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The Big Con par [Maurer, David]
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Longueur : 337 pages Word Wise: Activé Composition améliorée: Activé
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Description du produit


A Word About Confidence Men

The grift has a gentle touch. It takes its toll from the verdant sucker by means of the skilled hand or the sharp wit. In this, it differs from all other forms of crime, and especially from the heavy-rackets. It never employs violence to separate the mark from his money. Of all the grifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat.

Although the confidence man is sometimes classed with professional thieves, pickpockets, and gamblers, he is really not a thief at all because he does no actual stealing. The trusting victim literally thrusts a fat bank roll into his hands. It is a point of pride with him that he does not have to steal.

Confidence men are not "crooks" in the ordinary sense of the word. They are suave, slick, and capable. Their depredations are very much on the genteel side. Because of their high intelligence, their solid organization, the widespread connivance of the law, and the fact that the victim must virtually admit criminal intentions himself if he wishes to prosecute, society has been neither willing nor able to avenge itself effectively. Relatively few good con men are ever brought to trial; of those who are tried, few are convicted; of those who are convicted, even fewer ever serve out their full sentences. Many successful operators have never a day in prison to pay for their merry and lucrative lives spent in fleecing willing marks on the big-con games.

A confidence man prospers only because of the fundamental dishonesty of his victim. First, he inspires a firm belief in his own integrity. Second, he brings into play powerful and well-nigh irresistible forces to excite the cupidity of the mark. Then he allows the victim to make large sums of money by means of dealings which are explained to him as being dishonest--and hence a "sure thing." As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him. He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from his friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients. In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fatted for the kill. Thus arises the trite but none the less sage maxim: "You can't cheat an honest man."

This fine old principle rules all confidence games, big and little, from a simple three-card monte or shell game in a shady corner of a country fair grounds to the intricate pay-off or rag, played against a big store replete with expensive props and manned by suave experts. The three-card-monte grifter takes a few dollars from a willing farmer here and there; the big-con men take thousands or hundreds of thousands from those who have it. But the principle is always the same.

This accounts for the fact that it has been found very difficult to prosecute confidence men successfully. At the same time it explains why so little of the true nature of confidence games is known to the public, for once a victim is fleeced he often proves to be a most reluctant and untruthful witness against the men who have taken his money. By the same token, confidence men are hardly criminals in the usual sense of the word, for they prosper through a superb knowledge of human nature; they are set apart from those who employ the machine-gun, the blackjack, or the acetylene torch. Their methods differ more in degree than in kind from those employed by more legitimate forms of business.

Modern con men use at present only three big-con games, and only two of these are now used extensively. In addition, there are scores of short-con games which seem to enjoy periodic bursts of activity, followed by alternate periods of obsolescence. Some of these short-con games, when played by big-time professionals who apply the principles of the big con to them, attain very respectable status as devices to separate the mark from his money.

The three big-con games, the wire, the rag, and the pay-off, have in some forty years of their existence taken a staggering toll from a gullible public. No one knows just how much the total is because many touches, especially large ones, never come to light; both con men and police officials agree that roughly ninety per cent of the victims never complain to the police. Some professionals estimate that these three games alone have produced more illicit profit for the operators and for the law than all other forms of professional crime (excepting violations of the prohibition law) over the same period of time. However that may be, it is very certain that they have been immensely profitable.

All confidence games, big and little, have certain similar underlying principles; all of them progress through certain fundamental stages to an inevitable conclusion; while these stages or steps may vary widely in detail from type to type of game, the principles upon which they are based remain the same and are immediately recognizable. In the big-con games the steps are these:

1. Locating and investigating a well-to-do victim. (Putting the mark up.)

2. Gaining the victim's confidence. (Playing the con for him.)

3. Steering him to meet the insideman. (Roping the mark.)

4. Permitting the insideman to show him how he can make a large amount of money dishonestly. (Telling him the tale.)

5. Allowing the victim to make a substantial profit. (Giving him the convincer.)

6. Determining exactly how much he will invest. (Giving him the breakdown.)

7. Sending him home for this amount of money. (Putting him on the send.)

8. Playing him against a big store and fleecing him. (Taking off the touch.)

9. Getting him out of the way as quietly as possible. (Blowing him off.)

10. Forestalling action by the law. (Putting in the fix.)

The big-con games did not spring full-fledged into existence. The principles on which they operate are as old as civilization. But their immediate evolution is closely knit with the invention and development of the big store, a fake gambling club or broker's office, in which the victim is swindled. And within the twentieth century they have, from the criminal's point of view, reached a very high state of perfection.

Présentation de l'éditeur

'Of all the gifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat, ' wrote David Maurer, a proposition he definitively proved in The Big Con. A professor of linguistics who specialised in underworld argot, Maurer won the trust of hundreds of swindlers. They let him in on not simply their language, but their folkwrys and the astonishingly complex and elaborate schemes whereby unsuspecting marks, hooked by their own greed and dishonesty were 'taken off' - i. e. , cheated - of thousands upon thousands of dollars. The products of amazing ingenuity, crack timing and attention to every last detail, these 'big cons', as thoroughly scripted and rehearsed as any Hollywood production, richly deserve Maurer's description as 'the most effective swindling device which man has ever invented. ' The Big Con is a treasure trove of American lingo (the write, the rag, the pay-off, ropers, shills, the cold poke and the convincer) and indeliable characters (Yellow Kid Weil, Barney the Patch, the Seldom-Seen Kid, Limehouse Chappie and Larry the Lug). First published in 1940, The Big Con makes compelling reading whilst being the most authentic and utterly authoritative study on the con artist and his game.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 969 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 337 pages
  • Editeur : Cornerstone Digital; Édition : New Ed (31 août 2011)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B005F3GL6E
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6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great Coverage - 7 juin 2013
Par Loyd Eskildson - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
I read 'The Big Con' because it reportedly provides the basis for the movie 'The Sting.' The book was originally published in 1940, and recently republished. Author Maurer, a Louisville professor, took his research seriously and is credited with having conducted numerous interviews with some of the men who conducted these cons. One of the con leaders referenced is a man named Gondorff, who got his start in 1900 New York City. Gondorff is also the name of the con taken for a ride by Newman and Redford in the movie. Gondorff took a New Britain banker for $375,000 - about $11 million in today's dollars.

Maurer's well-written book begins with an overview that describes the best cons as combining intelligence, broad general knowledge, acting ability, and improvisational skills. A 'short con' involves taking the pigeon for all the money he has on his person, while the 'big con' sends him home to get more. All con games employ the victim's greed as a lever. In all of them the mark is induced to participate in an extralegal money-making machine that requires and investment. The cruder mechanisms are simple bait-and-switch devices; in the most sophisticated the victim may never realize he's been bilked, merely registering the outcome as a failed gamble.

The con game always has at least a 'roper' and the 'inside man' who bounce the victim between them. The high and elegant style of the big con described in this book as decline, perhaps disappeared, due to changing technology. Communications are now faster and more widely available. Relatively few good con men are ever brought to trail - the victim must virtually admit criminal intentions himself to prosecute, and about 90% never do. Of those con men who are tried, few are convicted.

The steps in a big con are: 1)Locating a well-to-do victim. 2)Gaining the victim's confidence. 3)Steering him to meet the inside man (roping). 4)Permitting the inside man to show him how he can make a large amount of dishonest money. 5)Allowing the victim to profit. 6)Determining how much he will invest. 7)Sending him home for that amount. 8)Playing him against a 'big store' and fleecing him. 8)Getting him out of the way as quietly as possible. 9)Forestalling action by the law.

An early version of the big con ('fight store') involved staged fights between a traveling millionaire and his boxer, vs. a supposed local champion, with a fake doctor also involved. An 'employee' of the millionaire supposedly out for revenge and in cahoots with the millionaire's favored boxer would solicit participation by others in a supposed rigged dive. However, the champion would land a surprise hard blow to the challenger's chest, the challenger would fall to the ground, and the 'doctor' pronounced him dead. The victim loses his bet, and all fled to avoid being entangled in a manslaughter investigation (prize fighting then was illegal, and there would be few attendees). The record take for this con is believed to have been $50,000; this con faded when prize-fighting became legal around 1915.

Another version, 'the wire,' was invented just prior to 1900. The con men convinced the victim that with the connivance of a corrupt Western Union official they could delay race results long enough to place a bet after the race ended. Two fake setups were used - in one a Western Union office was established, along with a horse race room located elsewhere with a telegraph, odds board, bookmaker, and shills winning and losing large sums of money to whet the victim's appetite. In the 'economy version,' the cons would sneak into a real Western Union office, until the company put a stop to this. 'The rag' was a variation of this that convinced victims the mob's inside man was manipulating stock prices.

Lou Blonger was kingpin of an extensive ring of confidence tricksters operating for over 25 years in Denver. His gang set up rooms resembling stock exchanges and betting parlors to convince tourists to put up large sums to secure delivery of stock profits or winning bets. He had long-term ties do politicians and law enforcement in Denver, including the mayor and police chief. In 1922, however, the district attorney (Blonger had offered election assistance) bypassed the police and used his own force, funded by secret donations from 31 wealthy locals, to bring Blonger and the ring to justice after a year of investigation - including spying on him from a building a cross the street, installing a Dictaphone inside his office (did not require a search warrant at that time), and allowing a crooked detective to work inside his office and feed Blonger misleading information.

The Denver attorney general then made it known in the summer of 1923 that he was going on a long fishing vacation, signaling the gang that the heat was off. Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet showed up at this very time - after having been twice scammed by other gangs (taken for $45,000 in 1919 attempting to take advantage of 'inside information on stock trades) and hunting for the men who had swindled him. (Some had already been imprisoned.) Norfleet spend five years and $75,000 tracking down the swindlers, but lived to age 102.

Maurer reports that a roper was considered doing rather well if he brought in 2 - 4 victims/year, though one in Florida succeeded in bringing in three in one 1922 week. The one inviolable rule was to never bring in a local resident; some ropers used advertisements soliciting business opportunities or offers to buy businesses. Maurer's book provides both an overview of how the major big cons (and some of their simplifications) worked, but details of how typical conversations by the various players proceeded. The sophistication and cleverness involved is quite impressive - typically beginning with a proposal to buy eg. a business from the victim, then evolving into another 'opportunity' while the lawyers etc. are freed up to complete the deal.

The 1930s brought greater involvement of the federal government, and ended perpetrators' ability to hide behind corrupt local officials.
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Good read 13 juin 2017
Par DJ - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This is the book that the writer of the movie, The Big Chill, based their script elements on., It is a great compendium of early 1900's con slang and the working of the big three cons of the day. This is a non-fiction book written by a professor and it reads that way at times. It gets redundant at times, but a good treatise on the art of the con, written with some affection to the griffters. While nonfiction, it is clear that Maurer lost most of his objectivity while working on this, so the book comes off a bit romanticizes and nostalgic. Good scholarship? Probably not. Good read? Absolutely!
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great anecdotes, great insight 25 mars 2012
Par rch - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Stories about con men and criminals are good to use as anecdotes and metaphors. The Big Con does this well and if that was all it did it would be worth having. What I didn't realize is that Maurer's book is the definitive academic piece on early 20th-century crime. As in, he also wrote an entire book on the linguistics of the underworld (which is interesting to think about considering how commonly we use their phrases - grift, rag, con, the fix, blowing him off) and wrote the Britannica article for "slang." You would probably be well served to explore a few of the biographies of the characters in the book, although the 48 Laws of Power does a good job with some of the highlights.

The one thing to take away: con men exploited the desire of wealthy people to get something for nothing and their willingness to break the rules to do so. Avoid that weakness, even if we don't have to worry about roving bands of con men as much anymore.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Big Con | a perfect guide for the casual enthusiast 3 août 2016
Par pooled ink Reviews - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
pooled ink Reviews:
4.5 Stars

“Of all the grifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat.”

THE BIG CON is a casual narrative that eases you into the world of the modern (1940s) confidence man as its pages offer you true third party insight with the occasional tale or anecdote from those who actively play the game. Educational, amusing, informative, and a remarkably quick read this book provides all that is needed for the casual enthusiast.

Non-fiction is pretty hit-or-miss for me but the narrative that spun this research together drew me in immediately. It felt so conversational I became eager to hear him out and learn what was being offered. And what Maurer was offering was a base of history, a trove of secrets, and a smile of stories straight from the horse’s mouth.

Read my FULL review here: [...]
12 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fascinating read 23 décembre 2010
Par Kindle Paul - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
I was a bit worried that the book would be too dated - mostly in the language. I was expecting something like Dashiell Hammett. Enjoyable, but you're constantly reminded that those days are gone. That's not the case here. The book could have been written yesterday from a language perspective, and any linguistic idiosyncrasies are specific to the language of the con man.

As some people have noted, it can be repetitive, but that's because most "big" cons (those where the con men work in large teams and have established locations) are very similar in essence; only the execution and specifics are different.

I found it to be very interesting, both from a technical perspective on how things were done, as well as a sociological perspective.
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