Summary and book reviews of The Mark Inside by Amy Reading

The Mark Inside

A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con

By Amy Reading

The Mark Inside
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2012,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2013,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did - he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.

Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men who had conned him. Armed with a revolver and a suitcase full of disguises, Norfleet crisscrossed the country from Texas to Florida to California to Colorado, posing as a country hick and allowing himself to be ensnared by confidence men again and again to gather evidence on his enemies. Within four years, Frank Norfleet had become nationally famous for his quest to out-con the con men.

Through Norfleet's ingenious reverse-swindle, Amy Reading reveals the mechanics behind the scenes of the big con - a piece of performance art targeted to the most vulnerable points of human nature. Reading shows how the big con has been woven throughout U.S. history. From the colonies to the railroads and the Chicago Board of Trade, America has always been a speculative enterprise, and bunco men and bankers alike have always understood that the common man was perfectly willing to engage in minor fraud to get a piece of the expanding stock market - a trait that made him infinitely gullible.

Amy Reading's fascinating account of con artistry in America and Frank Norfleet's wild caper invites you into the crooked history of a nation on the hustle, constantly feeding the hunger and the hope of the mark inside.

CHAPTER ONE
Confidence

J. Frank Norfleet was feeling confident as he strode into the St. George Hotel in Dallas. He'd just arrived from Dublin, Texas, where he'd sold a carload of mules at an admirable profit. He was a prosperous fifty-four-year-old rancher from the Texas Panhandle, a third-generation pioneer who had worked his whole life to turn the prairie, now swept clean of Indians and buffalo, into a profitable ground for agriculture and livestock. Since he was a teenager, he'd herded sheep and hogs, driven cattle across the open range, and fenced thousands of acres of pastureland. He'd made foreman on the Spade Ranch in Hale County at a young age and saved his modest wages until, when he was forty-nine, he was finally able to afford his own land. He purchased about 8,000 acres near the Spade Ranch and continued to raise livestock in small numbers, investing the profits in adjacent land until his ranch had grown to 20,000 acres. On this November day in 1919, he was in Dallas for ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
USA Today

An engaging book for anybody who wants to better understand misconduct in the realm of finance—and the consequences of such misconduct for everybody involved.

Publishers Weekly

This narrative of vigilante justice flows like fiction, as con artistry is illuminated throughout, with resonance in today's world of high-tech con artistry.

Kirkus Reviews

[T]he book is fascinating because Norfleet's quest seems both quixotic and inspiring.

Author Blurb David Mamet, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Glengarry Glen Ross and House of Games
Most scholarship reads like a trip to the dentist. The Mark Inside reads like a trip to the track.

Author Blurb Karen Abbott, New York Times best-selling author of American Rose and Sin in the Second City
With pitch-perfect storytelling and stylish prose, Amy Reading weaves a gripping tale of a grand swindle and even grander act of revenge, a solo manhunt throughout North America that's as hilarious as it is compelling. Rarely has history been this fun, fast-paced, and fulfilling. The Mark Inside is a book you won't put down and a story you'll never forget.

Author Blurb Howard Blum, best-selling author of The Floor of Heaven and American Lightning
Part page-turning crime drama, part juicy tale of vengeance and obsession, part informative social history, and part intriguing epistemological rumination about literary truth, Amy Reading's The Mark Inside is always great fun. From the first page Ms. Reading hooks the reader as shrewdly as any of the bunco men she writes about - only she makes good on this enticement, delivering narrative gold.

Author Blurb Ann Fabian, author of Card Sharps and Bucket Shops
An astonishing story of one victim's determined quest to bring down a ring of swindling confidence men. We have rigged fights, fake stock exchanges, gun battles, jailbreaks, a hardy Texan, an honest dentist and a righteous DA. Here's early twentieth-century capitalism - a great humbug run by the ghost of a grinning P.T. Barnum.

Author Blurb Scott A. Sandage, author of Born Losers
It's tempting to say that The Mark Inside reads like a historical novel, but really it's more like a great heist film. Amy Reading entertains while explaining why all Americans - from Ben Franklin to Bernie Madoff - are part trickster and part sucker.

Reader Reviews
Carol N. (San Jose, CA)

The Mark Inside
After having started this book 3 different times, I finally made it almost to the end and decided enough was enough. Storyline involves a variety con artists and swindlers. Expecting a “Sting-like novel, I found myself getting bogged down with what ...   Read More

Lisa E. (Cincinnati, OH)

Fun and Informative
What a fascinating book! I have led a rather sheltered life here in Ohio, and I had no idea "confidence" men would spend such time and effort to pull off a scam--and the psychology and insight that go into the whole thing!

WDH (New Port Richey, FL)

Fool Me Once...
This book provides an enlightening overview of the history of confidence men and their plots and schemes to fleece people out of their savings. The author did a lot of research for this book and it shows through the explanations of the history of the...   Read More

Kate G. (City Island, NY)

It's All About the Con
Amy Reading has written an interesting history of con artists and swindles in the 1920s alongside the personal history of a Texan named J. Frank Norfleet who was the victim of a con. While the history of the con and swindlers can be a bit dry, ...   Read More

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