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Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; y First edition edition (March 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060397
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060399
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,111,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Before Charles Ponzi (1882â€"1949) sailed from Italy to the shores of America in 1903, his father assured him that the streets were really paved with gold - and that Ponzi would be able to get a piece. As journalist Zuckoff observes in this engaging and fast-paced biography, Ponzi learned as soon as he disembarked that though the streets were often cobblestone, he could still make a fortune in a culture caught in the throes of the Gilded Age. Zuckoff deftly chronicles Ponzi's mercurial rise and fall as he conjured up one get-rich-quick scheme after another. Charming, gregarious and popular, Ponzi devised and carried out the scheme that carries his name in 1920 in the open (and with a brief period of approval from Boston's newspapers and financial sector). Many investors did indeed double their investments, as Ponzi would use money of new investors to pay old investors, and Ponzi himself became a millionaire. Eventually, Zuckoff shows, the Boston Post uncovered this "robbing Peter to pay Paul" system (as it was then known), and Ponzi's life unraveled. Zuckoff provides not only a definitive portrait of Ponzi's life but also insights into immigrant life and the social world of early 20th-century Boston.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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 … Ponzi is the king." In this day and age, that is quite an accomplishment.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


More About the Author

Mitchell Zuckoff is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Previously, he was a reporter and writing coach for The Boston Globe, where he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting. He won the Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, The Livingston Award, and The Heywood Broun Award, among other national honors. He received a master's degree from the University of Missouri and was a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia. He lives outside Boston. His website is www.mitchellzuckoff.com

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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This is very well written book.
Joseph Bergquist
After prodigious research, Mr. Zuckoff concludes that Ponzi might have had good intentions, even when the coupon scheme didn't pan out.
N. B. Kennedy
A fascinating tale of a complicated and intriguing character.
Duncan Murtagh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By R. Spell VINE VOICE on April 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We've all heard of the Ponzi Scheme, what they referred to in that era as "robbing Peter to pay Paul". But this well researched book traces the tragic story of how Charles Ponzi came to America, what he did before the Ponzi scheme and what happened to him afterwards. It would make a great movie! Situated in Boston, he ran ads for great returns and when many middle class people invested, publicity soon followed with various members of the media warning that it was a scam. No common criminal, he took the press on and argued the opposite winning much public support.

It is a fascinating tale! The side story of the faithful wife who only wanted her husband at home without the money and the final outcome of their marriage is also heartwarming and tragic.

I like business biographies and this certainly qualifies although I wouldn't consider him the classic success story. This book offers so much more with detailed history of that time period and the roles regulators, politicians and media played in society at that time. And the story itself is charming in many ways. Charles Ponzi was a common man that on the surface became wealthy and everyone rooted for him. But it only lasted so long. If you have interest in finance you will like this book. If you have interest in the history of the early 1900s in this growing country you will be interested. If you like novels and good character growth I think this will also be of interest as it reads like a novel as he develops his scheme.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By M. Strong on August 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love books that tell the story behind a well-known phrase with a little-known background, so Ponzi's Scheme was a natural selection for me. Turns out it was a great choice. The story of Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant to America, is a fast-moving rollercoaster of a tale told with skill by Zuckoff.

The result is a very readable book with a combination of good lessons for its reader about too-good-to-be-true propositions, great characters, good history, financial lessons, and a tradgedy of Shakesperean proportions.

Highly recommended for history buffs, fans of character-driven stories, people in financial markets, and anyone who's curious to know the story behind the phrase "Ponzi Scheme."
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Helder Gil on June 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Zuckoff has written a first-class biography of Charles Ponzi. His writing style keeps the reader deeply engrossed in the story and wanting to know what happens next. Zuckoff recounts various communications between the main characters, all of which he says comes from letters, newspaper accounts, etc. He also does a very nice job paralleling the lives of the scam artist, and the newspaper publisher who finally exposes the scam.

Although he was hardly the first to come up with the con game, Ponzi will forever be associated with pyramid schemes and "robbing Peter to pay Paul" schemes. The way he did it was brilliantly simple: Come up with a way of making money that seems completely legal and is relatively easy to explain. Market that scheme to folks that are in the same boat as you (e.g., same industry, ethnicity, religion, neighborhood, etc.) Pay the astronomical returns to the initial investors. Then let their word of mouth recommendations bring in additional investors. Repeat the process and watch the money pour in.

It is difficult to read this book and not empathize with Ponzi. Even though the reader knows that many of Ponzi's "investors" will become victims of the fraud, Ponzi's amazingly seductive personality is able to win over most people. The question that lingers throughout most of the book is whether Ponzi ever actually intended to pay off the investors with a legal - and feasible - money-making idea, or whether he simply wanted to scam the victims out of their life savings. The answer is finally provided by Ponzi himself towards the end of his life.

This book - and Ponzi's story - serves as a great reminder of the old adage that if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. N. Roth on March 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Zuckoff paints Ponzi as someone who desperately wanted his international reply coupon scheme to work legitimately, and then merely didn't know exactly how to get out of it and "go straight." He almost makes you feel sorry for the guy.

To his credit, Zuckoff does explain his sources very well in the back of the book. However, even using the substantiated facts that he himself presented, one wonders if Ponzi really was trying to legitimate his career, pressures from his wife and mother aside.

Even according to Zuckoff's own account, trouble followed Ponzi like mice to cheese. How many times have you been arrested? Me neither. Given the series of events and the fact that Ponzi kept lying to everyone (even behind his facade of charming confidence), I don't think he deserves an iota of sympathy (although Zuckoff and the New York Times did bring up interesting questions about Ponzi's investors and their characters--the desire to get something for nothing).

Most telling are Ponzi's quotes and actions after turning himself in for the fraud committed under the auspices of the Securities Exchange Company and serving his prison term for that. Here we see the desperate thief running from the authorities and making a pretty stark "confession" (as Zuckoff states) later in life which shows little remorse.

I wonder if Ponzi's character was more consistent than Zuckoff describes through this book. He started off as a person of questionable character and ended the same way. I just don't think he was as desperate to legitimize his scheme as Zuckoff makes him out to be (he seemed to do a lot of thinking about how to manipulate the coupons, rather than doing; and what he really got close to doing (stealing from his own bank), wasn't very legitimate).
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