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The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  3,595 ratings  ·  484 reviews
From the New York Times bestselling author of Mastermind, a compelling investigation into the minds, motives, and methods of con artists—and the people who fall for their cons over and over again

While cheats and swindlers may be a dime a dozen, true conmen—the Bernie Madoffs, the Jim Bakkers, the Lance Armstrongs—are elegant, outsized personalities, artists of persuasion
Kindle Edition, 340 pages
Published January 12th 2016 by Viking (first published 2015)
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When I was in my mid-teens I came home from school one day to find my father reading a letter. He asked me to look at it, and it was a badly typed message full of misspellings that was my first encounter with the Nigerian prince con although I didn’t know it at the time.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“It’s a scam,” I replied.

At that point he actually got irritated with me and started pointing out a bunch of reasons why it could be legitimate. I was beyond shocked that the man who had constantly
Sep 23, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't wowed by this book, slow beginning.... uses pseudo science to back up some of its claims and it really doesn't offer any advice in how to avoid getting scammed .. so what was the point .... I read a 300 page book just to be told what I already know , people who want to believe are the ones who get lied to ..... really is this new? .... ...more
Clumsy Storyteller
“We aren’t robbers, you and I. To rob a fool, you don’t need knives: Just flatter him, tell him sweet lies, And he is yours for life. ” 

Before i start reviewing this book i want you to understand what doesn the word "con man" mean ! A man who cheats or tricks someone by gaining their trust and persuading them to believe something that is not true. It’s all about manipulating someone’s beliefs, Con artists are evil human beings, with malicious intentions and no conscience sounds familiar ? oh ye
Shweta Ramdas
Why is the 'oldest profession in the world' the con-man? Why do perfectly educated and intelligent people fall for cons that are immediately obvious to onlookers? And how did people like Bernie Madoff lure hordes of people? Maria Konnivova dives deep into the art of the con: the steps that lead up to it, and those aspects of human psychology that con-men exploit. Our ability to trust, our circumstances in life, our belief that something exceptional *can* happen to us, our over-exaggerated optimi ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
There's nothing like a good scam. I love scams in books and movies -- Ocean's Eleven, Catch Me If You Can, The Sting. I suspect I'd be a lot less charmed if I were to encounter one in real life though.

I feel simultaneously prepared for scams and resigned to being a dupe after reading Maria Konnikova's The Confidence Game. She describes different types of scams and cons with plenty of examples. People who have impersonated others, grifters, shell game artists, they're all here, and it's fascinat
Lance Charnes
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who want to know why The Sting could be a documentary
Whenever we read about some con job that nets a sucker or ten, the first thing across our minds is: how could they possibly have fallen for that? It's such an obvious scam! What were they thinking?

According to psychologist/author Maria Konnikova, they were thinking the same way we would. In their shoes, we'd have been saps, too.

In the 1950s, linguist David Maurer called confidence men the "aristocrats of crime." Unlike most other crimes, the con requires us to become willing participants in our
This book has a wealth of information about those who con and those who are conned. It’s also easy to understand. But it’s not organized in the reader’s best interest. It’s organized in a way that best suits the author, who has no problem continuously jumping around from century to century, and who can easily remember every con mentioned in the book. That’s a shame, too, because Ms. Konnikova's book could have been a better help to the general public. Although when it comes right down to it, mos ...more
Mar 03, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Good but... repetitive, and as others have mentioned, oddly organized. Could have been shorter by a third. The research is there--interesting and impressive--but no bibliography or footnotes. An easy, even breezy, read but for the repetition, the constant circling back.
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After 30th page, I have no patience to go on. Best it's over. ...more
Kressel Housman
Maria Konnikova is an expert on con artists. A year or so ago, she did a podcast based on this book called “The Grift,” which is the original name for a Ponzi scheme. She’s also a frequent guest on Mike Pesca’s podcast in a regular feature they call, “Is That Bulls***t?” So I went into this book with a fair bit of familiarity with what she’d say, but I really recommend both the book and the podcast. There’s definitely overlap, but there are also unique stories in each, and let’s face it: there’s ...more
Julia Milner
I was drawn to this book because I recently came thisclose to buying into a multi-level marketing scheme and, as a result, felt compelled to learn more about why we are all susceptible to manipulation and persuasion by con artists. I thought Maria Konnikova's explanations of the psychology and methods of cons/scams were engaging and well-researched. I particularly enjoyed the detailed true stories of cons, both recent and historic, and Konnikova's ability to link her findings to general statemen ...more
This is really entertaining, especially the first third of it, but it did kind of start to feel directionless, maybe because it switches directions so much. There are a bunch of interesting stories interspersed with pop psych looks at what behavior and tendencies con artists are targeting, but it all ends up feeling a bit thin eventually.

Then there's this, in reference to the many impostors who cropped up over the years pretending to be Anastasia Romanov, "the Russian princess whose body was nev
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those nonfiction books where the information is amazing and so interesting, and the organization of that information is head-scratchingly weird. But overall, it's good stuff! ...more
Don Gorman
(1 1/2). This book is a good news, bad news proposition. The chapters are mostly set up with a case study describing the kind of con or deception that it is about. Those recounts are very interesting and seem very contemporary, regardless of when they occurred. The rest of each chapter then goes into the psychology of why we (humans) react in the manner that we do and why we are duped. Like in many business and other non-fiction books (Tom Friedman for example), that part gets very repetitive an ...more
Daniel Siegel
This book should be a hit with people who have a passing interest in cons and psychology, but I was hoping for something a little more focused. The writing flits capriciously between dense with psychological facts and breezily anecdotal, which lead me to fatigue a bit by the time I was halfway finished. I would have rated this book 2 stars had I not found a number of interested takeaways (and no, not takeaways in how to run cons).
Conor Ahern
This book is a thorough and absolutely fascinating exploration of human psychology and the traits we all harbor (to some degree) that make us vulnerable to exploitation and trickery. It explores not only the foibles con artists exploit to get us to trust them (as well as to take from us what they want, once that trust is earned), but also the powerful impulse we have to disbelieve that we could have been duped. Psychological research (if not intuition) shows that it's far easier to reaffirm the ...more
Nancy Kennedy
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recently, my father, his cousin and my spouse all fell (or nearly fell) for fraudulent scams. Two of them got the phone calls about the grandchild being in Mexico and needing cash. My spouse got the call about his computer needing to be repaired to the tune of $200. So, I've been thinking a lot about this issue lately: How are we so easily scammed?

Maria Konnikova's book is dense with psychological facts and theories surrounding this question. She opens her book with a case study concerning a sur
This was a fascinating book--not so much about specific types of cons, though some are mentioned in detail--focusing on the psychology of con artists and their victims. Of particular note, it looks at some of the newest psychological research to examine why people fall prey to these crimes, and why they work so well. I'm sure the subtitle is going to jar some potential readers, since we all have our pet theories as to who 'deserves' to be conned and why we ourselves won't become victims. But as ...more
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading the stories, background, and perspectives of these cons. I feel that by reading this, I'm better equipped to spot a scam and avoid being taken. Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC! ...more
Fred Forbes
Sep 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got into this book for a fairly sad reason. A dear friend recently passed away. He had been suffering from heart and pulmonary issues as well as diabetes. Retired, well educated professional living alone. The attorney handling estate issues told me that my friend had been scammed. From the local bank account representing his emergency reserves he had sent $25k to a Western Union address, another $25k in gift cards. The autopsy showed he died from an overdose of his medications. (Note the polic ...more
Part of the problem here, I realize, is that I was hoping this would be a different book. I wanted a catalogue of classic confidence games, for two reasons: 1. Future writing research. 2. I wanted a final, definitive answer on whether the “biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever” from Ocean’s 11 is a real game. I did not get what I was hoping for.

But even discounting that: this is a stodgy and depressing read. The writing is fine, but the story portions are, for obvious reasons, both sad and repetitive. Pe
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a compelling exploration of the con — its history and most famous perpetrators, as well as the psychology of both the criminal and his mark. There were so many fascinating nuggets here, but I think the most important take away is that no one is immune from being conned.
Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent vehicle for pop-psychology, and I say this as someone who has recently become bored with pop-psychology books that all seem to mention a lot of the same studies and effects.

Fascinating book!
Sally Britton
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fascinating look into the psychology of both con artists and their victims, with both historical and modern examples. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
I won this book on goodreads and started reading it when it arrived on December 3rd. On January 8th, goodreads sent me an email asking me what I thought of the book with a link to this review page. OK, goodreads, this is what I think so far (page 184 of 321):

The title irritates me. If it didn't have the "Every Time" tag at the end, it would be fine but we don't fall for every con game. Many many con attempts fail. (Check your email spam box if you want a few examples of ones you didn't fall for.
Andrew Scott
I have just finished this, and was commenting to my wife that it missed engaging thoroughly with what seemed to me one of the more interesting questions raised in David Mamet’s film, House of Games: whose confidence are we talking about - the grifter’s or the mark’s? And then I read that watching House of Games was what had prompted Konnikova to write the book, and that crystallised my reactions.

On the plus side, she has clearly done a lot of research, and collected a large number of interesting
Dick Reynolds
We’re treated to examples of and the rationale behind real life “cons” in such chapters titled The Put-Up, The Play and The Rope. There is also a chapter at the book’s end highlighting the (real) oldest profession. Hint: It’s not prostitution.
The common denominator in all these cons is the incredible gullibility of the “mark” or the person who is conned. But what about the con man (it’s almost always a man) who commits these white collar crimes? The true con man doesn’t force us to do anythin
Peter Fenton
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a reformed carnival con man, I was looking forward to answers why "marks" were willing to spend hundreds of dollars attempting to win a teddy bear they could have purchased for a few bucks at Toys r Us. The book has many, none of them new, but well worth repeating. When it comes to financial scams, from Wall Street to the carnival midway, it's all about, well, greed. Which means that anyone can be turned into a sucker--rich, poor, stupid or smart. Read this book before opening your wallet. ...more
Jaclyn Day
There is a lot of nonfiction in this vein that could ultimately be a longform article or blog post and still convey key points. Identifying common threads among con artists and the scams they run is an encouraging topic. 352 pages of it? Too long. This topic calls for a brisk, tight edit. To make matters worse, it read like someone composing Wikipedia summaries instead of writing from inherent knowledge of the topic.
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I like to read about confidence games and the con men who run them. This book has plenty of that. Also, some nice insights into the psychology of marketing and why companies might tend to "stay the course" with failing projects long after they should have cut their losses. ...more
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