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The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con [Kindle Edition]

Amy Reading
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did—he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.  
Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men who had conned him. Armed with a revolver and a suitcase full of disguises, Norfleet crisscrossed the country from Texas to Florida to California to Colorado, posing as a country hick and allowing himself to be ensnared by confidence men again and again to gather evidence on his enemies. Within four years, Frank Norfleet had become nationally famous for his quest to out-con the con men.
Through Norfleet’s ingenious reverse-swindle, Amy Reading reveals the mechanics behind the scenes of the big con—a piece of performance art targeted to the most vulnerable points of human nature. Reading shows how the big con has been woven throughout U.S. history. From the colonies to the railroads and the Chicago Board of Trade, America has always been a speculative enterprise, and bunco men and bankers alike have always understood that the common man was perfectly willing to engage in minor fraud to get a piece of the expanding stock market—a trait that made him infinitely gullible.
Amy Reading’s fascinating account of con artistry in America and Frank Norfleet’s wild caper invites you into the crooked history of a nation on the hustle, constantly feeding the hunger and the hope of the mark inside.

Editorial Reviews


“Amy Reading is a crackerjack storyteller. . . .  [A] lively history of a nation on the make.” —The Dallas Morning News

“[A] remarkable piece of storytelling . . .[filled with] brilliant portraits. . . . It’s great fun to read. No crime in that, is there?” —The Boston Globe

“Perhaps the best book I’ve ever read on con artists and con artistry. . . . It’s thrilling and hilarious by turns and when you’re done, you understand the past and the present better.” —Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“An engaging book for anybody who wants to better understand misconduct in the realm of finance—and the consequences of such misconduct for everybody involved.” —USA Today

“Most scholarship reads like a trip to the dentist. The Mark Inside reads like a trip to the track.” —David Mamet, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Glengarry Glen Ross and House of Games

“An astounding tale, brought to vivid life by an historian who has had to become an expert at distinguishing fact from romantic fiction.” —Businessweek

“A skillful exploration of the development of con artistry in America. . . . Reading’s side narratives and contextual notes are illuminating, giving us a more refined sense of what it felt like to live in an America that was developing at a breakneck pace.” —Fortune

“Amy Reading brings to life one actual con in a book as riveting as a movie. . . . [The Mark Inside] is an amazing piece of historical research that will ensnare the reader.” —Newark Star-Ledger

“[Reading] delivers the goods. . . . A whopping good tale.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Thrilling and suspenseful." --Winnipeg Free Press

“Engrossing. . . . [Reading] gets to the center of both Norfleet’s story and the mass appeal of the con artist as a figure in American culture.” —The Paris Review

“An entertaining read, grounded in detailed historical analysis. . . . A fascinating story of crime and punishment.” —New York Journal of Books

“An uproarious history of the con game in America.” —Asbury Park Press

“This account of con artists and obsessive revenge is replete with dramatic twists and turns. . . . [and] vibrant characterizations. . . . This narrative of vigilante justice flows like fiction, as con artistry is illuminated throughout, with resonance in today’s world of high-tech con artistry.” —Publishers Weekly

“This work, which puts deception in a sociological context from the settlement of the colonies on, is riveting, exciting, and eye-opening. . . . Thoroughly researched and engagingly presented.” —Booklist (starred review)

“[The Mark Inside] takes us inside the world of grifting and one of the slickest scams in history outside of Wall Street.” —Gizmodo

“With pitch-perfect storytelling and stylish prose, Amy Reading weaves a gripping tale of a grand swindle and even grander act of revenge, a solo manhunt throughout North America that’s as hilarious as it is compelling. Rarely has history been this fun, fast-paced, and fulfilling. The Mark Inside is a book you won’t put down and a story you’ll never forget.” —Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of American Rose and Sin in the Second City

“Part page-turning crime drama, part juicy tale of vengeance and obsession, part informative social history, and part  intriguing epistemological rumination about literary truth, Amy Reading’s The Mark Inside is always great fun. From the first page Ms. Reading hooks the reader as shrewdly as any of the bunco men she writes about—only she makes good on this enticement, delivering narrative gold.” —Howard Blum, bestselling author of The Floor of Heaven and American Lightning

“An astonishing story of one victim’s determined quest to bring down a ring of swindling confidence men.  We have rigged fights, fake stock exchanges, gun battles, jailbreaks, a hardy Texan, an honest dentist and a righteous DA.  Here’s early twentieth-century capitalism—a great humbug run by the ghost of a grinning P.T. Barnum.” —Ann Fabian, author of Card Sharps and Bucket Shops

“It’s tempting to say that The Mark Inside reads like a historical novel, but really it’s more like a great heist film. Amy Reading entertains while explaining why all Americans—from Ben Franklin to Bernie Madoff—are part trickster and part sucker.” —Scott A. Sandage, author of Born Losers

About the Author

Amy Reading holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2812 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 6, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005IQZB3W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,911 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History should always be this much fun March 19, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
Amy Reading's book adroitly weaves a history of "confidence men" in America around the astounding story of J. Frank Norfleet, a man swindled out of his life savings by an expert team of con men -- who then brings them to justice. The twists, turns and coincidences are so great that you'd swear Reading is making it up, save for the meticulous research & citations.

Reading is an excellent writer; she has a knack for knowing what the reader is thinking (or doubting), and for breaking the narrative at just the right time to discuss what can and cannot believed about Norfleet's story. She is also quite skillful at dropping Norfleet's adventure into the context of con men of the 19th and early 20th century. From her discussions of the relationship between "honest" speculation [think bonds] and gambling, it's clear that the author has studied the issues in great detail.

I'll put it this way: while I'm an avid reader of American history, I had no particular interest in the role of "confidence", "speculation", municipal bonds or con men in the development of our country. But Amy Reading made those topics very interesting to me. So interesting, in fact, that I'd be willing to follow the author into other adventures.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT BOOK ON A FASCINATING TOPIC!!!!! March 20, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For those of us who saw the iconic movie "The Sting" when it first came out, that movie provided the romance and intrigue of "The Big Con." However there really were no other amplifying books or movies on that fascinating topic, until now.

Amy has done a great job using Frank Norfleet's oddysey pursuing the con men who fleeced him as a backdrop of the con games which existed in American cities during the early twentieth century. A huge research effort provides info where none ever existed, since by their intrinsic nature, no formal or written record ever existed of the thousands of cons which occured.

Prior to Amy's book, there was a simple model of the con game. The con man took advantage of the "mark's gullibility and greed. Period, end of story. Amy shows how major social forces contributed to, and were incorporated into, the con man's schemes. Fake stock market brokerages and transactions were a staple of "The Big Con." This exploited the fact that the stock market was one of the very few avenues that offered the possibility of financial gain to the common man, however remote that possibility was. Newspapers provided exciting stories of the exploits of famous stock market plungers like Jesse Livermore and Arthur Cutten. The con game played to the mark's belief, acquired through newspaper stories, that the stock market was controlled by "insider's", by giving the mark a chance to become an insider and make a bid score.

All in all a great and highly engaging period piece read.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conning the Con Men May 25, 2012
If you remember the movie _The Sting_ from 1973 you will recall that there was a series of various confidence tricks, including a pigeon drop, a rigged card game, and an elaborately staged fake betting parlor set up just to con a despicable gambler. As entertaining as Robert Redford and Paul Newman made the movie, I remember thinking that the fake betting was just too complicated and preposterous for anyone to have confidence in. It could only happen in the movies. I have found myself proved wrong as I was reading _The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, A Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con_ (Knopf) by Amy Reading. Reading holds a doctorate in American Studies, and the book started as an academic venture, and comes with plenty of footnotes, but forget all that. This, Reading's first book, is a terrific story of duplicity and revenge, and an examination of confidence schemes as a manifestation of a particularly American drive.

The hero of the story is J. Frank Norfleet, and when we meet him in 1919, he was merely an upstanding, teetotalling, diminutive, third-generation Texas rancher, in his prosperous 54th year. He came to Dallas for the purpose of buying and selling land. This is the proverbial honest man who could not be cheated, and yet his honesty and goodwill were played against him by three clever gentlemen who were prosperous and friendly. They were just his sort of people, even though they were strangers. He entered the St. George Hotel, and as Reading says, "... he entered a tightly scripted drama with nine acts, each with its own distinct function in conveying the mark toward the climax when his money will be whisked away." Reading describes each of the nine acts, which have names like "roping the mark" or "the convincer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A FUN, INTERESTING & GOOD READ September 23, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I loved this book. Of course, I guess I should admit to being a... sucker... for obscure bits of Americana and tales of great con jobs.
According to her author bio, Ms. Reading has a Ph.D in American Studies and it shows. But, in a good way. This work was thoroughly researched -- and I mean thoroughly. And, as a result, fascinating historical tidbits abound.
Nothing dry and academic about Ms. Reading's writing, either. The book just flies along.
I'm very anxious to see, too, what she does next. In the meantime, though, kudos to her for this effort.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I liked it.
One of my first exposures to the idea of Confidence Men. I liked it.
Published 1 month ago by Daniel Rickenbach
5.0 out of 5 stars justice won
Good reality book. It's nice to see that sometimes, just sometimes, through courage and work, the right guys win ... sammy
Published 3 months ago by sammy
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring
This book was disappointing. The story was interesting but there was not enough of one so there seemed to be a lot of filler.
Published 15 months ago by Nalani M Parry
3.0 out of 5 stars A mostly enjoyable read
The book covered an area of history I didn't know about. Some of the most interesting sections were side bars to the main narrative. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Bruce Gilpin
3.0 out of 5 stars Product rating
This was a interesting book to read. We read it for our book club of which I know some people couldn't finish. Read more
Published 21 months ago by michelle kimmel
3.0 out of 5 stars Who's conning the con men?
Three stars because it dragged on at times like a movie that runs too long. The connections to con and business are interesting and the outlaw justice bit was fun. Read more
Published 22 months ago by shannon g. scott,shannon g. scott
5.0 out of 5 stars Revenge.
An incredible story of one man's need to exact revenge against those who swindled him; quite successful revenge at that. Read more
Published on December 27, 2012 by Ronald A. Trussell
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a Bad Story but Reads Like a Late Term Paper
When the end of the 'end of the frontier' was announce by the Census Bureau in 1890, most of the mountain west was still largely uninhabited. Read more
Published on October 31, 2012 by Grey Wolffe
3.0 out of 5 stars The Mark is Slightly Off
Interesting story with history of cons in America. Pretty much you can't make this stuff up as the revenge is extremely time consuming, but complete. Read more
Published on October 8, 2012 by Old Goat
2.0 out of 5 stars I feel I was conned
Not at all what I expected. I was looking forward to an easy to follow story of a man getting revenge on the con men. Read more
Published on May 22, 2012 by bookworm
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More About the Author

Amy Reading holds a Ph.D. in American studies from Yale University. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children, and can be found at

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