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Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff

2.58  ·  Rating details ·  66 ratings  ·  11 reviews
The United States has always proved an inviting home for boosters, sharp dealers, and outright swindlers. Worship of entrepreneurial freedom has complicated the task of distinguishing aggressive salesmanship from unacceptable deceit, especially on the frontiers of innovation. At the same time, competitive pressures have often nudged respectable firms to embrace deception. ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published January 24th 2017 by Princeton University Press
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Ailith Twinning
Jun 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
Eh, more 2.5 than 3, but read it anyway, it's good for you.

This book is just damn boring. It's written, I really don't know -- it's almost like a stream of news headlines. It's just fact after disjointed fact, that gains some cohesion towards the very very end, but eschews any investigation at all.

Here's just one problem, but it bothers me a lot: The attempt to be unbiased is, in fact, bias. Like Fox News saying the jury is still out on Climate Change, here's two scientists to discuss it -- wh
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
The book is explicitly American, which means that it misses out on the earlier history, such as the South Sea bubble, but given the connection with America, I would have expected to see at least a mention of John Law's Mississippi project.

It also explicitly excludes individuals defrauding each other (con-men) and corporations (e.g. insurance fraud).

Given the fairly narrow scope (American frauds committed on a large scale by companies or company-like structures), the book is surprisingly long. Th
Scott Martin
May 08, 2017 rated it liked it
(Audiobook). I found myself split on what to rate this book. If this rating scheme offered 1/2s, then I would give this a 2.5 rating. The topic is timely, especially with the Great Recession and all the stories of financial and internet fraud. What this work highlights is that for the entire history of America, especially in business and financial transactions, there is always fraud in tow. The issues that faced individuals in the past, such as the inherent weaknesses of people to fall for such ...more
Robin Jose
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
How can a book talking about fraud be so unexciting? It comes across as comprehensive and thoughtful, but is handled in a pure historian style of literature. There’re lots of facts, serious analysis, and complex connections of business, law, ethics, politics and more. But there’s no spark, no style.  

It’s not a bad book by any means. You need to be invested in the subject to appreciate it. It just seems like a book intended for professors and students studying fraud as a class book topic. Clearl
Jul 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book reads like a history of fraud regulations. Candy for lawyers maybe, but for everyone else? Sooooooo boring. I literally said that to myself over and over as I tried to trudge through the endless droll text. I kept stopping and starting and eventually just turned in the towel before the end because I figured not finishing would add several happy hours onto my life that I would've otherwise spent banging my head against this book.
Jun 03, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle, An American History from Barnum to Madoff, is somewhat misleading. Balleisen certainly covers various types of fraud and many colorful perpetrators throughout history, but the main aim of this book is to document how government and industry have attempted to curtail fraud and reckon with those who commit it. The value of the book is in the detailed exploration of the back-and-forth between those who want to look out for consumers (the caveat venditor crowd), and those in the caveat ...more
Charles E.
I liked the book but the writing style is a bit dense and feels more like a textbook. I liked the historical description of past frauds and the relationship between new market development and the arrival of fraud. It also has a good perspective about the relationship between caveat emptor and govern regulation.

My one complaint is that there is very little treatment of Madoff despite the title.
Lucas Lowry
Jan 04, 2020 rated it did not like it
One of the few books I've tapped out on in recent years. Maybe I burned out on this topic, but this just kind of meandered through broad overviews too much. Kind of a like a cheap TV show about serial killers in general: too much listing of generally bad events without enough discussion, conclusions, or reason to keep reading about them.
Oct 01, 2018 added it
Shelves: phd-ing
I am not sure why this book is marketed towards non-academic readers. It is written (well, considering) for an audience of legal scholars and historians, tracking the evolution (or continuity) of laws, regulations and attitudes towards fraud from the nineteenth century to present. If you want a popular history with stories of scams, look elsewhere.
Feb 06, 2017 marked it as to-read
There are few fraudsters who aren’t worthy of American admiration in some sense of the word, Edward J. Balleisen reminds us in his new book, "Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff." Career grifters like P.T. Barnum, Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff are heroes so long as they are in the game; we only turn on them when they become goats. After all, the American Revolution was won by cleverness, with a dependence on spycraft, smuggling, and guerrilla warfare. The least extraordinary thing ...more
Paul Wildeisen
rated it it was ok
Jun 27, 2017
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Mar 09, 2019
Susan Hira
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Jan 02, 2020
Bryan Crook
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Apr 13, 2019
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Aug 22, 2017
John Rotondi
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May 02, 2017
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Jun 03, 2018
Steven Hoffer
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Oct 02, 2017
Kate Woods Walker
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Apr 11, 2018
Bob Lawless
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Apr 17, 2017
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Aug 13, 2019
Note: I received a digital galley of this book through NetGalley.
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Mar 25, 2020
Bob Ortblad
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Jul 19, 2017
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May 18, 2017
Filipe Garcia
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Apr 25, 2019
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Sep 05, 2017
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