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Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

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A New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2015

In the early 1900s, Robert Miller, a.k.a. “Count Victor Lustig,” moved to Paris hoping to be an artist. A  con  artist, that is. He used his ingenious scams on unsuspecting marks all over the world, from the Czech Republic, to Atlantic ocean liners, and across America. Tricky Vic pulled off his most daring con in 1925, when he managed to "sell" the Eiffel Tower to one of the city’s most successful scrap metal dealers! Six weeks later, he tried to sell the Eiffel Tower all over again. Vic was never caught. For that particular scam, anyway. . . .
Kids will love to read about Vic's thrilling life, and teachers will love the informational sidebars and back matter. Award-winner Greg Pizzoli’s humorous and vibrant graphic style of illustration mark a bold approach to picture book biography.

48 pages, Hardcover

First published March 10, 2015

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About the author

Greg Pizzoli

62 books136 followers
Greg Pizzoli is the author and illustrator of The Watermelon Seed, winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, Number One Sam, Templeton Gets His Wish, Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, and coming in April 2016, Good Night Owl. He lives in Philadelphia.

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5 stars
478 (36%)
4 stars
558 (42%)
3 stars
234 (17%)
2 stars
31 (2%)
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20 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 252 reviews
Profile Image for Beth.
2,914 reviews196 followers
September 15, 2015
So so so sooooooo good! This is what all nonfiction should be: exciting, engaging, and page-turning. Wow! I can't wait to share this with students! Upper-elementary and middle school teachers and librarians, this is a picture book you will want to put in your libraries. Any guy who conned Al Capone and lived is a guy worth reading about.

Read my review on my blog.
Profile Image for Matthew Winner.
103 reviews53 followers
March 5, 2015
And finally is The Impossibly True Story of Tricky Vic, the Man who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli. This is the best book ever this week. The design work on here, too. Greg is a screen print designer, if I'm saying that right. And his news story here, a picture book, a nonfiction story, about a con artist... I don't think you can handle the material any better. He's done such a wonderful job of bringing history to life and also saying about how this is bad guy, who swindled people out of lots and lots of the money and even tricked Al Capone, yes, indeed, he sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice, in fact, to scrap metalists at a time when they were going to tear down the Eiffel Tower. It's just pulled off so well here. I love that the art feels like Rocky and Bullwinkle. It feels classic like that. I love the color scheme on here. It's all kind of gray, muted tones. And I love the content because he tells the story so well, Greg narrates the story so well, but also has these great sidebars and other historical information about Alcatraz and about other buildings along the way. And, I don't know, it's just pulled off in a way that I feel like, "Here is a picture book that people will be reading aloud to kids in elementary school or middle or high school. This is going to be a book that really stands up for an outstanding example of nonfiction and he's got such a gripping story, that it's wonderful. When you pick up a copy of his book, make sure that you lift up the flap as well, the jacket. Because there's some hidden art there that I think you'll really enjoy. And that is why I'm calling The Impossibly True Story of Tricky Vic, the Man who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli the best book ever this week. Way to go!

This review appears on an episode of the “Best Book Ever [this week]” segment of the Let’s Get Busy podcast. Check out the original post here: http://lgbpodcast.blogspot.com/2015/0...
Profile Image for Raina.
1,596 reviews125 followers
May 23, 2018
Fascinating story about a con artist.
Picture book-style with lots of text.
Cool retro collage illustrations.

Didn't make my short list for school visits, but great for the right kid.
Profile Image for Demi.
195 reviews18 followers
September 8, 2014
I loved The Watermelon Seed--and I was suitably charmed, entertained, and educated while reading Tricky Vic! I'm curious what sparked the idea of writing about Robert Miller for children, but I think this book will fall well in the theme of President Taft Stuck in the Bath--history told in a quirky, engaging way.
Profile Image for orangerful.
948 reviews47 followers
May 2, 2015
As Pizzoli points out himself in the author's notes, if this story wasn't true, it would be unbelievable. Great little book that uses some unique art styles to get the story across. This would be perfect to share with a budding artists who might need to learn how inspiration can come from anywhere, including a crazy con man's story!
Profile Image for Gordon.
431 reviews
December 12, 2015
Initially, I rated this book 2-stars, but by the time I finished this write-up, I realized I didn't really think the book was "ok", and lowered my rating to the lowest possible. It may seem silly getting my undies in a serious wad over a mere children's book, but it's precisely because it is a book devised for children that I feel compelled to come out strongly against it. I'd like to know what the editors at Viking were thinking when they approved this one to be marketed to such young readers. Perhaps the author is nearly as great a conman as the "hero" of this book. As subject matter, it seems to me that the story of Robert Miller, aka con artist "Count Victor Lustig", is better suited to an older demographic. If a book about a conman wants to be directed at young children, maybe P.T. Barnum is as crooked a character as they should learn about.

Many children's books have bad guys in them. Kids are accustomed to there being a bully or thug lurking in the background of a cartoon, comic book, or picture book. This, however, is one of the few children's stories I know of that hails the criminal, casting them in the lead role. It is suggested that the story is appropriate for ages 7 and up, but I wonder if children younger than 14 or 15 are actually able to discern right and wrong in such a way as to understand that the main character of this story is not to be emulated but rather reviled. Author, Greg Pizzoli, takes pains to describe how he found Miller's exploits to be all so incredible and felt motivated to create this book, as though Robert Miller was Willy Wonka, or Indiana Jones, or Harry Houdini. As illustrated, "Tricky Vic" is a faceless thumbprint of a man, duping dopily drawn victims - an effect reminiscent of the all-too-cool Spy vs. Spy from Mad Magazine. Pizzoli seems to have conveniently forgotten that Count Lustig swindled fortunes from gullible people whose only real fault is to have been suckers. Because this book is very innocently packaged, I would strongly suggest that parents be on hand to provide guidance.
Profile Image for Joan.
1,996 reviews
April 2, 2016
I would have liked more reference to how he gathered and evaluated his sources, especially, when, as he notes, so many of them contradicted each other. He blithely announces that he changed one fact around because he felt it would work better in an earlier part of the story. The fact that he tells the kids this in the afterword does not excuse him from having placed some false information before the kids. Not that many kids read afterwords and this is written for a young enough level that they are not going to know to read afterwords for more information.

I personally am disturbed by the evident admiration of Tricky Vic. There is nothing in the book that indicates this is not an admirable person. There is no commentary at all. That would be fine if he was simply presenting the facts and nothing but the facts but we know that one of the facts was used as a bit of a lie. I can see presenting the facts if a commentary is placed in the afterword. Instead the afterword recounts yet another scam, again with a fair amount of admiration and no evidence that he tried to stop any of the scams taking place. The presentation of the facts and illustrations were ok. It was some of the lack of commentary that bothered me. It didn't need to be heavy handed commentary of this guy was a criminal! It did need at least a short comment that this man deserved jail because..... or some such, especially when meant for a young unsophisticated audience.
Profile Image for Lizzie.
635 reviews26 followers
April 2, 2016
Robert Miller is a one master con man. Known for a time as "Tricky Vic" he runs elaborate rouses in the US and Europe including fooling notorious mobster Al Capone and selling fake contract bids for the demolition of the Eiffel Tower.

This book is visually striking. The illustrations are layered and complex; stamps and photographs mix with ink illustrations. The strong horizontal lines on the cover carry on throughout the book to create an almost comic book layout.
There are vertical pull out sections that give greater historic context. Best of all, our main character's face is mysteriously and adeptly just a fingerprint. The overall style book reminded me of those infographic videos. There is a lot going on here. Yet is was readable and balanced.

I appreciated the back matter's causal tone. And Pizzoli's bending of the facts to suit the narrative is an important point to include. Not sure what this blending of genre techniques means exactly for young readers learning the difference between fiction and nonfiction- but it is interesting.
Profile Image for Karen Arendt.
2,671 reviews12 followers
May 21, 2015
I loved the narrative text and the mixture of illustrations. Tricky Vic's face is always portrayed as a thumbprint. The text includes some sidebars about events from the past such as prohibition and the building of the Eiffel Tower. An intriguing read for 3rd grade and up, especially those that love crimes.
Profile Image for Kristen.
607 reviews15 followers
May 5, 2015
I can't wait to share this book with my students who are into spies, Alcatraz, organized crime, and the like. Great story, cool illustrations, clean side bars with historical context, conversational tone to the text- so much to love here. Great job!
Profile Image for Elisabeth Cole.
1,050 reviews16 followers
May 21, 2017
What an amazing story! I'd never heard of Tricky Vic and once I started reading I couldn't put it down. This is my favorite type of children's non-fiction - intriguing enough that it makes me want to learn more. I think any child who is reading at the level this book is at would love it!
Author 1 book9 followers
May 27, 2019
This review originally published at http://www.drttmk.com/books/tricky-vi....

The tricky thing is the point.

It's one of those books that I'm not quite sure what to make of. It's an interesting story; I just don't really see what they're trying to say. I feel like some readers might think that it's glorifying con artists.

It's a nonfiction book, a biography of a man called "Tricky Vic", who was actually born Robert Miller in what is now the Czech Republic, in 1890. He became a gambler (probably a cheat, but it doesn't specify). He left Europe, moved to America (although in the afterword the author states that he intentionally shifted events on the timeline to make for a better story and character development). At some point, it is rumored that he cons Al Capone by taking his money, promising to double it, and then coming back and saying he failed at doubling it but giving the original back, impressing Capone with his honesty. He made a Romanian money box, something that is supposed to print 100 dollar bills but is fake. They say it is easier to cheat someone who is willing to cheat themselves (by printing money, in this case). At some point, he leaves the United States and goes to Paris.

As background, the Eiffel Tower was actually controversial soon after its construction for the World's Fair, and it became delapidated and was widely disliked. Vic talks to a bunch of scrap metal salesmen, and have him secretly bid to him how much they would pay him for the rights to dismantle and sell the Eiffel Tower. He chooses the one who he thinks would be the best mark, and the guy gives him his life savings, and Vic leaves town, but the mark never goes to the authorities because he's so embarrassed. Vic returns when he realizes nobody knows about his con, and does it again to a different scrap metal salesman. The new guy actually goes to the police this time, so Vic goes back to America, where he joins a team of counterfeiters. Then the police finally catch him. He escapes before his trial, but is recaptured a month later. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to 20 years in Alcatraz. After 12 years he dies of pneumonia.

It's an interesting story, but I'm not sure why the author chose to tell it in children's book form. What message is he trying to send? He writes in the afterword about watching some con artists work in Paris. The book has pretty nice artwork, which is probably one of its main draws, and it tells the story in an engaging way. The artwork is blocky and cartoonish, except for Victor, whose face is shown as a fingerprint (I kind of wonder whose fingerprint it is). That's an interesting decision, because we clearly have historical photographs of Victor and he could have chosen to use one, or draw a caricature. Maybe he's trying to avoid romanticizing Victor? Also, the first mark he cons into buying the tower has a fish for a head (probably because his last name is Poisson, which means "fish" in French).

The book is just about Victor and a couple of scams that he pulls off. It doesn't really tell much about the time period (except mentioning Capone and Prohibition). It doesn't give a sense of what was going on in the world at the time, and I think that's kind of important for history. Victor just walks around doing completely outrageous things, until he gets caught and sent to jail and dies. It's hard to tell whether the author is saying that you should be impressed by this guy or not. Maybe if it went into more detail about how you could avoid being scammed yourself? I'm not even sure where I would go with this. But why did they pick this guy to write a story about?

Is this aimed at children who are into cons? You certainly wouldn't want to give it to a kid who liked to trick people and say, "This is where you should go with your life." Because there's no real condemnation of him, which is a weird thing. Maybe it's because it's nonfiction and the author didn't want to make a judgment? It also doesn't say anything about his personality. Who was this guy? We just get a list of things that he did; we don't understand why he did them other than wanting to make money. What was he doing was he doing with the money? It says he lived a lavish lifestyle, but why?

And most of the cons he pulled off weren't unique to him. The specifics of the Al Capone story, which may even be apocryphal, are his. And the selling of the Eiffel Tower (although he had an assistant). But the other cons he pulled were known scams that many others also pulled. The Romanian money box. Cheating at cards. Counterfeiting money. The book almost makes him sound like he's the only guy that's done these things. And it glosses over the fact that the things he did, conning people out of money, really hurt some of them. Poisson lost his life savings, and it wasn't even one of those "cheat a cheater" cons. He just made a mistake. It makes it seem cute, almost amusing, how he stole things from people.

Message: Tricky Vic is an interesting person from history.
5,870 reviews130 followers
September 2, 2021
Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. It centers on the story of a consummate 20th-century con man.

Victor Lustig was a highly skilled con artist from Austria-Hungary, who undertook a criminal career that involved conducting scams across Europe and the United States during the early 20th century. Lustig is widely regarded as one of the most notorious con artists of his time, and is infamous for being "the man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice" and for conducting the "Rumanian Box" scam.

Pizzoli's text is rather simplistic, straightforward, and informative. Pizzoli writes a complex, wordy biography of a con artist named Robert Miller – until Miller chooses the alias Count Victor Lustig, which sounds better when he's trying to fleecing people. Backmatter includes a glossary and bibliography. Pizzoli's stylish illustrations combine flat, graphic elements with archival photography; he imagines the enigmatic Miller as a faceless figure with a thumbprint for a head.

The premise of the book is rather straightforward. The story opens slowly of Lustig's early career and first con jobs, but picks up when the man conceived of a wild plan to sell the Eiffel Tower to a scrap dealer. In those days, the Eiffel Tower was not the beloved icon it is now, and tearing it down was not an outlandish idea. Posing as a municipal employee, Lustig sells bids on the tower's scrap value. The victim who wins is too embarrassed to report his loss to the police, and Lustig gets away with it – the first time.

All in all, Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower is an appealingly colorful, deadpan account of a remarkably audacious and creative criminal.
April 9, 2020
This biography details Robert Miller's life as he pulls off more and more complicated cons the most insane of which is selling the Eiffel Tower not once but TWICE. This picture book took me on a journey with Robert Miller, or Count Victor Lustig as he liked to go by, as he travelled throughout Europe and the US scheming people and making himself rich. This book is definitely geared towards 5th and 6th grade as it touches on Prohibition and other historical contexts.

I would use this book to grab my students attention at the beginning of a unit about Europe or, more specifically, France. I found this book so interesting and I know that students would too so I would use it to teach about the topics and historical contexts touched on throughout the book. Another way I would use this book is to teach about different text structures. This picture book is relatively unique in that it has lots of factual information presented in the margins in order to inform the reader of what the story is talking about. This would be important to help my students learn how to comprehend what they are reading and I could use this to teach them the importance of noticing all parts of a text and what the author is trying to get across to them.

This is a WOW book for me because I was fascinated while reading it. The whole idea of a picture book about illegal activity drew me in and I could not stop reading it once I started. I wanted to know so desperately how this man had managed to sell the Eiffel Tower and the book did not disappoint in building that suspense. I liked how the author did such a good job of explaining topics that might be foreign to the readers as they were to me!

Profile Image for Halee.
144 reviews
January 25, 2016
This book was such delightful read!

I borrowed this from the library and I had no idea it would be so educational AND entertaining at the same time. This is the story of a con artist who lived from 1890 to 1947, his name was Robert Miller. (Although his disguised himself as Count Victor Lustig, Count Victor and Tricky Vic.)

Robert fooled many people, stole money from even more, and even tricked Al Capone!
Although he did spend some time in Paris, France, he spent most of his life either running away, or in Alcatraz prison.

Robert was a VERY clever guy! He tricked people into thinking he was taking down the Eiffel tower (which led them to almost selling the metal), while awaiting trial in The Federal House Of Detention in New York, he escaped from the window using tied together bed sheets!

If you like history or just a quick, fun, educating read, pick this book up! Not only will you enjoy reading about his life, but you'll also be learning about the man who is none other than the person who sold the Eiffel tower.
Profile Image for Robin Yardi.
Author 3 books89 followers
September 8, 2014
I loved the sneaky peek I got into TRICKY VIC. If I'd had this book when I was teaching third grade I know exactly who I would have handed it to first.

"Check it out," I would have whispered. "It's about a conman who gets into a knife fight on PAGE TWO. He sells the Eiffel tower, even though he didn't own it, cons a famous gangster, even though he was new in town, gets caught and then escapes from prison by scaling a building... pass it on when you're done and DON'T show it to Mrs. V."

I think it would have raced through my classroom like a secret passed from ear to ear.

Greg Pizzoli's art and words in TRIKY VIC have a deadpan, quirky humor while maintaining more straightforward nonfiction conventions (e.g. his carefully researched text, glossary, and author's note). It's interesting without being sensational... pass it on!
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,822 reviews284 followers
July 13, 2016
Having known Greg Pizzoli from his fun little picture books like Number One Sam and Templeton Gets His Wish, I was taken aback when I saw he's written Tricky Vic: The Man Who Stole the Eiffel Tower; Tricky Vic is a complex nonfiction story for children. But don't let that keep you from this little delight of a book. Tricky is a wonderful story of a bad guy who runs scams on people, including the almost-unbelievable scam of selling the Eiffel Tower. It's breathtaking in the rich meanderings of the plot, and it's all true. Take a look.
Profile Image for Becky R..
458 reviews81 followers
June 27, 2015
Really interesting background about a famous criminal managed to swindle people out of money in a lot of different ways. The fact that he convince people to buy the steel in the Eiffel Tower is pretty crazy. This is just a good all-round history, picture book.
Profile Image for Earl.
3,495 reviews39 followers
December 15, 2015
Fascinating read for anyone who loves a good con- as long as they aren't the mark! And, Robert Miller definitely duped a lot of people including Scarface himself, Al Capone. I enjoyed reading his multiple schemes. Unique artwork accompanies this middle reader nonfiction picture book.
Profile Image for Liz B.
1,685 reviews17 followers
February 17, 2016
The intriguing story of an early 20th century con man...which is a kind of weird topic for a children's picture book. I decided I wasn't quite ready to explain con men to my 8 year old...but I do wonder if there's a middle grade nonfiction book on this guy.
Profile Image for Lisa D.
3,024 reviews23 followers
April 7, 2015
What a great book! Kids will love it!
Profile Image for Maria.
Author 18 books22 followers
April 9, 2015
A con man. Paris. Greg Pizzoli's illustrations. What's not to love?
Profile Image for Amy.
844 reviews44 followers
April 28, 2015
This is the book I'll end up showing a student just to prove to them how vast the world of nonfiction is.

Will probably use those quotation marks as a reading mentor, too.
564 reviews
January 21, 2017
Quick, interesting read about a piece of history I never knew...a con artist who actually sold The Eiffel Tower...when he didn't own it or have the right to do such a thing! Fun to read
44 reviews2 followers
September 10, 2020
Robert Miller, or Victor Lustig, as he was known by many, was a con artist on the move. "Tricky Vic" ran with any idea that came his way, like gambling schemes on cruises, counterfeit money stored in a subway locker, or selling fake rights to the Eiffel Tower. This exciting, page-turning story tells the unbelievable account of a man who did it all!

This is one of those books that tells a story you wouldn't ever believe is true! Every page was a new crazy story that kept you wanting to read more. The book was written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, who was very intentional with both aspects of his book. Not unlike the words themselves, the illustrations are brilliant: simple, yet intuitive and humorous. Victor Lustig's head was always displayed as a fingerprint, adding an air of mystery to the mystery man himself! Pizzoli included sidebars of relevant historical information, such as the role of the prohibition era and the history of Alcatraz.

I would recommend this book to any classroom! It is another non-fiction picture book done right, engaging students who love mystery, schemes, and history all at once. Any upper elementary classroom would be on the edge of their seats as they discover more and more about this con artist's story! This book would be a fun addition to any history class coinciding with the era in which this book takes place, even if just for the fun of it!
43 reviews
September 10, 2020
Summary: This is the true story of a con man from the 19th century who jumped from scheme to scheme essentially tricking people into giving him money. From pretending to be a Count on a transatlantic cruise, to selling fake money replication machines, the infamous Tricky Vic knew how to con. This book describes all his schemes (that we know of) and how exactly he pulled them off.

Opinion: I enjoyed reading this book. Some of the cartoon illustrations and their conversations were pretty funny. It was also interesting learning about how he pulled all his tricks off, as well as seeing some pictures of real documents and diagrams relating to his life and his schemes. Not sure if I should be recommending this for kids though because it makes Tricky Vic sound so cool it may actually make them want to be a conman??

How I would use it: This book could be used in a class setting if you were learning about prohibition and history of the US government. You could also have students do a research project relating to something with the book. Topics could include, Al Capone, Alcatraz, prohibition, counterfeit money or how police solve crimes.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 252 reviews

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