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The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man Paperback – July 20, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books ed edition (July 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495387
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this book when it was first published in the '40s and I have thought of it often since then because it impressed me so much. Of course, I was a kid then and it was fascinating because of the people descriptions. It was so rich in characterization it caught my imagination. It was also a lesson for a young man; "If it seems to good to be true, it probably is." I've always remembered that lesson. It is an excellent description of the con games that were popular up to that time. Most of the current ones are not much different in their basics, only in their methods. Although the characters were fascinating, the message was even more so: Beware your wallet if someone wants to give you a large amount of money. I will buy this newly released edition just because of my memories of it some 50 years ago.
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By A Customer on December 30, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Big Con" is an excellent read from several perspectives. It is extremely well written. The pages fly by, which is saying something considering that it is non-fiction. As a 40's period piece, it is a must read for any fan of the crime/detective genre. Lastly, for anyone interested in the "confidence game" or related artforms, it is an esstential primer that considers the con at its most developed level. If the text has any weakness, it is that it leaves one with a craving for more details on the "short con." This may be forgiven because the point of the book is to examine the "big con," but as the author often notes, the masters of the big con nearly always get their start with the short con.
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Format: Paperback
Interesting study of con games, starting from early (and primitive) set-ups around the turn of the century (1900 that is) to more elaborate operations later. Focus on the lingo of con games, but with many entertaining examples and anecdotes.
Particularly interesting are the idiotic repeat victims who, after being conned again and again, keep coming back for more.
Lest you think that the book is of historic interest only, many of the (small-scale) cons described therein are still be practiced today. My local Chicago neighborhood newspaper carries periodic reports of victims of the "pigeon drop" con.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was a bit worried that the book would be too dated - mostly in the language. I was expecting something like Dashiell Hammett. Enjoyable, but you're constantly reminded that those days are gone. That's not the case here. The book could have been written yesterday from a language perspective, and any linguistic idiosyncrasies are specific to the language of the con man.

As some people have noted, it can be repetitive, but that's because most "big" cons (those where the con men work in large teams and have established locations) are very similar in essence; only the execution and specifics are different.

I found it to be very interesting, both from a technical perspective on how things were done, as well as a sociological perspective.
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Format: Paperback
I have been looking for this book for about forty years. I read it originally in the 1950's. When the movie "The Sting" came out I said "that's a dead steal from 'The Big Con'". It was a great read then and I'm looking forward to re-reading it.
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Format: Paperback
For anyone who watched "The Sting" or BBC's "Hustle" and found themselves fascinated, this is absolutely the book for you. Maurer's "The Big Con" is at once a history and an apt analysis of con artists and their trade, but is never dry or boring. It is clear from the work that Maurer spent a great deal of time with his subjects and the work is not lacking for detail. However, more fascinating even than Maurer's explanations and elucidations of the various elements of the con artist's trade are his examinations of their psyches - not dashing, devil-may-care rogues, Maurer shows his subjects to be flesh-and-blood individuals with their own virtues and vices, personal triumphs and personal demons. The book also includes a glossary of slang which is very interesting as well. If you ever watched "The Sting" and wondered "Is this for real?" or are just a fan of a good old-fashioned yarn, "The Big Con" is a worthy buy. Enjoy.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The only thing more astounding than the degree of thought, care, judgment and energy these con men dedicated to their dishonest trade is the fall-on-the-floor-laughing GULLIBILITY of some of the victims (marks) they ripped off. Given the plain old greed that propelled most of the victims into the traps they pretty much set for themselves, they absolutely deserved to be skinned as thoroughly as they were.
The stories in this book are eminently enjoyable, and they really make you wonder what sort of big con games are flourishing across the USA even as we speak.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read 'The Big Con' because it reportedly provides the basis for the movie 'The Sting.' The book was originally published in 1940, and recently republished. Author Maurer, a Louisville professor, took his research seriously and is credited with having conducted numerous interviews with some of the men who conducted these cons. One of the con leaders referenced is a man named Gondorff, who got his start in 1900 New York City. Gondorff is also the name of the con taken for a ride by Newman and Redford in the movie. Gondorff took a New Britain banker for $375,000 - about $11 million in today's dollars.

Maurer's well-written book begins with an overview that describes the best cons as combining intelligence, broad general knowledge, acting ability, and improvisational skills. A 'short con' involves taking the pigeon for all the money he has on his person, while the 'big con' sends him home to get more. All con games employ the victim's greed as a lever. In all of them the mark is induced to participate in an extralegal money-making machine that requires and investment. The cruder mechanisms are simple bait-and-switch devices; in the most sophisticated the victim may never realize he's been bilked, merely registering the outcome as a failed gamble.

The con game always has at least a 'roper' and the 'inside man' who bounce the victim between them. The high and elegant style of the big con described in this book as decline, perhaps disappeared, due to changing technology. Communications are now faster and more widely available. Relatively few good con men are ever brought to trail - the victim must virtually admit criminal intentions himself to prosecute, and about 90% never do. Of those con men who are tried, few are convicted.
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