Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con” as Want to Read:
The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.29  ·  Rating details ·  532 ratings  ·  110 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
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2012)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Mark Inside, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Mark Inside

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.29  · 
Rating details
 ·  532 ratings  ·  110 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con
``Laurie Henderson
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
Stacey Lechner
Apr 17, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
Felicia Davin
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a very thorough history of con artists in the United States, going all the way back to Benjamin Franklin's era. The book switches between following the story of J. Frank Norfleet, a 20th-century Texas rancher who was swindled out of his life savings by a gang of con artists and who then dedicated the rest of his life to tracking them down, and more general history of confidence men. The history is entertaining, although occasionally quite dense. I especially enjoyed the portrait of Denve ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Dec 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
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
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 25, 2013 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
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
As the other reviewers say the author gets outside her element a little bit and tries to make the big con into a metaphor for American capitalism -- if you find that annoying then the book would be pretty unreadable. But it's not unbearable, and if you permit the context, the book is actually really fun and tells an amazing tall tale of a mark who became more wild and unbelievable than the men who conned him.
Jenny T.
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Jenny T. 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
Apr 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A more promising premise than the reality of the book. Too bogged down in details of one man's "reverse swindle".
May 24, 2012 rated it liked it

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 –
Jay Phillippi
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
1919 Texas rancher J. Frank Norcross goes into town to sell some acreage so he can buy a better piece of property. Before that can happen, Norcross is swindled out of his money. It was the worst mistake the confidence men would ever make. Norcross dedicated the rest of his life to tracking them down.

The whole thing reads like a mid-level movie script. Yet, it’s all true. Or most of it’s true. Some of it’s true? Norcross did dedicate his life to finding the men that scammed him out of a small for
Andrew Breza
Apr 01, 2020 rated it liked it
The Mark Inside tells a forgotten tale of white collar crime and frontier justice. It's an exciting book that's full of adventure, and even the author casts doubt on some aspects of the protagonist's tale. I'm only giving it three stars because the narrative is repeatedly lost in the author's giving background into the history of American con-artistry. Some books manage to pull off the interweaving of narrative and background (e.g. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey or anything by Erik Lar ...more
Ken Maxon
Dec 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting history of conmen and their victims out west during the late 19th and early 20th century. (The movie “The Sting” starring Robert Redford comes to mind. ) The degree of corruption in Colorado and Texas back then is hard to fathom today. Conmen thrived in this environment, but could only be successful by tapping into their victims inner desire to make a big score with inside and legally questionable information, i.e., “The Mark Inside”. Con artists will always be with us, and it was ju ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The author does a great job of interweaving a great con yarn, a sensational criminal trial, a history of the con game, economic theory, and a study of why the American psyche is so susceptible to the con artist's wiles. If this sounds like an impossible job, it is, yet Reading succeeds anyway. Entertaining, informative and insightful in equal measure, this book is a page-turner with revelations and plot twists that occur with increasing frequency. This will satisfy confidence fans, true crime bu ...more
Mar 20, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading about the history of con artistry. The author did well detailing the specific story of a farmer who got conned then became determined to take down the con men. So much of the story reads like it’s fiction, although the sources are well-detailed. It is difficult to trust in the farmer’s version of events. For that, the story felt somewhat cheapened. It’s not anything to do with the author, but everything beyond the basic facts must be taken with a grain of salt.
Carrie Laben
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Brisk but digressive in the style of Erik Larson, this book links a nearly-forgotten Texan who molded himself into a dime-novel hero with a sweeping look at the evolution of American crime and commerce. Doesn't quite reach the heights of Devil in the White City or The Ghost Map, to name two of my favorites in this genre, but overall it's a well-balanced and interesting read on a man I'd never heard of before and a subject that impacts all of us.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Amy Reading spins a spellbinding combined with a deep look at the history of the confidence game. The essay part of the book sometimes breaks the narrative flow but it also feels needed to truly understand Norfleet's enterprise. Reading's writing is clear and enjoyable throughout and her research was extensive. Highly recommended.
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable popular history, which uses the story of a US man who was swindled in the 1920s (and then spent the rest of his life basically taking down con artists) to explore shifts in early-20th-century US cultural history: spectacle, 'character', capitalism, and more.
Kate Laws
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Despite being a subject I am interested in, this read felt like a slog. I don't know how you make such a wild story a drag, but this author managed it. Not particularly compelling or memorable. Glad to be done with it.
Vicki Mullen
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
Challenge: a book involving travel
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Entertaining, well-written, in-depth look at the con as revenge and a little general con history thrown in for good fun.
Jun 08, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Nice turn of the century slang
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
May 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Mar 17, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Liss Carmody
Apr 06, 2012 rated it liked it
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
May 21, 2012 rated it liked it
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
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Why We're Polarized
  • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
  • A Deal with the Devil: The Dark and Twisted True Story of One of the Biggest Cons in History
  • A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America
  • American Warlords: How Roosevelt's High Command Led America to Victory in World War II
  • The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey
  • The Splintered Empires: The Eastern Front 1917–21
  • A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico
  • Spinoza
  • Indestructible: One Man's Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII
  • Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex
  • Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman
  • The Children
  • Withdrawal: Reassessing America's Final Years in Vietnam
  • Dark Invasion 1915: Germany's Secret War & the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America
  • The Year of Fear: Machine Gun Kelly and the Manhunt That Changed the Nation
  • The Frozen Chosen: The 1st Marine Division and the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir
  • A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our lis...
47 likes · 11 comments