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True Grift: Financial Crime: Bad Blood (Theranos), Madoff, Cuckoo’s Egg, Watergate, Etc


I’m no fan of the blood and drugs True Crime sub-genre, but I can’t resist a well written true (or alleged to be true) financial crime story, aka Follow the Money crime, no longer just associated with political crimes.

It’s possible I like them because the best of them are written by people who know their subjects, are excellent story tellers, and who almost always have a sense of humor that takes a slight edge off the outrage.

These are only a few of the many books written about financial and political flim-flams, confidence tricks, swindles, and scams, but they are some of my favorites. There are many more political, financial, and judicial true crime stories I could include … maybe later:

1) “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou. (See also the podcast by the same name, which covers the 2021-2022 trials of the Theranos founders.)

2) “No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller,” by Harry Markopolos (about the failures of financial regulatory agencies and the press to expose Bernie Madoff’s crimes)

3) “The Big Short,” Michael Lewis, about the failure of regulatory agencies, the White House, Congress, the press, and just about everyone who might have prevented or mitigated the crash of 2008-12. (See also the movie by the same name.) (And, see also Lewis’s “Flash Boys.”)

4) “The Cuckoo’s Egg,” by Cliff Stoll, 1989. (a classic in the true computer hacking crime genre)

5) “All the President’s Men,” by Woodward and Bernstein (yes, there are some very funny moments in this tale). I also recommend the “Last of the President’s Men,” by Carl Woodward, about Alexander Butterfield, Nixon, and Those Tapes.

6) “All the Shah’s Men,” by Stephen Kinzer, about the U.S. and U.K. backing of the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh)

Here are a few books (among many others) about the psychology of the perpetrators and their marks:

1) The classic, Arthur Leff’s “Swindling and Selling: the Spanish Prisoner and Other Bargains” (Review from JSTOR.)

2) “The Grift” podcast (and book, by Maria Konnikova, “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It… Every Time”)

3) And indirectly, Michael Lewis’s “The Undoing Project,” about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, entertaining and illuminating on so many levels.

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