Read Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend by Mitchell Zuckoff Online


It was a time when anything seemed possible–instant wealth, glittering fame, fabulous luxury–and for a run of magical weeks in the spring and summer of 1920, Charles Ponzi made it all come true. Promising to double investors’ money in three months, the dapper, charming Ponzi raised the “rob Peter to pay Paul” scam to an art form. At the peak of his success, Ponzi was rakinIt was a time when anything seemed possible–instant wealth, glittering fame, fabulous luxury–and for a run of magical weeks in the spring and summer of 1920, Charles Ponzi made it all come true. Promising to double investors’ money in three months, the dapper, charming Ponzi raised the “rob Peter to pay Paul” scam to an art form. At the peak of his success, Ponzi was raking in more than $2 million a week at his office in downtown Boston. Then his house of cards came crashing down–thanks in large part to the relentless investigative reporting of Richard Grozier’s Boston Post. A classic American tale of immigrant life and the dream of success, Ponzi’s Scheme is the amazing story of the magnetic scoundrel who launched the most successful scheme of financial alchemy in modern history....

Title : Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend
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ISBN : 9780812968361
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 416 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend Reviews

  • Eric_W
    2018-10-24 21:17

    It seems appropriate to finish this book a day after Madoff was sentenced to 150 years. The parallels to today's economic crash and Madoff are striking. A charismatic personality, connections with those in power, "too big to fail syndrome," a gullible and avaricious public coupled with an adoring media had people rushing to give Charles Ponzi their money. He was raking it in so fast that he reached $1 million per week with the possibility of $1 million per day not impossible.And this at a time when the average annual wage was $2,000. He promised returns of 50% in 45 days. Of course, those who cashed in early, willing to take a terrific return but not willing to spin the wheel more than once, did well. Part of the secret was the hint of secrecy, exclusivity, and his charming personality.Ponzi was an Italian immigrant of financially comfortable origins who landed in New York. He discovered that the streets were covered in an inch of mud rather than paved with the gold he had been promised. He had never worked a day in his life, but over the next four years managed to work at a number of humble jobs finally landing one as a bank teller in Canada. He soon became involved in a scheme at the bank and for his efforts was sentenced to prison in Canada. After his release, he figure it would be wise to return to the U.S. but ever the schemers he became involved with some other Italians and they were arrested at the border, he for suspicion of assisting illegal immigrants. He pled guilty, believing he would get a light sentence but was stunned to get a two-year sentence in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. (Why they didn't ship him back to Canada seems bizarre.) Anyway, the Atlanta federal prison was pretty cushy, it having been ordered by the feds, I suppose, for the inevitable time, when the legislators might have to go to prison and a gilded cage was better than just any cage. He made friends with Lupo, an Italian mafia gangster, but the warden also noted that Ponzi was always scheming and designing financial intrigues. Little did he know. So all the signs were there. The irony is that had Ponzi not been such a kind-hearted soul the scheme that bears his name might never have happened. Following his release from prison, he was determined to make some money legitimately. He held down several minor jobs but had a great idea for supplying power to small coal mines (coal was booming in Alabama at the time.) One of his jobs was as a nurse in a clinic. Another female nurse had been badly burned in a fire and the doctor happened to mention to Ponzi one day how difficult it was for him to find skin donors without which she might die. Ponzi was incensed and on the spot offered to be a donor immediately. The first donation was 75 sq. inches, the second determined to be needed a little later was another 50 sq. inches. He was hospitalized in pain and complications for several months. The girl lived but by the time he was released, his idea for supplying power to the mines had been co opted by others and he was forced to seek other menial employment, once as a librarian at a small college where he was eventually fired for his honesty in revealing the dishonesty of a faculty member -- who happened to be a friend of the college president.After marrying and moving back to Boston, following numerous attempts at get-rich-quick schemes, Ponzi hit upon one that perhaps only he, with his interest in currency manipulation, collecting stamps, and his interest in the Post Office, could have worked out. Before WW I the International Postal Treaty permitted sending postal coupons for use on return mail envelopes. The idea was that $1 in postal coupons would buy the equivalent in, say, French stamps to send mail back from a foreign country. After WW I there were vast differences in currency values. 5 cents in the US would buy a five cent stamp, but in Italy it would buy the equivalent of 10 cents in stamps. Pozi's idea was to purchase huge quantities of international postal coupons in countries with devalued currency and exchange them in the US. In the the example above the immediate profit would be 100%. He soon realized that enormous quantities of these coupons would be needed ($50 would buy a stack of Italian coupons over 73 feet high) and that the Post Office would not redeem the coupons for cash, only stamps. In the meantime, money was rolling in to fund his scheme which purported, in writing, to guarantee 50% profits in 90 days. His legitimate idea soon foundered on logistical problems and it shifted to what we now call the classic Ponzi scheme where early investors are paid off with money from later investors.The irony of it is -- and this is perhaps true of Madoff also -- that Ponzi really wanted nothing more than to be a legitimate businessman. It had hit upon a scheme that was technically legal and would work in very small amounts, but never at the scale it ballooned into.A fascinating account of a time with striking similarities to today and a morality tale: "if we don't learn our history, we're doomed to repeat it".

  • George
    2018-11-16 21:17

    AN AMAZING TRUE TALE TOLD WELL.“The air was tense with ill-suppressed excitement. Hope and greed could be read in everybody’s countenance, [or] guessed from the wads of money nervously clutched and waved by thousands of outstretched fists! Madness, money madness, the worst kind of madness, was reflected in everybody’s eyes!” (Kindle Locations 2731-2733)“…in the absence of hard evidence, too good to miss trumps too good to be true.” (Kindle Locations 1796-1797)Narcissistic,  self-delusional, and adorable: charismatic people are oftentimes their own worst enemies—more credulous than even their easiest marks—and, sometimes, a danger to themselves and to the community at large.  They're simply not like the rest of us.  Which is probably why we find them so fascinating.My all-time favorite charismatic, of fact or fantasy, is the irrepressible, fictional character, Professor Harold Hill, of Meredith Willson’s musical: The Music Man. It is in this tale that the crux of charisma is revealed, in a tender moment, when the purveyor of band instruments and band uniforms to the untalented high school sons of country rubes, dares to tell his local love interest, Marian, the librarian— “Somehow, I always believe there’s a band.”After reading Mitchell Zuckoff’s interesting and compressive biographical tale, Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend, I am convinced that Charles Ponzi, too, always believed there was a band. That he could, that he would, find a way to make good on all his extraordinary delusions; somehow. Ponzi, at least for now, tops the list of my favorite non-fictional charismatics.Recommendation: An amazing story, about an amazing man, an amazing time, and a pretty amazing city. I highly recommend reading this one.“In the remarkable seven months since it had opened for business, the Securities Exchange Company had amassed thirty thousand investors and $9.6 million. All Ponzi had to do to keep them satisfied was to pay them nearly $15 million in return.” (Kindle Locations 2743-2745)“Of all the get-rich-quick magnates that have operated, Ponzi is the king.” (Kindle Locations 4183-4184)Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 416 pages

  • Nancy Kennedy
    2018-10-23 22:18

    I love this kind of nonfiction read about a historical event or figure you think you know something about. Of course, we've all heard the term "Ponzi scheme." But I knew nothing about the man or the scandal that preceded the widespread adoption of that term for a particular kind of rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scam.Mitchell Zuckoff drew me right in with Charles Ponzi's original idea for a new kind of financial instrument: he meant to trade in international reply coupons as you would trade foreign currencies. I got the idea right away -- long ago I had to buy an international reply coupon in order to reserve a spot for the Ceremony of the Keys, the 900-year-old tradition of locking up the Tower of London for the night.After prodigious research, Mr. Zuckoff concludes that Ponzi might have had good intentions, even when the coupon scheme didn't pan out. Instead, Ponzi cast about for a legitimate business to which he could transfer the money people invested in the coupon scheme, so he could pay the promised 50 percent interest out of actual investments, rather than paying out money to old investors with deposits from new investors. I'm not so sure he had such pure intentions -- he showed little propensity to deal honestly with people and went to great pains to hide his identity and actions on some occasions. Oh, and there were those early stints in prison.As always, Mr. Zuckoff examines his topic in great detail, placing it colorfully into its time and place. I particularly wanted to read this book after reading his two books about World War II plane crashes, "Lost in Shangri-La" and "Frozen in Time." Believe me... this is what narrative nonfiction is all about. I wouldn't scam you!

  • Philip
    2018-11-05 21:36

    I couldn't put this down. If you are interested in understanding what has happened in today's markets in terms of general greed and outright fraud, you have to read this book. The drivers that led to this scheme are eerily similar to the drivers that have fueled the market collapse from over exuberance to outright fraud. It is almost frightening to see that little has changed when you compare Ponzi's scheme to Madoff's! For those of you familiar with the fall of communism in Russia, the MMM fund scandal is essentially the same story.

  • James
    2018-11-12 19:24

    This was good. Sort of in that K. Eichenwald niche of tick-tock business diaries with a looming comeuppance.

  • Bookmarks Magazine
    2018-11-02 23:32

    A journalism professor at Boston University, Zuckoff has written a solid biography of a great American legend. Zuckoff, who mined archival newspapers, almanacs, letters, and photographs, recreates intriguing characters. Greed may have driven Ponzi, who led a comfortable life in Italy, and yet the great schemer emerges as charismatic, clever, and even strangely lovable. The efficient narrative, despite some digressions, focuses on Ponzi's story and largely ignores the era's social and political milieu. At the same time, a parallel tale of young Boston publisher Richard Grozier competes for attention. Flaws aside, Ponzi's Scheme captures a compelling story. After all, wrote the Boston Post at the time, "Of all the get-rich-quick magnates _

  • Rob Hood
    2018-11-08 20:41

    I learned a bit, but I was disappointed. It dragged out way too much!

  • Christa
    2018-11-03 20:33

    Did anyone else see the similarities between Ponzi and Trump? I found it eerily familiar that the more trouble Ponzi found himself, the more lies and dishonesty he weaved, there was a core of citizens that became more enamored and defended him. The more the newspapers declared this is it, Ponzi's busted, the quicker Ponzi squirmed out of the predicament and increased his popularity with the working people. The story of Ponzi is more more fascinating than I would have thought, just knowing the term, "Ponzi scheme". What a life. I think the book could have been edited to flow better. I didn't need to many descriptions of characters aquiline nose, girth, or description of clothing on the various investors and characters. I didn't need names of so many investors and what they deposited. Just move the story along. But it does give a good description of the crazy 1920's and the financial picture of the times. Again, very similar to 2017. If you like biographies of people in the early 20th century, learning more about the time after WWI and before the crash of 1929, this gives a good portrait of the political climate and shenanigans or that time

  • Rick Steinmetz
    2018-11-09 02:16

    What a great book. Although he was clearly a criminal, his motives appeared to be benign. While detailing the financial scheme that is synonmous with his name, the author presents a human portrait that the reader cannot help but sympathize with. I found myself rooting for Ponzi to escape from his scheme and become legitimate. Obviously an intelligent character, he could have gone down in history for accomplishing something worthwhile had the right circumstances prevailed. Ponzi's tragic bet on being able to turn postal international reply coupons purchased at discounted rates into cold hard cash turned tragically wrong. Nevertheless, he sought out loans to remain solvent and pay back those whose investments he had secured, but alas eventually the walls came tumbling down. You cannot help but find yourself rooting for the man to beat the impossible odds that he faces as the story progresses.

  • Don
    2018-10-31 21:29

    Fantastic job. If every con artist was as personable as Ponzi, they wouldn't have such a bad name.

  • Christopher Febles
    2018-10-23 19:22

    I guess I like true crime

  • Donald Sherer
    2018-11-18 18:28

    Good read about a fascinating character.

  • David Glad
    2018-10-30 23:25

    Although in the endgame he might be historically regarded as a simple swindler and pale in comparison to a nephew (not actually related, of course) Bernie, author Zuckoff did an excellent job bringing Ponzi's story and the atmosphere of the time to life in vivid detail. This could well be seen as a (il)logical successor/supplemental reading to Charles Mackay's 1841 classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and might also make good comparison reading to Partnoy's The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals.It really seems mind-blowing that Ponzi's humble/crooked background could lead to so much wealth and power for a brief period even if the reader would likely think of it as like a lavish last meal before meeting the executioner. He also was skillful in wielding together various events to his advantage (in reality the real events were nothing of the sort) at least briefly and a lot of the things he said to the papers seems comical if it did not involve suffering and misery. Spoken without an apparent hint of irony, considering we have the benefit of knowing the reality that people of the time could at best see a haze. He definitely had strong skills as a confidence man in fooling some of the people all of the time and yes -- I cannot say with absolute certainty whether I would not have been fooled, but guessing had I been a very tender young age then, answer might be probably. (Among the handful who weren't included the pawn broker who dealt in hard collateral. Along with Dow Jones's legendary Clarence W. Barron, who noted how immoral it was that Ponzi was swindling fellow Italians among the many he conned.) Ponzi may have hired PR people, but he really was his own best PR representation and in one of the trials quite a capable lawyer despite lacking formal credentials.As screwed depositors lacked avenues to sue (book says they received about 37 cents on dollar of what they lent versus Wiki's sources claiming less than 30 cents), I would think this still ranks as the worst "rob Peter to pay Paul" scheme of all time. (A certain 13.5 billion dollar Ponzi scheme from 2008 saw "investors" at least getting back 59 cents on the dollar plus whatever is recovered from ongoing litigation. Extent of real losses when all is said and done might be almost apples to apples, even if difference is Ponzi lasted less than a year versus the SEC-registered former NASDAQ chairman who got away with it for nearly two decades. Speaking of, wonder if anyone notes the irony that Ponzi went by the name Securities Exchange Company where a government agency overseeing securities would go by a nearly identical name at launch some 14 years later to present.) Plus it seemed rather lenient he received about 10.5 years (would have only been 3.5 had it just been Federal and not state), but guess goes to show ripping off average people fetches a lot less than if you swindled the fabulously wealthy. Just the former are more likely to get physical, so you better continuously look over your shoulder..

  • Gerry Claes
    2018-10-22 23:38

    Charles Ponzi didn't invent the "Ponzi Scheme" he just took it to a whole new level. This is the story of a young Italian immigrant who has big plans to get rich but is a bit lacking in the area of ethics. A Ponzi Scheme is simply the old practice of "Robbing from Peter to pay Paul". In the early 1900's it was very difficult to send mail between countries so the United States and 62 other countries developed the International Reply Coupon which was essentially a stamp that was recognized by all of the participating countries. The international Reply Coupon could be purchased with the local currency and its value was set according to the value of each currency in 1906. Of course over time the value of each currency changed relative to another currency and by 1920 some of these swings were quite extensive.Ponzi figured out that he could buy Coupons in Italy at one price and sell them in the United States at a significantly higher price. He thought that if he collected enough money he could make a fortune not only for himself but for the people who invested in his scheme. What started out as a small venture soon grew to an enormous size as word spread. Ponzi promised his investors that they would earn 50% on their initial investment in 90 days. Theoretically this was possible as long as the scale was relatively small. There were a few problems with Ponzi's plan:#1. It was illegal to speculate in International Reply Coupons#2. There weren't enough International Reply Coupons in the world to support a scheme of his size#3. A 50% return in 90 days simply wasn't sustainableOf course in a very short time (months) all of this blew up in Ponzi's face and he ended up in jail where he continued to plan new get rich schemes.I found this book to be a real hoot. Maybe its because when I was in College I started a Ponzi scheme. I, and a few of the other original investors made a couple of hundred dollars but of course, most of the investors, like Ponzi's, lost all of their investment. This book is a light but very entertaining read.

  • Brad
    2018-10-20 21:29

    Great book on the life of Charles Ponzi. I knew virtually nothing about him, other than what a "Ponzi Scheme" was (rob Peter to pay Paul), but Zuckoff covered Ponzi in great detail, including the events that led to his downfall. He also was able to paint a picture of a complex man, not simply a picture of a guy who swindled thousands out of their money. It was interesting to learn that Ponzi underwent multiple surgeries to have skin surgically removed from his back, and donated to a woman he was friends with, because she was in need and suffered from some rare skin disease. In addition, something that can be attributed to his ego, Ponzi did not try and run from the authorities once the charges were brought, but stayed and fought them. Now he did try and flee later on after Mass. came back and tried him multiple times for different crimes, but it is interesting that he chose to stay and fight the federal charges in the beginning. It is also interesting of the time and era in which Ponzi's rise coincided with, the 1920s. This was a time when numerous "get-rich quick" schemes were in place, and a number of individuals jumped at the chance. Its interesting that the authorities did not catch on quicker than they did to what the Securities and Exchange Company was doing, however that is also an element of the times. Its interesting how a simple revelation regarding something as obscure as an international reply coupon led to Ponzi taking in millions from thousands of investors. Also interesting to note, is that Ponzi was first convicted of Mail Fraud, because that was the main way the Federal Government dealt with bribery of the public, when there was no official federal entity involved. Use of the mail had little to do with his business other than to remind investors that their return was available, but this was enough given the broad interpretation of the mail fraud statute, and honest services mail fraud.

  • Jay
    2018-11-14 20:16

    As I learned the story of Charles Ponzi, I was amazed at how it related to financial and business strategies in current times. I wasn't thinking about Bernie Madoff. I couldn't ever tell if Madoff had any ring of truth to his story about how he made spectacular returns. Ponzi had a story, one that did create spectacular returns, but in practice only for small amounts of money. That easily understandable germ of truth was what Ponzi built his scheme on, it was his genius to find it and promote the heck out of it. But the next part of Ponzi's scheme felt very familiar. After enrolling a huge number of fervent backers and building a bankroll that made him appear to be a leading financier, he started looking for ways to extract himself from the illegal part and build a legitimate business. In effect, the "Ponzi scheme" was just the first part of his story, but his attempt to move to his second act was the real story I found in this book. And how is this familiar? It's a lot like internet retail businesses from around the turn of the century. These companies created huge audiences, usually by buying them with prizes, discount deals, "investment deals", etc. These audiences were created in a way that it could be done one time given the investments required. Then the companies would need to turn and figure out a way to monetize those audiences, to figure out how they could make money given an audience. I think those companies faced the same kinds of "second act" issues that Ponzi faced. His ideas -- to buy into banks, to create new pools of money, to buy a fleet of boats-- were probably the best that could be done at the time, and equivalent to our nowadays selling of private information and placing focused ads to become more "legitimate". This book was a reminder that there are always ways to make money through fraud, and in an effort to make large amounts of money there are always people willing to repeat what has worked, and was hasn't, in the past.

  • Glenda
    2018-10-24 22:29

    From all the 4 and 5 star reviews, apparently a lot of people got more out of this book than I did. I had a tough time getting really engaged in the story (i.e., it wasn't the kind of book that I got lost in and looked forward to continuing, but more of a trudge through). I was annoyed at times when I felt that the author was writing in such a way to generate sympathy for Ponzi. The guy knowingly took a lot of people for money! He confessed at the end of his life to doing so! I admit that I have a personal bias, having known people that have lost a lot to similar schemes.I would have liked to have seen a bit more of an accounting for that, but the author addressed that by saying something along the lines of it not being possible/realistic. I wish I had read the notes in the epilogue first to know that things like "Rose blushed" was indeed, based on something written or captured in interview. I questioned repeatedly "how did Zuckoff have such detail all these years later" and it made me skeptical of the rest of the story. It was a sweet-ish love story with he and Rose, I will say that. There was considerable depth and coverage given to many of the "other" characters in the book, however, it felt off tangent. Really the book could also be about the rise and fall of the Boston Post.It didn't give me any new insight to the rob Peter to pay Paul schemes, or really any reason to understand why people do this - other than greed an laziness. Though yes, they are often brilliant and personable, able to con effectively so many. Which Ponzi clearly did, since many still supported him after the truth came out.

  • Valerie
    2018-11-14 21:29

    this was an excellent book. it was a little thick so i read other books in between it or maybe i just didn't want it to end. mitchell wrote the book in a way that made me feel like i was right there as ponzi's life was unfolding, so much so, i was cheering for ponzi to come out on top. i think mr. ponzi is the true representation of the scripture: the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. he loved money and so desired to be rich that he would do almost anything to obtain it. he did most of it, not only for himself but so that his mother would be proud of him and eventually his wife. he cared more about the outer ponzi rather than the person he was on the inside. he did things for show and to impress people. i do believe that he also wanted to help people get piece of the pie as well. unfortunately, he didn't go about it the proper way. i thought the man was brilliant and wished he could have used his brilliance for good. actually he wanted to get out of the scheme he was in several times into a legit business, but it never happened. he got in too deep and by that time, the people who despised him were already planning their witch hunt to take him down. i believe that had he not been pursued so mercilessly he would have paid every ponzi note that was out there, but with government officials, newspaper reporters, bankers hounding him on how he made his millions they invoked a fear in the people to redeem their notes earlier than anticipated, causing his funds to be rapidly depleted. up until then, he was honoring every ponzi note even if he was robbing peter to pay paul.

  • Joshua
    2018-10-28 01:15

    When I started Ponzi's Scheme by Mitchell Zuckoff I thought I'd enjoy the criminal element of the story of the legendary purveyor of fraud Charles Ponzi [I like reading about crime, graft, thievery and subjects of that sort], but I didn't expect to be so completely pulled into the economical house of cards that Ponzi became famous for. I was even moved at the end of the story which is really surprising considering Ponzi cost individuals and banks millions of dollars. The thing I just couldn't understand while reading it is why in the world didn't Ponzi just take a big chunk of his money and get the heck out of the USA and go back to Italy? I guess the never-wavering belief that he was smart enough to figure out a fraud so lucrative would also make him too smart to catch by fellow mortals around Boston. Ponzi's story is still relevant in the wake of the Bernie Madoff fraud that cost people BILLIONS of dollars. This tale is one that will repeat itself as people will always find it hard to resist that inner tugging of greed that whispers the promises of instant riches. Captivating and rich with detail, Ponzi's Scheme is extremely entertaining and gives insight into one of the great fraud artists in history in Charles Ponzi.

  • Jessica
    2018-10-26 01:35

    Everyone knows the term "Ponzi Scheme" but very few people know the actual story of Charles Ponzi. Charles Ponzi was not the first person to invent such a scheme, previously known as a "Peter pay Paul" scheme, but he is probably the most infamous. In the 1920's Ponzi made millions of dollars off of gullible Bostonians who believed his claim to be able to return a 50% interest on any investment within 45 days. This book tells the story of Charles Ponzi's life, from birth to death, but mostly focusing on the years during which he executed his famed Ponzi Scheme. It paints a picture of a man who was desperate to make something of himself, and did it the only way he could think of, by trickery. He does not come off as a conniving or cruel man, he wanted to do right by his investors and create a legitimate business, but could not find a way to do so. The book was very interesting, but I felt it was a little too long and dragged a lot in those Boston years, trying to keep track of too many players and repeating information. I think a history buff, with an interest in this time period, would definitely enjoy this book, but for me it could have been cut down by about a hundred pages.

  • Santosh Koshy
    2018-11-19 20:39

    a nice read.. I cannot even imagine the research that might have gone into make this book a possibility.. I loved the way the author kept the book on the positive side of the entire Ponzi episode ..

  • Todd
    2018-11-04 22:42

    I found this book very enjoyable to read as it captured both the time and the man so well. Zuckoff is an accomplished writer who manages to make you feel like you are outside a window watching all that is going on, right as it is happening. He also does a very good job of explaining what Ponzi was doing in easy to understand terms, something not always found in books dealing with financial irregularities. The one quibble I have (and it is not the author's fault) is by virtue of the term 'Ponzi scheme' that we have all become so familiar with, you would think Ponzi had invented the kind of scam that bears his name but Zuckoff points out that is not the case. Ponzi may have elevated the scam and accomplished more that those but it also appears he learned his craft from others, most notably in a Montreal bank many years earlier. Also worth noting is while the book centres around Ponzi and his misdeeds, Zuckoff does an excellent job or revealing a host of other 'legitimate' bankers & lawyers who were as unscrupulous as Ponzi ever was.

  • Craig
    2018-11-08 23:37

    This book should have been called "Ponzi's Cogliones" because Charles Ponzi had a huge pair. Ponzi was not the first guy to try to pull of a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme, but he clearly was the most well-known, well, at least until Bernie Madoff came along and made us all feel violated. But, unlike Bernie Madoff, there was a lot to like about Charles Ponzi, as he had some redeemable characteristics (eternal optimist, good son, good husband) and undeniable charisma. Sure, lots of people lost lots of money, but, as in most of these cases, the true villain was their own greed.The book was very enjoyable and I couldn't help but like Mr Ponzi, if not even admire him somewhat. It was an entertaining look into an era almost a century old and learn how much, and how little, has changed. It was a good reminder, too, of the perils of greed and pride.Charles engineered the original Ponzi scheme, but I am sure he won't be the last. I am sure, however, he will be the last one to make you smile about it.

  • Mary Whisner
    2018-10-27 20:39

    This book doesn't try to address hundreds of Ponzi schemes but focuses on just one: the one that gave the scheme its name.I liked the story of the Carlo/Charles Ponzi, the Italian teenager with rich tastes who immigrated to America in the early 1900s hoping to make it big. He bounced around, working at (and hating) menial jobs, doing time for check forgery, working in a logging camp's office, and more.With his Securities Exchange Company (which used deposits from later investors to pay the earlier investors), he had a wild run of success in 1920 and lived the elegant lifestyle he'd dreamed of. Thousands of investors (particularly in the Boston area) loved his charm and style—until they realized they'd lost their life savings.Even though the modern reader knows that Ponzi's "business" isn't sustainable, the author generates suspense as the bank examiner, the state attorney general, and the local district attorney move closer and closer to Ponzi. (Spoiler alert: he's caught and prosecuted.)

  • Usako
    2018-11-09 21:40

    You're a mean one, Mister Grinch. The difference between Ponzi and Mr. Grinch is that our classic holiday fiend doesn't hide his nastiness. Ponzi wraps himself in sheep's clothing and charms the people into his scheme. Reading this novel at times nearly seems like the author's ploy is to cause sympathy for Ponzi and yet knowing how many people suffered at his hands, I cannot feel for this man. He knew what he was doing. I have to admire his wicked plan involving the takeover of the banks and issuing checks to those banks based on a risk that the person cashing would use his banks. Brilliance. But I am glad the Post kept pressing the issue and dug for the real information.The book was alright. I believe the subtitle should have been "How the Post Won a Pulitzer" because that storyline I found more interesting in the scheme of things. I'd recommend the book to others to show history does repeat itself. We knew about Ponzi so how come we didn't see through Madoff?

  • Ru
    2018-10-27 02:33

    Literally, a Ponzi scheme is part of the English lexicon, & to find out the entire backstory as to how and why is no end of fascinating. As a Canadian, I find it somewhat humorous that the origins of Charles Ponzi's cons occur in Montreal. The story also illustrates how Ponzi may have perpetuated a tremendous lie, but it was also the incredible belief of SO many people that kept the lie alive. In a post-Madoff society, this book certainly resonates strongly as well. My only complaint is that there isn't a tremendous amount of mention of the victims of the fraud in the aftermath, but I also understand that the book is very specifically about Charles Ponzi, in a biographical sense, and not those he bilked.

  • Ben
    2018-10-26 23:24

    The original Bernie Madoff, Charles Ponzi tapped into the pocketbooks of the naive, optimistic American public in the 1920's and nearly made off with millions. This book tells not just his fascinating tale but also all the other social forces driving Prohibition-era Boston: ambitious newspaper editor Richard Grozier, magnetic and shady mayors James Curley and Honey Fitz, hard charging bank commissioner Joseph Allen, and all the common investors Ponzi left holding the bag. I'm not sure what's more troubling: how seemingly easy it was for Ponzi to amass his fortune without any significant institutional oversight, or how nearly a hundred years later, someone like Ponzi can, and does, do pretty much the same thing.

  • Nancy
    2018-10-25 02:45

    I listened to the abridgement but I still wanted more. This did what a good book does, satisfies but leaves you wondering what happened next. I don't know if it was because of the abridgement or just the book, but I wanted to know what happened to his family after his last imprisonment. What were the legal changes. The postal regulations changed, but what about banking regulations. It seems it took the crashes 1929 to do that, but it shouldn't have. There had been plenty of runs before then to see what happened. What about trading regulations? That seemed to wait until the crash as well. They could have learned from Ponzi!!! Ug! Anyway, this was a well written book that blended well the person and the era. Well done Mithcell Zuckoff.

  • Colleen
    2018-10-19 18:22

    I fully appreciate that Zuckoff wrote this as a completely factual book. It's so common for authors to "fill in the blanks" with their personal views of what may have happened behind closed doors so it was quite surprising and refreshing to discover that everything in this was based on recorded facts. My big problem with this book - and I think it's due to the above - is that people seemed to come in and out of the story a lot and I couldn't keep everyone straight. I found it hard to remember who was who and how they were connected and what their part was. But it was a great primer on how Ponzi went down in history for his rob Peter to pay Paul scheme and I finished the book with a good understanding of what happened and why he was just so out there.

  • Phil Clymer
    2018-11-10 18:44

    This is a very well written account of a young man who after a series of business missteps and personal failures stumbles on a method of earning huge profits by exploiting the international exchange rates for postal coupons. While looking good on paper the implementation of his plan falls apart when it becomes apparent that redemption of the coupons cannot be accomplished in the necessary volume. What follows is an an attempt, like the crime family in the Godfather sage, to become "legit" before the system crashes. Was Ponzi a clown or a con man? Both? The book chooses a sympathetic interpretation. It is well worth reading.