Author(s): Terry Williams, Trevor B. Milton
Published by Columbia University Press Genres: History
When I started reading Con Men I was expecting stories about big time cons in New York. I was thinking about the classic con men like we see in the The Sting, The Grifters, or Catch Me If You Can. That really isn’t what this book is about. This book is about the street level hustler. The guys paying three card monte and running scams on neighborhood stores.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book. If you are looking for a behind the scenes look on how someone can talk tourists out of their money, convince a store to let merchandise walk out the front door, or set up Ponzi schemes, then this book delivers. The authors spend years with scam artists plying the streets of New York and delivers an amazing view into that world you can’t get from reading news accounts or trial transcripts. They tell you not only how they pulled some of their cons, but what they were thinking when they did it and why the cons work. You get a peek into the mindset of the hustlers themselves.
The one drawback I have is that the authors can’t quite seem to get out of their own way. As sociologist, they lay out reasons why people become hustlers and the economic issues that keep them there. While it’s interesting, it wasn’t want I wanted in this book and it detracted from the parts I enjoyed. It was distracting to jump from a first-hand account of a con to what seemed like a cliff notes version of an academic paper. It’s a hard goal, trying to educate your audience and be a story teller at the same time, and sadly this book seems to vacillate between the two rather than find a happy medium.
If you have an interest in the short con or want to know more about street level hustlers, this is the book to pick up. Just be prepared to skim some sections.
Review by Travis Starnes