Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of sale a new arrival Financial Legend online

Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of sale a new arrival Financial Legend online

Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of sale a new arrival Financial Legend online

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You’ve heard of the scheme. Now comes the man behind it. In Mitchell Zuckoff''s exhilarating book, the first nonfiction account of Charles Ponzi, we meet the charismatic rogue who launched the most famous and extraordinary scam in the annals of American finance.

It was a time when anything seemed possible–instant wealth, glittering fame, fabulous luxury–and for a run of magical weeks in the spring and summer of 1920, Charles Ponzi made it all come true. Promising to double investors’ money in three months, the dapper, charming Ponzi raised the “rob Peter to pay Paul” scam to an art form and raked in millions at his office in downtown Boston. Ponzi’s Scheme is the amazing true story of the irresistible scoundrel who launched the most successful scheme of financial alchemy in modern history–and uttered the first roar of the Roaring Twenties.

Ponzi may have been a charlatan, but he was also a wonderfully likable man. His intentions were noble, his manners impeccable, his sales pitch enchanting. Born to a genteel Italian family, he immigrated to the United States with big dreams but no money. Only after he became hopelessly enamored of a stenographer named Rose Gnecco and persuaded her to marry him did Ponzi light on the means to make his dreams come true. His true motive was not greed but love.

With rich narrative skill, Mitchell Zuckoff conjures up the feverish atmosphere of Boston during the weeks when Ponzi’s bubble grew bigger and bigger. At the peak of his success, Ponzi was taking in more than $2 million a week. And then his house of cards came crashing down–thanks in large part to the relentless investigative reporting of Richard Grozier’s Boston Post .

In Zuckoff''s hands, Ponzi is no mere swindler; instead he is appealing and magnetic, a colorful and poignant figure, someone who struggled his whole life to attain great wealth and who sincerely believed–to the very end–that he could have made good on his investment promises if only he’d had enough time. Ponzi is a classic American tale of immigrant life and the dream of success, and the unexpectedly moving story of a man who–for a fleeting, illusory moment–attained it all.

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.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* His scheme had been around for years and was fairly simple: offer to pay investors huge returns in a short time frame, paying the early investors with capital from later ones, and abscond with the money before the whole thing collapses. Previously, the game was known as "robbing Peter to pay Paul," but Charles Ponzi did it on a grand scale in 1920, and the scheme bears his name to this day. At the height of his operations in Boston, he had a large staff, salespeople, and numerous branches throughout the Northeast. His deposits peaked at $15 million, and his "customers" included much of Boston''s police force. Zuckoff''s biography of Ponzi is meticulously accurate, based on memoirs and newspaper accounts of the day, weaving the story of the rise of this small-time Italian immigrant with that of Richard Grozier, second-generation editor of the Boston Post, living under the shadow of his father and out to make a name for himself. The reader, knowing it all must end badly, cannot help but root for the deluded Ponzi, with his devoted wife, Rose, blindly loyal to him all the way to the heartbreaking conclusion. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

Advance praise for Ponzi

“For Charles Ponzi, a poor Italian immigrant with big dreams and grand schemes, the streets of America truly were paved with gold. In Mitchell Zuckoff’s hands, the get-rich-quick saga of Ponzi is a portrait of America in the Roaring Twenties–a time of innocence and greed, of rogues, rascals, and reformers. It’s hard not to root for Ponzi as he tiptoes along a financial high wire of his own creation, high above his immigrant investors cheering him on and the Boston Brahmins hoping for him to fall. Zuckoff spins a tale rich in intrigue, corruption, betrayal–and love. It is a story that resonates today, in an age of financial scandals ranging from Enron to Martha Stewart.”
–MIKE STANTON, author of The Prince of Providence

Ponzi is an engaging, learned, and wonderfully entertaining story of American business misadventure. Mitchell Zuckoff''s recounting of the story of Charles Ponzi, the curiously charming and likable huckster, reads as swiftly as any novel, but it is also a piece of important business history. Indeed, it stands almost as a parable for our own era of corporate misadventure, and it is not be missed.”
–DAVID LISS, author of A Spectacle of Corruption

About the Author

MITCHELL ZUCKOFF is a professor of journalism at Boston University. He is co-author of Judgment Ridge, which was a finalist for an Edgar Award, and author of Choosing Naia, a Boston Globe bestseller and winner of the Christopher Award. As a reporter with The Boston Globe, he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of numerous national honors, including the 2000 Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He lives outside Boston with his wife and two daughters.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

"I''m the man."

The huge blue car moved slowly through the crooked streets of the old city, its owner sitting on the wide rear seat, his bottom comforted by deep, horsehair-filled cushions that absorbed the bumps from the uneven cobblestones. Heat and sunlight bounced off the brick and granite buildings, baking the Locomobile limousine and broiling its passengers. The morning air bristled with the hint of a developing thunderstorm. When the skies broke loose it would be a welcome relief from the weeks of summer heat that had made downtown Boston ripe with the smells of horses, fish, fruit, fresh-cut leather, and tight-wound rope, all seasoned by salt from the nearby harbor.

At the wheel of the hand-polished Locomobile was a young Irish immigrant named John Collins, wearing the hat and brass-buttoned uniform of a newly created job: motorcar chauffeur. His boss, an Italian immigrant, had taken delivery of the dazzling vehicle only three weeks earlier, paying a thousand dollars in cash above the $12,600 list price to spirit it away from the New York financier for whom it had been custom-built. For the same price a man could own twenty Model T''s, with enough change to buy a modest house. But what was the point of that? In 1920, the Locomobile was the most expensive car in America, dripping with luxury, from its sterling-silver trim to its crystal bud vases. Purring, glistening Locomobiles filled the garages of Carnegies and Vanderbilts, and General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, commander of American forces in the Great War, had shipped his to France for use as a staff car. The executives at the Locomobile Company of America understood that exclusivity appealed to the elites. They had positioned their automobile in direct opposition to Henry Ford''s backfiring rattletrap of the masses. The company''s ads, with the look of engraved invitations, stated that Locomobiles were built by hand "in strictly limited quantities because the making of any pre-eminently fine article is impossible on a large scale."

In the short time he had been driving the car, Collins had learned well the daily twelve-mile route that began at his boss''s gracious home in the historic suburb of Lexington, less than a mile from the site of the first skirmish of the Revolutionary War. From there, they rolled east through working-class Arlington and Somerville, into tony Cambridge, across the Charles River, then down Tremont Street to a nondescript building on School Street, less than a block from Boston City Hall. Occasionally there would be detours, most often to a bank, and the boss would use the one-way intercom from the back seat to relay the new directions to Collins. But on this day-July 24, 1920-it was straight from home to office.

Collins slowed as he turned down School Street and saw what awaited them: a mob of several hundred men and women, crowded together hip to hip, chest to back. Viewed from above, it looked like an abstract mosaic of straw boaters and colorful felt cloche hats, punctuated by the dark crowns of a few bowlers. Some in the throng had brought bewildered children, who cried or whined as they struggled to avoid being trampled underfoot. The street was alive with electricity unrelated to the gathering thunderclouds. It came from the horde itself. Each member was a charged electron jittering in a magnetic field created by the man in the back seat of the Locomobile.

The street normally would have been all but deserted on a sultry Saturday in late July. But this was no ordinary day. When the crowd saw the limousine turn down the street they pressed toward it, half in reverence and half in mindless desire. They parted to allow Collins to steer toward the curb in front of the Niles Building, at 27 School Street, the modest home of his boss''s extravagantly immodest firm, the impressively named Securities Exchange Company.

From his perch in the back seat, Collins''s boss could see that some men in the street were holding copies of that morning''s Boston Post. The banner headline trumpeted a victory in one of the America''s Cup races by the American yacht Resolute over its British challenger, Shamrock IV. At a time when anything seemed possible except a legal drink of whiskey, elite sports like yachting and golf had captured the public imagination.

If one subject interested Bostonians more than rich men''s sports, it was the prospect of becoming rich themselves. Undeniable evidence could be found in that morning''s Post, just below the yacht race story. On the left side of the front page, in bold black letters, was the headline that had filled School Street to bursting:

DOUBLES THE

MONEY WITHIN

THREE MONTHS


A Post reporter had visited 27 School Street a day earlier and acquired a basic understanding of how the Securities Exchange Company claimed to create spectacular profits for its investors. The unbylined story even described the Locomobile limousine and the boss''s Lexington home, which was "furnished with the best" and "does not give the impression of nouveau riche either, for the fine Italian tastes of the owner fixed that."

The man who owned the fine home, the flashy car, the Securities Exchange Company, the adoration of the people on School Street, and anything else he cared to buy was named Charles Ponzi.

Reading the Post story that morning, Ponzi could chuckle with appreciation of his good judgment in granting the reporter access to his office and home. He had handled the interview himself, but from now on he would rely on advice from a publicity man he had just hired, an ex-reporter named William McMasters. At first, Ponzi had been skeptical about publicity-he had not needed much to achieve success that approached his wildest dreams-but his gentle treatment by the Post made it seem as though every card he turned would be an ace.

The front-page Post story eclipsed two previous stories Boston papers had printed about him and his business. The first, six weeks earlier in the Boston Traveler, had described his company in flattering terms but never mentioned it or him by name. Still, word had spread as to the identity and location of Ponzi''s operation, and hundreds of thousands of dollars had poured in during the weeks that followed. The second story, three weeks earlier in the Post, had been a brief item about a million-dollar lawsuit filed against Ponzi by a furniture dealer. That, too, had helped. The fact that he was rich enough to be sued for a million dollars had attracted swarms of new investors.

The brief account of the enormous lawsuit had piqued the interest of the Post''s young acting editor and publisher, who had ordered the follow-up feature story that appeared this day. In it, the Post reporter printed Ponzi''s comments at length and without challenge, as though Ponzi had delivered them with his hand on a Bible. During the course of several hours of discourse, the thirty-eight-year-old entrepreneur had offered a condensed, sanitized version of the seventeen years since he had emigrated from Italy. Then Ponzi had explained his business in broad, confident terms, telling how it was built on a modest and unlikely medium: International Reply Coupons, slips of paper that could be redeemed for postage stamps. He''d described his company''s growth-from pennies to millions of dollars in seven months-and had boasted of the opening of branch offices from Maine to New Jersey. The reporter had filled a notebook with Ponzi''s comments and played the notes back to Post readers as clear and sweet as a song from a Victrola.

Ponzi had capped the interview with a priceless assertion, and again the reporter had obliged him by printing it: "I get no pleasure out of spending money on myself, but a great deal in doing some good with it. Always I have said to myself, if I can get one million dollars, I can live with all the comfort I want for the rest of my life. If I get more than one million dollars, I will spend all over and above the one million trying to do good in the world. Now I have the million. That I have put aside. If my business closed tomorrow I am sure that I will have that amount on which to make myself and family comfortable for the rest of our days." If anyone doubted how secure Ponzi felt, the story continued: "Ponzi estimates his wealth in excess of $8.5 million."

With a maestro''s touch, Ponzi had struck a perfect balance among the forces competing to control the new American identity: altruism and avarice. Now that he was all set, he insisted, he had no need for more investors. But he would continue accepting their money out of the goodness of his heart, so they could join him and his family in savoring the finer things in life.

If there was any reason for the people of Boston to be suspicious of Ponzi, they would not find it in the morning Post. The story read with all the confidence of the advertisements the paper ran that promised disappearing dandruff to wise buyers of Petrole hair tonic, or "sunshiny" stomachs courtesy of Goldenglo tablets, or relief from chronic constipation in a tin of Fruit-a-Tives.

The closest the story came to skepticism was to mention that federal and state authorities had looked into Ponzi''s extraordinary investment plan. But the reporter defused that land mine in a single sentence, writing, "The authorities have not been able to discover a single illegal thing about it." Ponzi could not have hoped for a more sterling endorsement.

Adding to Ponzi''s delight, below the front-page story was an ad for a prominent local bank, the Cosmopolitan Trust Company. The bank was trying to drum up new deposits by guaranteeing a generous interest rate: 5 percent a year, compounded monthly. To Ponzi, the ad was a divine gift. For months he had been comparing his promised rate of return-50 percent in forty-five days-to the paltry sum paid by banks. Here was the same co...

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4.6 out of 54.6 out of 5
144 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

George E. Dawson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
AN AMAZING TRUE TALE TOLD WELL.
Reviewed in the United States on December 14, 2015
“The air was tense with ill-suppressed excitement. Hope and greed could be read in everybody’s countenance, [or] guessed from the wads of money nervously clutched and waved by thousands of outstretched fists! Madness, money madness, the worst kind of madness, was reflected... See more
“The air was tense with ill-suppressed excitement. Hope and greed could be read in everybody’s countenance, [or] guessed from the wads of money nervously clutched and waved by thousands of outstretched fists! Madness, money madness, the worst kind of madness, was reflected in everybody’s eyes!” (Kindle Locations 2731-2733)

“…in the absence of hard evidence, too good to miss trumps too good to be true.” (Kindle Locations 1796-1797)

Narcissistic, self-delusional, and adorable: charismatic people are oftentimes their own worst enemies—more credulous than even their easiest marks—and, sometimes, a danger to themselves and to the community at large.

They''re simply not like the rest of us. Which is probably why we find them so fascinating.

My all-time favorite charismatic, of fact or fantasy, is the irrepressible, fictional character, Professor Harold Hill, of Meredith Willson’s musical: The Music Man. It is in this tale that the crux of charisma is revealed, in a tender moment, when the purveyor of band instruments and band uniforms to the untalented high school sons of country rubes, dares to tell his local love interest, Marian, the librarian— “Somehow, I always believe there’s a band.”

After reading Mitchell Zuckoff’s interesting and compressive biographical tale, Ponzi''s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend, I am convinced that Charles Ponzi, too, always believed there was a band. That he could, that he would, find a way to make good on all his extraordinary delusions; somehow.

Ponzi, at least for now, tops the list of my favorite non-fictional charismatics.

Recommendation: An amazing story, about an amazing man, an amazing time, and a pretty amazing city. I highly recommend reading this one.

“In the remarkable seven months since it had opened for business, the Securities Exchange Company had amassed thirty thousand investors and $9.6 million. All Ponzi had to do to keep them satisfied was to pay them nearly $15 million in return.” (Kindle Locations 2743-2745)

“Of all the get-rich-quick magnates that have operated, Ponzi is the king.” (Kindle Locations 4183-4184)

Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 416 pages
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Nancy M.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I was invited to a Ponzi scheme many years ago.
Reviewed in the United States on June 18, 2020
I loved the complete history of Mr. Ponzi, and how his name is associated with the pyramid schemes sometimes still in process today. Many years ago I was invited to a home to "help women". I didn''t realize until I got there and saw $$$ on a couch or table and was invited... See more
I loved the complete history of Mr. Ponzi, and how his name is associated with the pyramid schemes sometimes still in process today. Many years ago I was invited to a home to "help women". I didn''t realize until I got there and saw $$$ on a couch or table and was invited to join the "investment." Needless to say, I didn''t join and left. Thinking back on it I realized it was a Ponzi scheme, so I decided to buy this book. It was not disappointing.
2 people found this helpful
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Longfellow
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Madoff Before There Was Madoff
Reviewed in the United States on August 3, 2016
The term Ponzi Scheme is now most oft associated with Bernie Madoff, whose hedge fund front proved to actually be incredibly unsophisticated; amazing insofar as he was able to keep the charade alive for as long as he did. But the scheme''s namesake, Charles Ponzi, was able... See more
The term Ponzi Scheme is now most oft associated with Bernie Madoff, whose hedge fund front proved to actually be incredibly unsophisticated; amazing insofar as he was able to keep the charade alive for as long as he did. But the scheme''s namesake, Charles Ponzi, was able to capitalize on the retail investor frenzy of the early 20th century in an incredibly brazen, public, and unapologetic scheme that intersected amazingly well with the excesses of the post World War I ''eat-drink-and-be-merry'' sentiment in the U.S. as well as the rise of both investigative and yellow journalism. The result was a summer of financial and social calamity in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic that is perhaps preferably forgotten. Zukoff''s detailed account of Ponzi''s early life and the inner workings of his enterprise, as well as his close personal relationships draw extensively from primary sources and come together in an incredibly read-able and enjoyable way. Likely to your own dismay, you will perhaps at times find yourself rooting for the villain, and surprised by the classic love story that underpins the entire saga.
3 people found this helpful
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G. Ware Cornell Jr.
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Getting rich quick
Reviewed in the United States on January 6, 2010
Since Halloween, the big story in South Florida has involved a lawyer of my acquaintance whose recent and ostentatious wealth is alleged to be the result of $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. This lawyer, Scott Rothstein, was the talk of the bar for many months prior to his sudden... See more
Since Halloween, the big story in South Florida has involved a lawyer of my acquaintance whose recent and ostentatious wealth is alleged to be the result of $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. This lawyer, Scott Rothstein, was the talk of the bar for many months prior to his sudden departure for Morocco in a leased Gulfstream V along with a duffle bag stuffed with millions of dollars. To everyone''s great surprise the lawyer returned about a week later and for the next three weeks prior to his arrest dined in expensive restaurants where he assured reporters he would work the rest of his life to repay every penny.

Charles Ponzi, whose get rich promotion in Boston in 1920 was not the first such plan to rob Peter to pay Paul, nonetheless forever lent his name to such schemes. Ponzi''s progeny have included in just the past year and a half or so Robert Madoff, and Allan Stanford''s investment houses. These supposedly respectable firms were disclosed to be massive Ponzi schemes. Rothstein''s $1.2 billion scam paled in comparison to Madoff and Stanford who drew in $65 billion and $8 billion respectively.

Ponzi, by contrast, was a relative piker. Even adjusted for inflation his take amounted to only $89,000,000 in 2009 dollars. What Ponzi had, besides a larcenous heart, was rock-steady nerve and a dramatic flair. Turned down for a loan to seed his business by the Hanover Trust, a small Boston bank, he bought controlling interest less than a year later and used its assets like a personal checkbook. Confronted with photographic proof that he was the same Charles Ponsi convicted in Montreal ten years earlier for forgery, he coolly denied it. As the press and authorities went after him, it only drove more prospective investors to his doors.

Books about financial crimes can be dead dry. Mitchell Zuckoff has largely avoided this fate by his keen focus on Ponzi''s surrounding cast-corrupt politicians, crusading editors, savvy cons, and dishonest lawyers. 1920 was a time when it just seemed likely that an Italian immigrant could turn $100 into $150 in forty-five days using international postal reply coupons. Even in the fullness of time, such naiveté has been repeated over and over again. My bet is that it will go on as long as people have more money than brains.
2 people found this helpful
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SR011994
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Likeable Chap
Reviewed in the United States on July 28, 2014
Gripped by a need-to-know regarding financial crises of the last century and after ready about Enron, LCTM & bond trading, I decided to read about the scandalous Charles Ponzi. Expecting the callousness and sociopathic nature of Bernie Maddoff or Allen Stanford, I was... See more
Gripped by a need-to-know regarding financial crises of the last century and after ready about Enron, LCTM & bond trading, I decided to read about the scandalous Charles Ponzi. Expecting the callousness and sociopathic nature of Bernie Maddoff or Allen Stanford, I was surprised that Ponzi always seemed only two steps back from one legitimate step forward. The author guides us through Ponzi''s upbringing, his voyage and experiences in America and of course the incredible scheme bearing his name. In addition, the author develops the back story of not just Ponzi; but everyone from the newpaper editor/reporter who broke the story to the authorities responsible for bringing Ponzi down. Many times I found myself hoping, just like thousands of investors, that Ponzi would be victorious; even though history knows the rest of the story.

Captivating and enlightening read. I would recommend the book to others.
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NOVA REVIEWER
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
NOW I KNOW
Reviewed in the United States on October 20, 2011
All my life I have heard about Ponzi Schemes and how they worked. I knew it was named for some Italian who in the 1920s made a ton of money scamming it out of innocent victims. But that was about all I knew -- until now. This book educated me on the man behind the scheme... See more
All my life I have heard about Ponzi Schemes and how they worked. I knew it was named for some Italian who in the 1920s made a ton of money scamming it out of innocent victims. But that was about all I knew -- until now. This book educated me on the man behind the scheme and that this entire episode occurred over a period of a few months with the peak being over several weeks between late June 1920 through mid August 1920. The man is portrayed as somebody who figured out a way to make big bucks off international postage due to currency exchanges. He did not set out to wrong his investors but he did just that. It is kind of a tragic tale of a man who knew he was in over his head and trying desparately to stay afloat. He had big dreams and tried to make them happen but time ran out on him. It was a typical case of if only he had a few more days he might have pulled it off and gone legit.

I was expecting some dullness but there was nothing dull about the man or the book. Some of the greatest biographies are about some of the greatest scoundrels in history and that was the case with this book.
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Thomas J Murphy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Life of fraud.
Reviewed in the United States on February 21, 2014
Night after night cable T.V. provides episodes of "American Greed" that are 90% "Ponzi schemes". Every day the media reports about the latest "Ponzi schemes'', the most prominent being the Madoff affair. The man''s name has entered the English language to... See more
Night after night cable T.V. provides episodes of "American Greed" that are 90% "Ponzi schemes". Every day the media reports about the latest "Ponzi schemes'', the most prominent being the Madoff affair. The man''s name has entered the English language to describe a bizarre form of financial fraud. So, who was Ponzi and what did he do? Mitchell Zuckoff''s biography answers those questions. Ponzi, it turns out, wasn''t such a bad guy who repaid most of his victims and did not try to run off with the money when he could have. In addition he donated a huge swath of his skin for a burn victim, when no one else would. An excellent work.
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J. Brian Watkins
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Power of Appearance
Reviewed in the United States on October 4, 2006
This is a great biography of Charles Ponzi who, as we all know, gave his name to the scheme whereby an investment fund pays profits directly from the pooled receipts rather than utilizing receipts to produce any real income. Banks make their money by taking money from... See more
This is a great biography of Charles Ponzi who, as we all know, gave his name to the scheme whereby an investment fund pays profits directly from the pooled receipts rather than utilizing receipts to produce any real income. Banks make their money by taking money from depositors and then renting it out. In Ponzi''s day, banking was blissfully simple--pay 3% to depositors and collect 6% from creditors, a simple business model that tantalized Mr. Ponzi who, we learn, was a tremendously gifted individual with a quick wit and charisma who did not lack faith in himself. Ponzi made his money by selling the public on the fact that they would indeed be able to make a profit and then proving sufficiently capable of doing so that the needed new deposits continued to pour in to his fund.

Where this study becomes fascinating is in its exposition of the mindset of Mr. Ponzi who came very, very close to pulling it off. Mr. Zuckoff takes pains to point out that in writing this book he did not interpolate from extant facts and scrupulously notes his sources. Apparently Ponzi was of the type that just can''t stomach the hard work of doing things the accepted way; however, ethics are ethics and regardless of his motive--Ponzi did commit fraud because he was not creating income with his depositors money. Yet, Ponzi''s fraud was more of a "short cut" as he never really knew exactly what his liabilities were and was on the brink of figuring out a way to use his fund that would have produced profit; as he himself noted, he could have cut and run with the money but instead was trying to figure out a way to invest the funds. In fact, he did bank the money, so if he was guilty of anything it was overselling the returns. Really, Ponzi created a kind of liquid venture capital fund that just didn''t ever get around to making investments. He could have pulled off his scheme and the way the book is written you are rooting for him to succeed.

Ponzi''s public persona created such confidence that his fund was able to weather repeated attacks by the media. In fact, his strong public image and his ability to sway opinion actually stymied most of the law enforcement agencies whose responsibility it was to ferret out fraud. However, his past criminal record was his undoing. A sharp reporter figured out how to dent the public trust in Ponzi and a bank examiner unafraid to do his job managed to lock up Ponzi''s remaining cash thereby forcing a default. In my opinion, but for Ponzi''s past transgression, he would have ended up successful. There''s a lesson.

The story is simple but the man was complex. His ability to appear completely unruffled in the face of the most dire of situations continually disarmed the media as well as the police, who were so accustomed to looking for signs of guilt that they let the guy go on repeated occasions. Even though you know what is going to happen it is fascinating to watch Ponzi continually evade detection and capture. There is a real lesson to legitimate business people regarding self-confidence and the power of dressing well.

And as a postscript: Anyone stupid enough to think we''ve progressed as an economy should turn on the TV after 11 PM and see ads for pills that either melt fat or grow a specific body part. Ponzi lives.
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Top reviews from other countries

Jason
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant read - highly recommended
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 6, 2014
Whether or not you want to learn about what these "Ponzi" schemes are, this book is just a fabulous read. It is a biography of a colourful character, wonderfully written, exciting and interesting. It is a genuine page-turner as Ponzi digs himself deeper and deeper...See more
Whether or not you want to learn about what these "Ponzi" schemes are, this book is just a fabulous read. It is a biography of a colourful character, wonderfully written, exciting and interesting. It is a genuine page-turner as Ponzi digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole, sucking in thousands of people with him. You know it is always going to end in disaster, but it''s how he gets there that is what is captivating. Ultimately, he scammed many people out of a lot of money and yet, I can''t help but feel sorry for him I love reading good biographies and I''ve read this book four or five times now. It''s a wonderful read and I can''t recommend it enough.
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Mr. O. Thomas
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
What is a Ponzi Scheme? - this book explains how he did it.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 1, 2014
I''ve heard of Ponzi Schemes mentioned in TV programmes, so I thought this book would give me the background. It certainly did that . It was all based on a very simple idea. I''m amazed at the gullibility and greed of the general public, and all credit to Ponzi for carrying...See more
I''ve heard of Ponzi Schemes mentioned in TV programmes, so I thought this book would give me the background. It certainly did that . It was all based on a very simple idea. I''m amazed at the gullibility and greed of the general public, and all credit to Ponzi for carrying it off for as long as he did. Nowhere near the scale of Bernie Madoff''s more recent version of a similar scheme. I read that book too.
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Tiago Paulino
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wonderful book. I''ve became fascinated by modern ponzy schemes ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 4, 2014
Wonderful book. I''ve became fascinated by modern ponzy schemes and why people let themselves get involved in such dubious businesses. It''s a great read, and it tells the story of an ambitious altough dishonest man who developed an elaborate scheme to make money. This still...See more
Wonderful book. I''ve became fascinated by modern ponzy schemes and why people let themselves get involved in such dubious businesses. It''s a great read, and it tells the story of an ambitious altough dishonest man who developed an elaborate scheme to make money. This still happens nowadays, and it''s interesting to look inside of these scammers minds. This book does it very well.
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Ed
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Four Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 27, 2018
Good.
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Mr K Weaver
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting read.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 9, 2018
Delivered as promised. Interesting read.
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