All in

One of the fun things about having a Kindle and yet being on a budget is that, in your constant search for Kindle books that are temporarily free or on sale, you occasionally run into great books you might never have discovered otherwise.

Case in point: All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ, by Jerry Yang (as told to Mark Tabb). Wow, what a great and unexpected book. I got it for free from the Kindle store; as I write this, it’s back up to $4.99, but that would still be a small price to pay.

My description of the book will make it sound like an awkward hybrid; it’s anything but. The book tells two stories in parallel fashion. The first is how young Xao and his Hmong family faced Communist persecution in Laos and made a daring escape to Thailand, then hoped to be chosen to resettle as refugees in the United States. The second story is how the adult Xao, a psychologist now going by the American name of Jerry, becomes an amateur poker player, eventually outlasting a final table of fearsome opponents to win the 2007 World Series of Poker.

(This is not, by the way, the same Jerry Yang who founded Yahoo!, even though some comparable tech moguls have taken up poker as a hobby.)

Yang’s Christian faith gently informs both stories, although this book avoids the ham-fisted, tract-like approach of some such autobiographies. It may sound surprising that a story about a poker player would have a faith element – and part of the story is how Yang and his family have a dialogue about how tournament poker compares and contrasts to other types of gambling; how he can participate in a responsible way, consistent with his beliefs; and how he used his winnings to do good.

Both stories are compellingly-written and hard to put down.

As regular readers know, I’ve been on five mission trips to Kenya  and three to various places in Latin America. Just a day or two before I started reading the Yang book, I was daydreaming about one of the people I worked with on several of the Kenya trips and what his reactions might be to seeing America for the first time. You get a little bit of that in Yang’s story of arriving in America, where his family lived in Nashville and Kansas City before settling in California. The story of his Nashville minister taking him for his first hot dog – and having to explain to him that the name doesn’t describe the contents – is priceless.

The very end of the book has an appendix with some poker-playing tips and suggestions, although this book isn’t really intended or suitable as a full tutorial of the game of Texas Hold ’Em.

Highly recommended.