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Julian Rubinstein

  • "This is a grand thriller, perhaps the first of a genre." - Andrei Codrescu
  • A New York Times "Editors Choice"
  • "A story that must be read to be believed." -The Onion A.V. Club
  • Film Rights Purchased by Johnny Depp
  • "Studs Terkel eat your heart out." -Boldtype
  • "An instant classic" -Canada's Globe & Mail
  • "This is a book you must read. Now." -Harvard University Bookstore Staff Pick
Book Cover

Whiskey Robber on Facebook Join the Ballad of the Whiskey Robber Facebook fan page

–Or visit the dedicated website for the book and tributes to Attila

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is the award-winning saga of Attila Ambrus, a Transylvanian refugee who came to define an era. Born under Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania in 1967, Attila escaped into Hungary underneath a train in 1988, just before the fall of communism. He worked as a gravedigger, an animal pelt smuggler, a zamboni driver, and a (terrible) professional hockey goalie before taking up robbery to make ends meet. His performance art style heists of the former communist state bank, OTP, struck a chord and the legend of the “Whiskey Robber” was born.

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is a story about capitalism, national identity and the tumultuous post-communist era in Eastern Europe.

Attila Ambrus is currently in prison in Hungary.


The New York Times
(Also a New York Times EDITORS’ CHOICE)

Rubinstein has found A STORY OF THE SORT THAT WOULD MAKE EVEN THE MOST DRY-MOUTHED JOURNALIST SLOBBER. Sometimes sad, often hilarious and always absurd, Ambrus’s tale microcosmically condenses the politico-historic oddities of his place and era into one entertaining and fairly tidy narrative….With a keen eye for the ridiculous, fearlessly high-speed prose and an extraordinary wealth of reported detail, Rubinstein conducts the affair like an unusually thoughtful carnival barker.

Harvard Book Store
From Harvard University Bookstore Staff Pick Description


Globe and Mail
Canada’s leading newspaper

AN INSTANT CLASSIC….At once sad and funny, Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, a rollicking tale of the Wild East, also has a deeply compelling political purpose.

Elet es Irodalom
From “Life and Literature”, the leading literary publication in Hungary

One of the best books ever written about post-1989 Hungary…This is not enough in itself to make it terribly annoying but there is more to it: ARGUABLY THIS IS THE BEST PIECE OF SERIOUS LITERATURE EVER WRITTEN TACKLING THE HUNGARIAN EXPERIENCE IN THE 1990s ….One of Julian Rubinstein’s best virtues is a sincere interest in, and sympathy toward, csorikaim, the little people, prone to fall, the losers. In Hungarian non-fiction, no examples of such curiosity and empathy have emerged since Gyorgy Moldova’s heyday….Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is one book in a thousand.

San Francisco Chronicle

OUTRAGEOUSLY ENTERTAINING…An essential absurdism is never far from the surface…This fast-moving story is a rip-roaring cops and robbers saga with a Mitteleuropean heart.

The Budapest Times
Hungary’s leading English language newspaper


Boston Globe

The antagonistic protagonist of Julian Rubinstein’s picaresque romp is a real person who defies belief…Rubinstein rides the momentum in appropriately riotous fashion, but he wisely never lets his vivid style overshadow A TALE THAT BURNS UP THE PAGES ON ITS OWN MOMENTUM. Nor does he succumb to sentimentality when exploring the tale’s pathos — and, believe it or not, there’s as much of that as there is of burlesque….A memorable tragicomedy.


Sometimes a book comes along that taxes even our best summarizing skills, but SINCE WE CAN’T JUST REALLY ORDER YOU TO READ IT (OR CAN WE?), let’s just say that Julian Rubinstein’s Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, the totally bizarre true story of ice hockey-playing bank robber (and pelt smuggler, grave-digger, the list goes on) Attila Ambrus is one of the quirkiest and most riveting narratives to come down the Danube. Here, the bad guys are the gentleman, the good guys are the bumblers and nothing is quite what it seems, but that won’t keep you from laughing out loud every couple of pages. Weirdness has never been quite so winning.


If all the world loves a romantic thief, the world will fall head over heels for Attila Ambrus…FAST-PACED AND EXQUISITELY DETAILED.

Maxim Magazine

Rubinstein has a knack for vividly portraying his stranger-than-fiction characters…By turns HILARIOUS AND INCREDIBLE, this stuff just can’t be made up. (5 OUT OF 5 STARS)

Also a Forbes Book Club Selection

Julian Rubinstein mixes the tale of Ambrus’s raids with a political history of Hungary that puts these robberies in perspective and explains how an armed robber’s crimes might seem heroic in the face of the massive government corruption that accompanied Hungary’s transition to capitalsim…Amazing attention to detail…Rubinstein KEEPS THE PAGES TURNING and will have you slapping your head with both grief and relief…Rubinstein delivers A WORK OF HISTORY AND ENTERTAINMENT with all of the panache of his subject’s successful raids.

Portland Phoenix

Rubinstein displays a flair for the dramatic and a cinematic sense of pace as he details the events of Ambrus’s life like a boxer delivering a series of one-two punches. It’s easy to fall for this anti-hero who hands roses to female tellers while robbing their bank drawers, and it’s easy to see why Hungary fell for him, too. It is this love affair between Hungary and Ambrus that elevates Whiskey Robber from a crime story into a haunting commentary on the tragic soul-searching of this nation struggling to enter the modern world. In Whiskey Robber, the unpredictable socio-politico weather in Hungary mirrors the existential struggle of the robber himself….Rubinstein’s Ballad manages to be both HILARIOUS AND SAD IN THE WAY THAT ONLY TRUE ABSURDIST TRAGEDIES CAN BE. At the center of this fantastical world is the larger-than-life Whiskey Robber, a man who transcends the boundaries of culture and clowning to access the deepest sympathies of anyone who’s ever felt alone, crazy, alienated, and hell-for-leather. Which means, basically, everyone.

Entertainment Weekly

A deadpan true story SO IMPROBABLE AND FREEWHEELING IT READS LIKE A TALL TALE…this FUNNY book just might make off with all your free time.

National Geographic Adventure

Every once in a while a criminal with style, with panache, THROWS A LIGHT ON DEEPER EVILS IN THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE. Ambrus did that and so does this VERY FUNNY and, at the same time, very acute book.

San Diego Union Tribune


Publisher's Weekly

[*STARRED REVIEW*] A ROLLICKING TALE told with glee and flair…RUBINSTEIN HAS A KNACK FOR TELLING A GOOD STORY…a Jesse James-like tale, [Ballad of the Whiskey Robber] has the chance to be a sleeper that transcends nonfiction categories.

The Independent
From The Independent, UK

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is A FUNNY AND THRILLING SLICE OF MODERN HISTORY, told with all the charm of Butch and Sundance’s flamboyant escapades.

USA Today

EXQUISITELY TOLD…A tale of daring crime and dashing celebrity that’s equal parts Robin Hood, John Dillinger, and Johnny Depp.

Also an ESPN Book Club Selection



Offers that simple pleasure, A GREAT STORY.

The Onion

It’s hard to imagine what journalist Julian Rubinstein thought when he stumbled across the twisted tale of Attila Ambrus, but his fascination finds riveting realization in Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, a nonfiction account of A STORY THAT MUST BE READ TO BE BELIEVED….Rubinstein surveys the whole tale in grand storytelling fashion, following the action and the chase in entertaining detail. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is more than just an impressive yarn, though: Set against a rich backdrop of hope and despair, the book is A HEARTRENDING STUDY OF A CHARACTER WHOSE BUNGLING TELLS THE STORY OF A WORLD MUCH BIGGER THAN HIS OWN.

Sports Illustrated

A WONDERFUL READ…Rubinstein’s account of the Whiskey Robber seems straight out of Hollywood and indeed it’s ideal for the big screen. It’s got a rogue hero, chase sequences, even those romances. Best of all for potential producers, the actor cast as Ambrus would barely need to know how to play hockey.


A whiz-bang read, [a] HILARIOUS AND ODDLY TOUCHING story…Rubinstein writes in a guns-ablazing style that perfectly fits the Whiskey Robber’s tale.

Julian Rubinstein has found what every writer craves: a larger-than-life character whose adventures veer from rollicking to comical to heartbreaking….The real beauty of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is the way in which Ambrus’s arc and all of its attendant absurdity tends to parallel that of Eastern Europe itself: the desperation, the sense of opportunity after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Wild West euphoria, the deep-seated corruption, and finally, the brutal hangover after the long bender….Studs Turkel eat your heart out.

Dallas Morning News

Julian Rubinstein’s RICHLY ENJOYABLE TRUE-CRIME SAGA…Mr. Rubinstein narrates all these farcical goings-on with a sad affection peeking through, even for the dumbest and most corrupt characters. But primarily he maintains that marvelously sardonic Eastern European resignation, that ironic tone of voice that always seems to shrug and say, “So what did you expect?”

Rocky Mountain News

GRADE: A. AN ALL-TOO-REAL POLITICAL FAIRY TALE…Underneath all of the action and intrigue that makes Ballad nothing short of a page-turner, there’s a subtle commentary on corruption and capitalism…With such high stakes and the story’s built-in suspense, Rubinstein’s Ballad never borders on a lackluster history lesson, nor does his attention to plitical injustices ever interrupt the fiction-like flow of Ambrus’s story. Though being resigned to a life of quiet desperation was Ambrus’s greatest fear, Ballad is proof that the Whiskey Robber will remain anything but irrelevant.

Men's Journal

Rubinstein’s chronicle is performance art, A MADCAP JOYRIDE alongside one of the most endearing figures in the annals of bad behavior.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“CREAM OF THE CROP:” Robin Hood tales always entice, yet few are as madcap and captivating as this rollicking portrait of Attila Ambrus (“Whiskey Robber”), a Transylvanian refugee turned lousy pro hockey goalie turned legendary Hungarian bank robber and gentleman heartthrob in the waning days of communist rule. The subtitle of Rubinstein’s book, the product of three years of foreign reporting, underscores how truth is still stranger than fiction…This is a Hollywood film waiting to be made, A CRAZY OUTLAW CAPER from “The Wild, Wild East.”

Denver Post

A BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED TALE…In Rubinstein’s deft hands, Attila becomes a great tragicomic character…Unlike many books today that run out of energy after the first several chapters, Rubinstein keeps up the high energy, madcap comedy throughout the book.

Santa Fe Reporter
[The Santa Fe Reporter on Julian Rubinstein]

ONE OF AMERICA’S BEST…The chance to glimpse into the world of an artist with such deep range is certainly undiluted manna.

Daily Mail
From The Daily Mail, UK

The pace, ingenuity and comical sense of the absurd deployed to tell the story of ice hockey player and bank robber Attila Ambrus makes this book read like a novel. But Attila Ambrus is real…HIS EXTRAORDINARY STORY IS TOLD HERE WITH A HINT OF LOUIS DE BERNIERES AND A LOT OF PANACHE..

Columbus Dispatch

As outrageous and entertaining as any piece of fiction in recent memory, Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is A PAGE-TURNER ALMOST TOO FANTASTIC TO BELIEVE AND TOO ENGROSSING TO PUT DOWN.

Kirkus Review




Star Ledger

MASTERFUL…A QUIRKY, ENGROSSING look at the chaos of post-Cold War Hungary and the growing pains of capitalism. It is a wild ride with over-the-top gangsters, pelt smugglers and cops.


A book that READS LIKE SOME FANTASTIC CRIME NOVEL chronicling the very real actions of an extraordinary man trying to survive and make a lasting name for himself in transitionary times…BALLAD is a rollicking crime story, a commentary on the effects of the fall of communism on the former Eastern Bloc, and a beautiful portrait of historic Budapest.

Toronto Star


NPR Only A Game

Host Bill Littlefield: I’m grateful that Ambrus’s checkered hockey career provoked somebody at little, Brown to send the book to ‘Only A Game’. Otherwise BALLAD OF THE WHISKEY ROBBER might never have come to my attention, and that would have been my loss.

Edmonton Journal

A ripper of a crime story and it’s one that can stand next to any of history’s great outlaw tales…The reporting is exhaustive, the pace is fast, and the main character is as bizarre as any you’ree going to meet. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is A FABULOUS READ.


Rubinstein’s eye for whimsical detail imbues his deftly sketched cops-and-robbers saga with a rich palpability. And he keeps the story tight and lively, despite its plot twists and complex cast of characters…ONE HECK OF A GOOD STORY.

Daily Camera
(Boulder, Colorado)

Readers who normally shun nonfiction will embrace the story for the MARVELOUS STORYTELLING AND TERRIFIC CHARACTERS….In short, Rubinstein is a terrific storyteller.

Denver City’s magazine

A madcap joyride…Whether you’re looking for deeper commentary or just a wild adventure, check out Whiskey Robber– RUBINSTEIN HAS WRITTEN A GREAT CRIME STORY.

Library Journal

A TERRIFIC FIRST EFFORT BY RUBINSTEIN….Readers will find themselves trying to figure out who should play [the Whiskey Robber] on the big screen.




Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator and author, most recently of Wakefield.

The vivid and riveting story of Attila Ambrus, Transylvanian-born immigrant, outlaw, and gentleman, also hides a key to the still inexplicable and mad passage of communism to capitalism. THIS IS A GRAND THRILLER, PERHAPS THE FIRST OF A GENRE.

Gary Shteyngart, author of the best-selling novel The Russian Debutante’s Handbook

Punchy, hilarious and apparently even true, BALLAD OF THE WHISKEY ROBBER gives hope to anyone who ever smuggled an animal pelt, climbed aboard a Zamboni, or pondered whether truth can be better than fiction. Mr. Rubinstein has committed a high-wire, bravado act of journalism.

Arthur Phillips, author of the best-selling novel Prague

A great crime story is a strange and smudged window to peer through, to get a glimpse of life in a very specific place and time. And Julian Rubinstein has tracked down and written a great crime story. Very funny, heart-breaking, gripping, incredible, and it implies volumes more: the distillation of a people or an era, or the failings and promise of money, freedom, fame. Any novelist making this up would be duly executed. Julian Rubinstein deserves to be read, and Attila Ambrus deserves to be America’s favorite gangster-goalkeeper.

Darin Strauss, author of the best-selling novel, Chang and Eng, and The Real McCoy

Attila Ambrus is one of the funniest and most phoenix-like characters to agitate for our attention in quite some time — and he’s actually real. Julian Rubinstein tells Ambrus’s flipped-out tale with real verve and sympathy. This book is a joyride.

Frank Deford, Author, NPR Commentator and Sports Illustrated Senior Writer

Bittersweet, comic-tragic, sadly funny, BALLAD OF THE WHISKEY ROBBER is Julian Rubinstein’s wonderful saga of Hungarian cops and robbers, where, if crime doesn’t pay, it at least beats playing hockey goalie.

USA Today

Worst pro goalie ever still in jail – for robbing banks

The New York Times

Authors Take a New Approach to Audio Books: Do It Yourself

Minnesota Public Radio

Listen to an interview with Julian by Euan Kerr on Minnesota Public Radio, and also hear Julian read from the book’s prologue

National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday

Listen to an interview with Julian by Sheilah Kast on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday

Eye on Books

Listen to an interview with Julian by Bill Thompson on the nationally syndicated show Eye on Books, recorded live in Washington, DC here

WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show

Listen to an interview on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show recorded live in New York

Public Radio International's To The Best of Our Knowledge

Listen to an interview with Julian by Anne Strainchamps on Public Radio International’s To The Best of Our Knowledge, recorded in Cape Town, South Africa

NPR's Only A Game

Listen to Julian’s interview on NPR’s Only A Game

You can buy the book in any of the following formats:

Digital Audio




The book is also available in German, Czech, and Hungarian.
All other translation rights are available.
For signed copies, please use the contact page.

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