Ricky Jay knows his dice. A sleight-of-hand-performer who is appearing on Broadway in On the Stem, a one-man show directed by David Mamet (in whose movies Jay has appeared frequently), Jay here presents a light, digressive history of dice, from "astragali" (or "heel bones," as mentioned in an Indian epic poem) to how they are loaded for cheating. Dipping into everything from Viking allegory to the 1820 writings of the Rev. Charles Caleb Colton (an eventual ruined gambler and suicide), Jay's anecdotes are colorful but meandering: a description of a 1501 Florentine gambler named Antonio Rinaldeschi eases into a recollection of the outcry at the Brooklyn Museum over Chris Ofili's dung-festooned Holy Virgin Mary. Chapters such as "Dice and Death" and "The Palengenesis of Craps" are complemented by Rosamond Wolff Purcell's 13 color photographs of beautifully decayed dice (when dice age, they can be chipped and crusted, appearing to be made of salt or ice). These portraits of chance's end reveal visually what Jay tells us verbally: dice are as inherently complex and frail as people. (Nov.)
Forecast: Quantuck Lane is a small press run by former Norton senior editor Jim Mairs that will publish five titles this fall. Norton's distribution and Jay's name should win this casebound book (and the house) some shelf space.