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Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation Paperback – January 5, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of May 2015: Part popular history, part true crime, Dean Jobb’s Empire of Deception is the fascinating tale of Leo Koretz, a trained lawyer who used his sweet-talking ways not to defend the law but to break it. Set mostly in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties, the same era that brought us Ponzi and his famous scheme, Jobb’s book is divided into three acts. Act One introduces readers to Koretz, who managed to bilk millions from mostly rich “investors” who thought they were getting entrée into oil and timber interests in Panama. Act Two shows his years of hard criminal work paying off (he lived in a mansion and owned two Rolls Royces) and also catching up to him. Act Three shows him fleeing to Nova Scotia, where he dated a slew of women and threw lavish parties until he was eventually caught. What makes this book so interesting is the excellent pacing and fine detail laced throughout (although toward the end of the book that detail threatens, momentarily, to stall the momentum that Jobb so skillfully builds), the joy of reading about a man who could have taught Bernie Madoff a thing or two, and the sheer chutzpah (and, yes, skill) of Leo Koretz, who for a time lived like Gatsby and who managed to separate millions of dollars from people who probably should have known better. --Chris Schluep--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Comprehensively researched and enthralling . . . High-stakes hijinks give the story a rollicking feel, but Jobb manages great poignancy, too. . . This lively and sweeping account seems to have already given a master con artist his due, putting him in the ‘pantheon of pyramid-building swindlers.’” —The Washington Post
“This cautionary tale of 1920s greed and excess reads like it could happen today.” —The Associated Press
“Jobb vividly, albeit briefly, brings the Chicago of the 1880s and ‘90s to life . . . [and] is a masterpiece of narrative set-up and vivid language.” —Chicago Tribune
“Dean Jobb skillfully dusts off this century-old tale with a fast-paced narrative, a keen eye for detail and a cast of characters in which the free-for-all city of Chicago plays a prominent role . . . [A] masterfully told story.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Jobb makes it clear that Koretz’s schemes weren’t unique to his time period. The parallels between Koretz and Madoff are fascinating: Both men 'dropped hints' and 'played hard to get,' only selling shares to those who persistently begged for them. And both confined their sales, at least at first, to an inner circle of those who knew and trusted them, making their betrayals all the more brutal.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“[A] rollicking story of greed, financial corruption, dirty politics, and illicit sex.” —Publishers Weekly
“Dean Jobb has written an absolutely rollicking tale that is one part The Sting, one part The Great Gatsby, and one part The Devil in the White City. Impressively researched and brilliantly told, Empire of Deception vividly recreates the unscrupulous side of 1920s Chicago where greed, deception, and corruption ran amok, and where one Leo Koretz, a charismatic and enigmatic con man, charmed them all . . . including me.” —Karen Abbott, author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
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Top Customer Reviews
=== The Good Stuff ===
* Jobb writes well, and treats us to a well-written and lively narrative. For the most part, the book moves along at a reasonable pace, and Jobb was able to capture and maintain my interest with a 100 year old story.
* The book seems well grounded in the facts, although it is not footnoted or well referenced. It is written as a popular work, not an academic one. That was mostly OK with me, except for a few issues discussed below.
* The story is, despite the sadness of many people being swindled, somewhat of a “fun” tale. Koretz is certainly an interesting character, a master salesman, con artist and Jay Gatsby wanna-be. He manages to con some very rich and powerful people, the kind who you would expect to know better, and does so with a very simple scheme and not a lot of effort. Any one of his victims no doubt had the ability to unravel his scheme with a single conversation with the right person, but none ever seemed to bother.
* Robb does a nice job of capturing the whole story. We see how the scheme got started, watch it grow, see it unravel, and finally witness the crash as it affected both the con man and his victims. Robb weaves the story into life in the US, and especially Chicago, during the Roaring 20’s, and ties many of the events together.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===
* My biggest complaint is the inclusion of “background” information. While Robb is telling the tale of Koretz the swindler, he takes the reader down numerous side detours about Chicago politics, crime and corruption during the prohibition era. You could make the case that these are either excellent background and add a dimension and context to the story…or you could call them filler designed to make a book out of an article. Personally I found them more distracting than enlightening, but your opinions may vary.
* There are quite a number of named characters, and it wasn’t always easy to keep them straight. There is a “program” at the beginning of the book to help sort through the characters, but to be honest, I never find that feature to be helpful when I am reading, especially electronic copies.
* As always, I am suspicious of detailed accounts of conversations that happened nearly 100 years ago- but as re-creations they stand the test of reasonableness and make the story flow better.
=== Summary ===
I like the book, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in true crime or the abilities of con men to separate people from their money. My own preference would been to have more details on the mechanics of the scam, rather than the personal and relationship side of it, but I suspect the technical details may have been lost to history. The actions of the dapper Mr. Koretz were certainly fun to read, and Robb creates a character that you can’t help but liking-even as he shows himself to be a cad.
As I read the book, my most common thought was that it would be impossible to pull off today. A little internet searching would have blown the tales of Panamanian oil wells and Arkansas rice paddies to smithereens… and then I remembered that Bernie Madoff and AIG ran pretty much the same cons well into the information age. The tactics were different, but the strategy was the same.
=== Disclaimer ===
I was able to read the book through the courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley.
It is fascinating to go back to Chicago during prohibition and inagine what life was like with no television or internet, particulary when it came to comitting a fraud. Comparing the difficulty of tracing a fugitive then with the relative ease of identifying and capturing one now really makes us think about how society is more connected and more transparent, but then Bernie Madoff stole even more money in today's allegeldly transparent times and there is a scandal a month in the Chinese stock market.
Empire of Deception is a good beach read for the summer and a window back in time. The details are interesting and the book is well written. However, the book just kinds of plods along to the end and the story is not that compelling. I enjoyed it, but was not overwhelmed.
It can prove a very good story
The Author researched well , wove a story that held ones interest and
read like a crime novel
Also were quips of events of the time not really part of the story
but gave a mild butterfly what if effect.
Even the spelling of the time was not corrected to modern day prose
but presented as was written at the time
Some books you read when you have time others you make time to read
this was the latter which made it an easy 5 stars
Author Dean Jobb mentions Al Capone's club The Four Deuces was located in Cicero when it was located at 2222 South Wabash Street in downtown Chicago. This may appear picky but it was an error I noticed. I thought the book was okay but it wasn't the riveting read I had hoped it would be.