“All of us believe, intrinsically and instinctively. We just differ on where we draw the line between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate.’ One man’s confidence artist is another man’s spiritual leader.”
To say I loved this book is an understatement, I may have brought it into being by sheer force of will, save for the fact that Anna Konnikova kept surprising me. It’s a good sign when a book arrives and you notice every cover blurb comes from a source you love; not only does Neil Gaiman praise the book, but Erik Larson’s endorsement compares it (accurately, in my estimation) to Malcolm Gladwell.
The book not only outlines how otherwise intelligent, capable people fall for what seems like obvious cons, it gives historical examples of famous deceptions to highlight the methods the con artists use and the means by which we fall for them – and make no mistake, no one is exempt from that “we;” not the author, and not this reviewer.
It is too easy to hear of someone being duped and think “that could never happen to me,” but chapter by chapter Konnikova breaks down precisely how circumstantial our credulousness is. Whether a matter of wanting to believe stems from greed or altruism, from a good or a bad mood, the con artist preys upon that desire to believe. Wanting a tale to be true is the only requirement.
The con artists themselves get a fair assessment as well; though the author does not excuse the criminals nor shy away from the damages done by their schemes, she does explore how one can deceive as well as how they could fall for the deception. For anyone prepared to entirely write off a person willing to decieve for power or profit, Konnikova elegantly points out that they merely see their marks en masse rather than as individuals, and that we ourselves do the same on a regular basis (with studies on charitable giving).
A brisk, engaging, accessible read; I now plan to seek out more of the author’s work.