This is the philosophy that changes the life of bored psychiatrist Luke Rhinehart - and in some ways changes the world as well. Entertaining, humorous, scary, shocking, subversive, The Dice Man is one of the cult bestsellers of our time. This is a highly original book, but it makes for uncomfortable reading. The very nature of the story makes it difficult to identify with the main character, but it made a change. A very frank and sexual book about how the decisions we can or do make ourselves can affect our lives. What would happen if you decided to live you life by the roll of a dice?
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I had stopped drinking alcohol and I was looking, simply, for another drug. The book made me high; it offered multiple universes, all of them safer than vodka. He is a nerd run mad. He decides that, in pursuit of ultimate freedom — or nihilism — he will make decisions using dice. He offers the dice options, and they choose for him. The dice tell him to rape his neighbour, but he fails because she wants him.
The dice make him tell his patients what he thinks of them my favourite dice decision. It was a perfect novel: a fantasy of escape and, for me, a search for an absent and charismatic father. The book was published in , an era devoted to psychoanalysis not the mocking of it , and it was not an instant success. But over the course of 45 years, it has become a famous book, with devoted fans.
The Dice Man has sold more than 2m copies in multiple languages and is still in print. Dicing became a minor craze. The entrepreneur Jeremy King opened a series of London restaurants due to a dice decision. In , comedian Danny Wallace published a memoir, Yes Man , in which he travelled the world saying yes to everything, again loosely inspired by Rhinehart.
As his notoriety grew, journalists came to interview the Dice Man. But Luke Rhinehart does not exist: he is the pseudonym of a man called George Powers Cockcroft, who shielded his real identity from his readers for many years. There was no Dice Man in these interviews, but there was no one else, either.
Cockcroft played his part as an avuncular blank who liked dicing and drinking, a sort of Robert Mitchum pastiche; and of Cockcroft, whom I increasingly found more interesting than Rhinehart, there was almost nothing.
Why write a perfect novel, give all the credit to a ghost, then never write its equal again? I have been emailing Cockcroft since , when, in a frenzy of half-hearted self-destruction, I attempted to dice my way through a Conservative party conference in Brighton. It was for an article, and I sought his advice, which was friendly and encouraging. The choices I gave myself were timid — would I order a hamburger or a steak? The article was not a success, and was never published.
The appeal of the dice is: how much power will you give them? I gave them nothing, and they gave nothing in return. I have tried to interview Cockcroft before. I even met him once, in a hotel bar in London 10 years ago.
He looked large and alien amid the pale chintz of Kensington, wearing a stetson that almost reached the chandelier. We — he and I — were on a conference call with his publicist, and I asked him where The Dice Man had come from. Instead, I asked if I could come and stay with him in upstate New York.
We are in a large white house in Canaan. The houses are widely spaced here, on hills around a pond of ice; there are spindly trees on the horizon. The house is warm, comfortable, shabby, with wind chimes on the terrace. Cockcroft is very tall and lean, his face weather-beaten from years of sailing and working in the garden. It has a kind of luminous joy that is very childlike, unless he is weary. His voice is deep, hoarse and excitable. He is, in some ways, very conventional for a myth: he chops wood, drinks whiskey, eats chocolate biscuits, feeds the fire.
When he wants something, he shouts for his wife, Ann. They have been married for 60 years and there is deep love between them. I can feel it all through the house. Slowly, he tells me the facts of his biography. He is warm, courteous and curious; at one point, when I mention I need money to buy a house, he offers, very seriously, to lend it to me. Then he will give a sorrowful grin and we retreat: he to his study, to write or to answer emails from fans, I to the sofa to read a novel Ann wrote many years ago.
Later, we try again. Cockcroft grew up 30 miles away, in Albany. His grandfather was the chief justice of the supreme court of Vermont; his great-grandfather was the governor of Vermont; so the creator of The Dice Man was born to New England grandees. I ask about his family. His father Donald was an electrical engineer, his mother Elizabeth went to Wellesley College. She was clever and expected cleverness from her two sons.
As a boy, he was shy and compliant, and began to use the dice at If the dice chose it, then somehow that made it possible. He also studied psychology and English literature. He worked nights in a psychiatric hospital, and considered being a lawyer. I long to meet a dice lawyer. The dice chose Ann for him. He was driving home from the hospital and saw two nurses. He got out his dice. If it was odd, he told himself, he would offer them a lift.
One of them was Ann. They married in and had three sons: Corby, Powers and Christopher, who has paranoid schizophrenia and still lives with them. The dice soldier. Instead, he taught English literature at a series of colleges in America and beyond. He says he has no idea why he began writing. He read outsiders, and men who railed against belonging: Tolstoy , Kafka , Hemingway. His first attempt at fiction was about a young boy who is locked up in a psychiatric institution because he thinks he is Jesus Christ.
He abandoned it after 80 pages, but one chapter featured a psychiatrist called Dr Luke Rhinehart. The year he began writing The Dice Man, , there was a crisis in the marriage. He and Ann were living in Mexico with James and his family. Ann was pregnant with their youngest son, and developed hepatitis.
She came back from Mexico very resentful of me, and frightened in a way she had never been before. Somehow writing the book and reading these philosophies enabled me to be detached from any bad places I was in, to not be enmeshed in them.
His previous writing had been laboured and self-conscious, but this was different. But the book went way beyond that. I never gave an option that would hurt people. Her paintings fill the house. I never get very unhappy. Every year that goes by, you realise how unimportant everything is. I was ambitious then. Is Luke your repressed self, I ask. Because, for all his wit, Luke Rhinehart is a raging man, and George Cockcroft is not.
So that is a question I would not answer. I know that if I open the novel and begin to read it, I, and it, will live, and my desire to work on it and complete it will bloom again. I am the Dice Man in a way I am no one else. It is the idea which my life has created. I am not good for a second one. I am not a professional writer. I am without talent in any way. But the theory of the dice man, the ironic spirit of his life, grows as naturally in my rocky soil as do boulders here along the rocky coast of Mallorca.
I made him a much bigger man. When Cockcroft was a child, there was a calamity. His father developed cancer in his 30s. He was eight or nine at the time. She was a Vermont puritan, and not a naturally warm person. Do you forgive him? He shows me fragments of an autobiography he has not finished, because he has not solved the problem of writing a narrative by multiple selves.
Jim is three years younger than we are and he remembers a cruel father that used to whip him with a belt. Jim is unrepressed, remembers a cruel father; we are repressed, remember nothing. Saw nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing. In , while teaching in Mallorca, Cockcroft found a publisher for The Dice Man called Mike Franklin, and swiftly wrote the second half of the book.
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The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, First Edition
You might say it was destiny: Danny Wallace wrote about surrendering control of his life; Luke Rhinehart turned a psychological experiment into the definitive novel on chance. So when the opportunity arose for a meeting, Wallace decided to roll with it In an hour, it will be dark. The late winter afternoon is blue and brisk and still, and snow lines the sidewalks of the small American town of Hudson, New York. The man I am with is 79 years old and we are looking for his minivan, our breath snaking into the air, our hands bare and chilled.
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