For this set of mini reviews, I want to talk about some nonfiction books I’ve read fairly recently and compare them to their movie adaptations. I’d seen all of these movies first before even knowing they were books and when I discovered they were adaptations wanted to check them out in their original format. In each of these cases, I found the book and movie to be fairly complementary but some were slightly stronger in one format or the other.
Ready to see the reviews?
Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich
Published by Free Press in 2002
Format & Length: paperback, 257
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An exclusive blackjack club came up with a system to take the worldUs most sophisticated casinos for all they were worth. In two years, this ring of card savants earned more than three million dollars. Filled with tense action and incredibly close calls, this is a real-life adventure that could have stepped straight out of a Hollywood film.
Bringing Down the House is an interesting and entertaining account of a group of students who came up with a system to win blackjack, and they won BIG. The conversational style of writing made for an easy and fast paced read. I do wonder if some parts were dramatized and have seen some buzz to support that. I suppose only a few people actually know the answer to that, and regardless of whether it’s completely factual or not, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
After finishing the book I decided to rewatch 21. Many of the details were changed, and the movie both simplified and sensationalized the story but managed to convey the same overall tone. Although the adaptation to screen wasn’t fully faithful to the book, both were fun and I enjoyed each for what they were.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Published by William Morrow on September 6, 2016
Format & Length: hardcover, 346
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Set amid the civil rights movement, this is the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts into space.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.
I saw the movie Hidden Figures before even knowing it was a book and in the end, I’m glad I found these in that order. The movie certainly dramatized the story, condensing many women’s achievements and accounts into just a few and adding in extra flair to increase tension and watchability. But that served as an excellent jumping off point for me.
What I loved about this book was getting a deeper look at the incredible women who played such a huge part in American history. Their stories were fascinating and inspirational and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about them. That being said, some sections that were more scientifically detailed got too dense, and I found myself skimming through those more than I usually would.
This is one of those cases that I think the book and movie complement each other nicely. It would be easy to enjoy one or the other, or both, in whichever order you choose.
Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom
Published by It Books on June 24, 2014
Format & Length: e-book, 275
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Molly Bloom reveals how she built one of the most exclusive, high-stakes underground poker games in the world—an insider’s story of excess and danger, glamour and greed.
In the late 2000s, Molly Bloom, a twentysomething petite brunette from Loveland Colorado, ran the highest stakes, most exclusive poker game Hollywood had ever seen—she was its mistress, its lion tamer, its agent, and its oxygen. Everyone wanted in, few were invited to play.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were won and lost at her table. Molly’s game became the game for those in the know—celebrities, business moguls, and millionaires. Molly staged her games in palatial suites with beautiful views and exquisite amenities. She flew privately, dined at exclusive restaurants, hobnobbed with the heads of Hollywood studios, was courted by handsome leading men, and was privy to the world’s most delicious gossip, until it all came crashing down around her.
Molly’s Game is a behind the scenes look at Molly’s game, the life she created, the life she lost, and what she learned in the process.
I had no idea who Molly Bloom was until I went to see this movie with a friend when it arrived in theaters. But her story captivated me. When I discovered it was based on a book, of course I had to read that too!
The book presents a lot more detail on Molly herself, making her seem more well rounded even if the majority of the story is focused on poker. The movie, on the other hand, focuses more specifically on the poker parts, which makes sense given the different format. It also explores the entire epilogue of the book that ended quite abruptly. But they worked well together, even if the movie took liberties to add drama and appeal.
In the end, I’m glad I watched the movie first, as I might have been disappointed with some of the changes it made to the story had I read the book first. I’d recommend that order if you’re interested in both, but both the book and the movie stand fine on their own (although my personal preference is ultimately for the movie).
So, there you have my mini reviews of these nonfiction book vs. movies! Did you read these books or watch these movies, and if so, did you like them? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!