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The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con

3.26  ·  Rating Details ·  434 Ratings  ·  94 Reviews
In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did—he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.

Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men wh
ebook, 304 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

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Stacey Lechner
I had a hard time getting through this book. While the main story was interesting, I felt that it was chopped up too much by all the historical information. It interrupted the flow of the story and made it a much slower read than I would have liked.
Jul 03, 2012 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-books
Received a free copy from First Impressions. This a nonfiction account of con artists and swindles from the 1910s-20s with a prticular emphasis on J. Frank Norfleet, a Texan conned out of $45,000. He spent the next several years capturing the five men who stole his money and then the rest of his life helping arrest con artists and other criminals (all while remaining a private citizen and not a member of law enforcement). Amy Reading tells his story against the backdrop of a large ...more
Mar 25, 2013 Meg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-club
This is a 3.5 situation. A little dense sometimes, or I was, but for the most part this is a real gem of a thing. Kicked into high gear for me whenever Reading discussed the connections between The Con and America, like, basically all of chapter two for instance.

Also I really just ADMIRED so many of the cons in this! Which is ridiculous! Because they are cons! But they were all so damn elaborate and exploited so many weaknesses in the country's early development, and it's hard not to admire the
Jan 13, 2013 Jenny rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny by: Dad
Shelves: non-fiction
A digressive account of J. Frank Norfleet who was swindled in 1919 and then turned around to pursue the con men responsible for his losses. I felt a little editing would have made this book more streamlined and a better read. I did not like the author's own commentary about what may have occurred in Norfleet's life and how she kept inserting US economic theories. Personally, I found some of the tangents (especially the pages about Council Bluffs!) were more interesting than the original story li ...more
Douglas Hackney
Good read. The author has an interesting take on a well-covered topic. She chose to examine the protagonist's management of his image, market positioning, personal brand, etc. in an era long before social media. That element added to the also very interesting core story of a conned man's relentless pursuit of his swindlers.
Kevin Scott
Jul 17, 2012 Kevin Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a bit jealous of a dissertation being converted to a popular press book, particularly a book as good as this, but I really enjoyed both the story of Norfleet and his revenge but Reading's efforts to place the con in the context of early twentieth century America. And any book that is set, at times, in Plainview, Hale Center, and Denver has to be a good book, right?
Sep 11, 2012 Bess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's like modern day trickster mythology. This is a fascinating history of the long con and the rise of the confidence scam, with particular attention paid to a very colorful hunter of con artists who seems to have been a bit of a con artist himself. A page turner that taught me a lot of history.

The food court at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania lies off of the betting floor. You don’t show your ID to anyone to get in, but the Formica tables and steel tube chairs are closer to the gambling action than even the diamond store on the other side of an ATM behind a wall of thick, spotless glass 40 feet away from the turnstiles admitting gamblers. If you’re in town for an event at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center – say a Beach Boys concert –
This was an exciting and interesting book to read at first and I learned a lot about the short and long con. The author was very thorough and did a great job documenting the history of con-artists in America, beginning with the colonial days. I had no idea that scams were such a big part of our history.
This true story is based on the book by Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet detailing his experiences with con men during the early 1900's.

This story begins with the supposedly innocent, Texas ranche
Jill Hutchinson
This is a multi-layered book as the author takes us through what was called the "big con", a sophisticated and well planned fleecing of unsuspecting "marks". We first meet J. Frank Norfleet, a Texas rancher who loses his life savings and most of his property to a gang of five very persuasive con artists. And thus begins his nationwide search for these men in order to bring them to justice.

Interspersed with Norfleet's story is an introduction to famous (at the time) con men operating in the early
Sarah Fletcher
Nov 02, 2016 Sarah Fletcher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting storytelling but hate the revenge aspect! I guess it was in an attempt for justice...
May 24, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like the big con itself, this book drew me in slowly but surely. It begins with the story of J. Frank Norfleet, a Texan rancher who was taken in by a stock market con in 1919. But instead of ruefully returning to his ranch, Norfleet become obsessed with revenge, becoming a rather good con man himself as he crisscrossed the country over the next decade, hunting down the men who'd fleeced him and seeing them sentenced for fraud and graft.

As fascinating a character as Norfleet is (and he's certainl
Jun 18, 2013 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
There's a lot going on in this book- maybe a little too much. One one level, it is the story of J. Frank Norfleet, a Texas rancher who got swindled for all he had by a group of con men. On another, the author deconstructs the art of the con and how a well-designed con first targets and lures a mark before conning him and then playing him off. (In the most successful cons, the mark is unaware he's been taken until afterward, by which time it's usually too late to do anything about it.) The author ...more
Thacher Smith
I enjoyed this book, but less than I had enjoyed other books I read this year. While I found the subject matter to be generally interesting, I feel that the story had one major flaw. This flaw was the fact that the book was nonfiction, but it was told as a story rather than just information. While I generally enjoy nonfiction books of this kind, the problem with this book was the fact that the author talked about so many characters, I was unable to keep straight who was who in the story format. ...more
Mar 07, 2013 Ray rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"The Mark Inside" reminded me of the early 1970's Paul Newman movie, "The Sting". I thought the movie was incredibly creative, and marveled at the lengths the swindlers went to in order to bilk their mark. The interesting point of this book is that the similar story it tells is actually a true story about swindles not uncommon during the early part of the 20th Century. Specifically, Amy Reading tells of the swindle of Texas rancher Frank Norfleet, and his subsequent quest to bring those involved ...more
Jun 10, 2012 Bea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I won this book from BookBrowse, just received it and hope to get to reading it soon.
Well, I finally finished what I could and would probably give it only 2 1/2 because it was too dull to finish completely.
This book told you everything you wanted to know (and lots you didn't) about the "big con". This could have been a real interesting book. It is a non-fiction story set in 1919 about a real life rancher who got swindled in a "big con" (think "THE STING") and spent years tracking down the swindl
Liss Capello
I wish I could remember why I originally decided to read this book - it's not my usual thing at all, and parts of it dragged on longer than my interest level really warranted. Just the same, the kernel of a story here is really interesting - con men, or confidence men, and the way they swindled their marks in the early twentieth century - and the story of a few particular marks, and how they were revenged. The best thing I learned from reading this was that so much of the language of con artistr ...more
Nov 24, 2012 Francoise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great true narratives about big-time swindlers and a particular mark who dedicates his life to catching those who swindled him and, subsequently, to popularizing tales about his adventures. It's really quite astonishing how elaborate the swindling set ups are, and how widely they flourished in the early part of this century, elevating their practioners to the status of folk heroes (villains?) and secret leaders of shadow governments.

I saw the Sting when I was in high school, but had no idea tha
Diane C.
Nov 12, 2012 Diane C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amy Reading tells not only the tale of how J. Frank Norfleet pursued and brought his swinders to justice, but also the larger tale of how Norfleet himself embellished the tale he told and profited from it later. Also, an even larger narrative of America's history of cons, big and small, including those perpetrated by "businessmen" from the inception of us as a country right up to the gilded age.

A fascinating book, 90% commpellingly written. The other 10%, skimming won't take away from reading en
Temple Dog
Wow, this book reads like a dime store novel. It features a wronged Texas rancher in hot pursuit of a gang of “confidence men” swindlers. It’s rapt with unbelievable turns of events, amateur Capote gangsters and gunslinger sheriffs even molls straight out of the Cotton Club.

And, what makes it so fascinating is that it’s a true story.

Frank Norfleet’s tale is somewhat fantastical and Amy Reading acknowledges as much and in a tongue in cheek manner, dares you to challenge the facts, despite how imp
Nov 25, 2012 Will rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to give this book 3 stars but just couldn't. The reason would have been the focus on Denver and Colorado through most of this book. However if you're not from here... there's probably not enough to spark a 3 star review.

The book is also one of the oddest history books on any subject I have ever read.

Often the author tries to draw similarities between other angles of history and the topic and characters in her book and it just leads to a point of "get to it already".

Her book is a col
Brian Lively
Jul 23, 2012 Brian Lively rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book as a Goodreads First Read.

This book started out with considerable promise. Texan J. Frank Norfleet finds himself conned out his life savings. Instead of feeling sorry for himself and starting all over, he embarks on a four year journey to bring the grifters who targeted him to justice.

It's the stuff a good classic pulp is made of with one exception - it's true. While the author does deliver the goods with Norwood's story, the book is occasionally dries up and drags. I strugg
Jul 02, 2016 Julia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was not at all what I had hoped for or expected, and I was incredibly let down. This is a non-fiction history book about con artists, and not at all written in an engaging way. Not once was my attention captured by the writing and I forced myself to finish only because I just wanted to get to the end to know for sure what happened, though it was pretty easy to guess. The chapters about the history of con artistry are all snooze fests bogged down with way too many non essential details. I wo ...more
Cale Herreman
Thinking this book would be a history of 19th Century con artists, I was eager to read it. But somebody pulled a swindle on me, and it turned out to be some of that history, but only as a background to the story of J. Frank Norfleet, Texas rancher and Grade A mark for a stock-trade con. Norfleet's story, as told to the press at the time, was that he set out on a quest that took him years and thousands of miles, to find the men who took his money, and to capture and expose them. The main source f ...more
Apr 30, 2012 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting subject, sort of a real-life version of The Sting, the book charts the rise of confidence men in the post-Civil War era, and spends most of its couple hundred pages on one man who gets taken and spends the rest of his life bringing flim flam artists to justice. I also like the way Reading ties seemingly legitimate speculation -- the railroad lotteries, '20s stock market manipulations, etc. -- into the broader cultural background. However, the writing could be a lot leaner and clearer ...more
Jan 14, 2014 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title and subtitle do a good job of outlining what the book is about. An interesting story of the big cons at the start of the 20th century, as well as one character's revenge on the con men. I appreciated its discussion about the place of "confidence" (and hence the con) in the development and growth of the US. If you have one, you have the other. Coincidentally, the day I finished it they had "Guys and Dolls" on TMC; interesting opening scene with everyone on the streets hustling; same set ...more
Che'rei Holley
Jun 20, 2012 Che'rei Holley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, free
The Mark Inside by Amy Reading was a fun read. I enjoyed following the story about Norfleet from Hale Center, Texas through his chase of "confidence men" throughout the U.S. Although Hale Center is only 100 miles from my hometown where I have lived for almost 50 years, I had never heard this story.
There were chapters intermingled within the main story that were more "the history of" swindlers throughout history. I have to admit I didn't enjoy that as much, but It was interesting information.
I r
Aug 23, 2013 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not sure what compelled me to pick up this book; perhaps, it was the come-on about swindlers; perhaps, the story of revenge that overwhelms a man's life and turns him into a folk hero; perhaps the promise of how our great nation was built on the greatest con of all. Whatever it was, I sure am glad I did. So much is packed into Reading's book, it's hard to believe some, if not all, of it isn't made up, but then if it were, it probably wouldn't be as unbelievable or as affecting. I'd say there's a ...more
Jun 28, 2012 Becky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this, but not as much as I expected to. I hadn't realized that this was a mass market version of academic research, and I think if I had, my expectations would be been set more accurately.

The book is nominally about the story of J. Frank Norfleet, and his pursuit of the con men who fleeced him. It is more of a meditation on the emergence of confidence scams in the US, and a critical reading of Norfleet's self-reporting of his tale.

It was definitely interesting, and I'd recommend it to
Dec 15, 2012 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As far as I can tell, Ms. Reading did not actually attend Wesleyan. But after reading this book, I would swear she had taken every single one of Joe Reed's classes. This is a great read, not just about the history of the big con, but of how Americans have ALWAYS tried to make easy money, how the mythology of the west transformed the east, and how the newly wealthy of the 20th century sought to make speculation respectable.
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Amy Reading grew up in Pennsylvania and Washington state. She worked in scholarly publishing before completing a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale University. Her first book, The Mark Inside, grew out of her dissertation on truth and deception in American autobiography, which contains a chapter on swindlers’ memoirs. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children, and can be found ...more
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