Tom Rachman

Tom Rachman, author of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers and 2010’s The Imperfectionists, shares his five favorite “Books on Cons and Deceptions.”

Oliver Twist
By Charles Dickens
“Three of the most unforgettable criminals in literature — the Artful Dodger, Fagin, and Bill Sikes — all appear in this single volume. Perhaps it says something about my wicked soul, but I always found the noble Oliver less compelling than his villainous corruptors. What Dickens captures is the seductive appeal of rule breakers, and how hard it can be, especially for the young, to distinguish righteous defiance from more sinister motives.”

Our Man in Havana
By Graham Greene
“A middle-aged British vacuum salesman in Cuba bumbles into the world of espionage, with precisely as much secret information as you’d expect a random vacuum salesman to possess. So, he makes it up. It’s easy to race through this classic novel, such a pleasure it is. But Greene’s writing is exquisite and his plotting ingenious — it’s worth pausing to admire.”

Guys and Dolls and Other Writings
By Damon Runyon
“When sniffles land me in bed, my tattered copy of Runyon stories will be near at hand. Little else cures me (well, distracts me) more pleasantly than his yarns about New York crookery during the fedora-and-pinstripe days. Runyon tells these kooky tales in the deadpan of a wiseguy observer, producing comic narration matched only by Wodehouse.”

The Talented Mr. Ripley
By Patricia Highsmith
“Highsmith was so enchanted by her antihero, Tom Ripley, that she wrote four more novels in which to watch him indulge his taste for luxury and his distaste for morality. An unsettling effect is that the reader ends up wanting the bad guy to get away with murder.”

Gambling Scams
By Darwin Ortiz
“Ortiz grew up in the South Bronx, where he witnessed his share of scams. Nowadays, he advises casinos on how to identify cons. In this nonfiction work, he shares such secrets, helping solid citizens guard against predators. The hoodwinking he describes is so ingenious, and so well recounted, that the book is often nearer entertainment than caution.”