In this lively look at the history of human trickery, Wood takes readers on a tour of cons, frauds, hoaxes, impersonations, and scams. The swindle is as old as history. The shell game, once called cups and balls, originated in ancient Rome. One example of a newer type of fakery, the “long con,” is the pyramid scheme, and Wood recounts the scams used by two of its most infamous practitioners, Carlo Ponzi and Bernie Madoff. No book about fakery would be complete without a discussion of P.T. Barnum’s many famous humbugs. Wood also reveals the tricks behind such carnival games as the ring toss, ball toss, and guessing games. Scientists have fallen prey to or helped perpetrate such hoaxes as the Rabbit Woman, the Lying Stones, and the Piltdown Man, but a long time passed before skeptical scientists were convinced the platypus was not a hoax. Deceptive practices in medicine have undoubtedly caused many injuries and deaths, but Wood recounts one medical hoax that saved dozens of Italian Jews when doctors in a Rome hospital convinced Nazis the Jews were afflicted with a dangerously infectious disease called Syndrome K and better kept in quarantine. These and more are all covered in lively prose that’s delivered with a healthy sense of irony. Clark’s full-color cartoons match Wood’s tone and are augmented by archival illustrations and photographs. A delightfully revealing look at scammers and their scams.
In nine topical chapters, this volume describes the ways in which people have swindled one another on the street, in their personal relationships, and in the media. Featuring anecdotes ranging from hilarious to disturbing, the book covers quite a lot of territory, from the 18th-century Rabbit Woman of Godalming to contemporary issues with fake news and Internet hoaxes. Although the text seems somewhat dense at first glance, readers will soon be fascinated with the mind-boggling stories of a wide variety of cons, which are written in a style that deftly balances incredulity with seriousness when sharing the bizarre facts and takeaways from each situation. Scattered throughout are short spotlight stories, and frequent footnotes serve to inform and amuse readers. Visual elements include contemporary photos, historical images, and Clark’s colorful, cartoony drawings; back matter includes ample suggestions for further reading, arranged by chapter topic. VERDICT This engrossing read is a solid choice for medium to large nonfiction collections.
—School Library Journal