The Believers

I can find no coverage of this book in the American press. I realize it is not available in America but it seems like an important book. The following is the only article I’ve found about this new book.

From the Irish Times:

BOOK OF THE DAY: The Believers: How America Fell for Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion Investment Scam By Adam LeBor Weidenfeld Nicolson 255pp, £18.99

WHY ARE people so engrossed by jailed überfraudster Bernard Madoff? White-collar criminals have never been a particular fascination of mine, and it’s hardly news that you can’t trust a Wall Street financier with your money, yet over the past year I’ve succumbed to Madoff mania.

I’ve noted with Schadenfreude the names of Madoffed celebrities, eagerly clicked through slideshows of the auctioned-off mansions and followed the Vanity Fair debate about whether Ruth Madoff, his wife, deserves opprobrium or sympathy, or indeed the $2.5 million (€1.7 million) in property assets she was allowed to keep.

People are fascinated by Madoff because the colossal scale of his deception outstrips all similar scams and makes rogue traders such as Nick Leeson and John Rusnak seem like second-division shoplifters.

Adam LeBor’s excellent book, written with perfect restraint, explores how it came to pass that a staggering $65 billion imploded in December 2008 when Madoff admitted that his investment business was “one big lie”.

Why were so many financially literate people duped by Madoff? Why did they so often break the cardinal rule of investing – always diversify – and give all of their cash to “uncle Bernie”? And why were the many red flags ignored by regulators, allowing the Ponzi scheme to devour money for longer than Madoff himself thought possible?

As the title suggests, the book is not a biography of Madoff but a study of his “cult”. LeBor posits that it helps to think of Madoff as a godlike figure whose sociopathic ability to deceive was outweighed only by the vanity of his victims.

He practised what is known as “affinity fraud”, targeting what was ostensibly his own community, the Jewish elite of Manhattan, Long Island and Palm Beach. In fact, he would not have felt entirely part of their crowd as he was descended from poor eastern European Jewish immigrants rather than from the Yekkes, the rich German Jews who got there first. These urban professional Jews feared (correctly) that the arrival of slum-dwelling “Ostjuden” would trigger anti-Semitism.

LeBor goes along with the theory that, as the eastern European Jews never forgot the Yekkes’ disdain, Madoff would have harboured deep resentment for the country-club base he fleeced for decades. Even after the millions rolled into his successful (and legitimate) share trading company, Bernie and Ruth only made it as far as East 64th Street. The real establishment had penthouses on Park Avenue.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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