The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It … Every Time
by Maria Konnikova
Viking, 2016 (; 352 pages)

Why it Matters

Have you ever been the victim of a con? I have.

In “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time,” In each chapter, Maria Konnikova focuses on one aspect of a swindle and the psychological factors at play.

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She provides a modest compendium of outrageous deceptions, with cameos from Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr., a serial impostor who performed 19 surgeries aboard a Canadian naval ship (he was not, needless to say, a doctor); Glafira Rosales, an art dealer who trafficked in fakes so impressive they duped the president of New York’s oldest gallery; and Victor Lustig, a self-invented “count” who twice sold the Eiffel Tower to investors, claiming it was soon to be destroyed for parts.

But the real purpose of Ms. Konnikova’s book is not to rehearse a history of the con. Rather, as she explains in her introduction, it is to explore “the psychological principles that underlie each and every game, from the most elementary to the most involved, step by step.”

And this is precisely what she delivers: an anatomy of the scam. Ms. Konnikova’s first chapter attempts to explain the psychology of both the grifter and the mark; from there, she spends a chapter on each station of the double-cross, starting with the put-up (the process of identifying the perfect victim), then moving along to the play (seducing the victim), the rope (pitching the scam), the tale, the convincer, the breakdown and so on, detailing the psychological mechanisms that both hoaxer and hoaxee engage. It’s a Via Dolorosa of ensnarement and betrayal.

Ms. Konnikova’s central contention is that practically all of us — prosperous or penniless, quick-witted or dull — are susceptible to charlatans, for the simple reason that we possess a basic instinct to trust. 

Drawing on autobiographies, news reports and original interviews, Konnikova builds a narrative rich with details of confidence games spanning hundreds of years, from snake oil salesmen in the late 1800s to present-day

“The Confidence Game” belongs to the genre popularized by Malcolm Gladwell: social psychology designed for mass consumption. Typically, books of this sort are intended to be both useful and entertaining.

This would be a good read for anyone – these dodgy people exist not too far away.



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