional. Every industry has it. The financial world is full of con-men, men who make big bets, lose it all, bakers who cheat their buyers with wood pulp in their bread. There is always a temptation to cross ethical lines. We live in an age where big personalities and corruption seem to be headlines every day. Perhaps, this book resonates because Vinson, through Jenkins, pulls back the cover just a little bit on what makes a man (or women) dupe his friends, bet it all, bluff, and keep raising the stakes.

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Fascinating story & perfect narrator

A fascinating window into a niche world and subculture of rare book dealers & the wares they trade in. I felt like the narrator matched the content of the book perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience

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