The Confidence Game

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Confidence Game
Maria Konnikova, 2015

New release! I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review.

Premise: Explores the art of the con - every part illustrated with cautionary true stories and explained with findings from cognitive and/or social science.

I looked for this book after reading an adapted excerpt online, and at first I was disappointed. The first few chapters are somewhat repetitive both internally and with each other and the stories weren’t that interesting.

The structure lends itself to this problem, though, as the research that explains who is likely to become a con artist or a mark isn’t that different from the research that explains why people fall for the preliminary set-up and story parts of a detailed con. Breaking the con into “phases” felt overly artificial through the first few chapters.

Happily, after that it picked up. The true stories became more detailed and more connected to the chapter subjects and the science more current and more interesting. The only issue I still had was that if I put down the book in the middle of a chapter, sometimes a story that had been described at the beginning of a chapter would be referenced again at the end without quite enough of a call-back for me to remember which person the author was referring to.

Overall, this is an interesting book. I liked the stories best, although the various studies that shows just how likely people are to fall for various cons and why were interesting.

I did appreciate that in the last chapter, after study after study that implied how helpless most people are to a well-played con, the book did include some experts on how people can help themselves remain skeptical enough to avoid being tricked.

3 Stars - A Good Book

[Further reading: Profile of David Sullivan (described in the final chapter), a man who devoted his life to breaking people out of cults.]

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