The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova
The confidence artist, or con artist is known as such because he is able to enlist our confidence with his well-crafted narratives. In The Confidence Game, Maria Konnikova walks readers through the many stages of the confidence game, illustrating each with accounts of con artists whose storied cunning left their victims penniless. Konnikova, whose articles on psychology have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and other publications, examines the psychology behind the con artist, the roots of deception and the reasons we are wired to believe.
What makes a confidence artist? How are they different from the rest of us? In The Confidence Game, Konnikova outlines a “dark triad of traits” – psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. While many of us have one or even two of these traits, the presence of all three predispose an individual to the sort of manipulation inherent in the con. Add to the equation opportunity, the potential for a single bad choice, and you have the making of a grifter.
The confidence artist is a master at reading people – their background, their beliefs, their emotions. In the first stage of the con, the put-up, the con artist sizes up the mark, discerning details about them which they will use in the following stage, the play. In a chapter on the play, the stage at which the con artist hooks their mark, setting the wheels of the con in motion, Konnikova expertly tells the story of Samantha Azzopardi who in 2013 convinced Irish authorities that she was an escaped sex slave. Expert at the play, in which the con artist appeals to our emotions, Azzopardi wove a tale that held the world rapt as police mobilized to catch the perpetrators responsible for her suffering.
Con artists thrive in times of fast change – during the gold rush, the industrial revolution, and right now, during the technological revolution. Konnikova lists fake weight-loss products, prize promotions, buyers clubs and work-at-home programs as just a few of the Internet scams being perpetrated on victims today.She explains why television commercials feature puppies and babies and why the best commercials tell stories.
Above all, confidence artists are master storytellers who spin compelling narratives. Konnikova exhibits this same facility in The Confidence Game, an engrossing blend of meticulous research and artful storytelling.