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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Meltzer, Brad: The Book of Fate | Main | Grimwood, Ken: Replay »

Forsyth, Neil; Castro, Elliot: Other People's Money

  

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Sidgwick & Jackson © 2007, 313 pages [amazon]
4 stars

Elliot Castro, the "audacious fraudster" of this book's subtitle, was finally caught in 2005. His criminal career had lasted some six years, beginning when he stole his first credit card at the age of sixteen. That first theft landed Elliot almost immediately in the back of his first police cruiser, but the experience didn't sour Elliot on a life of crime. He pocketed and profited from many more cards before graduating to a more sophisticated brand of fraud, one that allowed him access to other people's money without the dirty work of swiping wallets. Aided by a photographic memory and a genius for finance, Elliot supported himself for years by scamming credit card companies. He lived as a fugitive, constantly worrying about suspicious clerks, ready to run at a moment's notice, and mindful always of detail: Which credit cards and whose names was he using in which establishments? Which banks asked which security questions? But Elliot lived, ostensibly, very well: he spent money obsessively, at the finest restaurants and the best hotels, the poshest shops, amassing designer clothes and gold-plated Rolexes and more cash than even he could spend. But in the end, not surprisingly, this proved to be an empty sort of existence, and finally one he couldn't sustain.

He pocketed and profited from many more cards before graduating to a more sophisticated brand of fraud, one that allowed him access to other people's money without the dirty work of swiping wallets. Other People's Money tells the story of Elliot Castro's childhood and career in crime. Neil Forsyth, a freelance journalist, wrote the book "with" Elliot, which apparently means that he wrote the book from interviews he conducted with Elliot (and a few others). But, interestingly, almost all of the book is told from Elliot's perspective, in the first person--and very engagingly--so that it is easy to forget that Forsyth stood as an intermediary between Elliot and the page, sharpening the con man's sentences into a very readable narrative. Forsyth writes from his own perspective only a few times, in a handful of chapters in which he describes, for example, his first meeting with Elliot, or his meeting with Elliot's mother Jane. These chapters, however, are less interesting than those detailing Elliot's experiences. Forsyth's first-person approach to telling Elliot's story is very effective, though I would have liked an explanatory note about the collaborative process, because it is somewhat jarring to read the story in Elliot's voice while knowing that Forsyth is the book's principal author.

Elliot may not be a completely likable character. He stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, after all, with little remorse, and dedicated himself to accumulating material goods and to ostentatious display. But Forsyth's book renders Elliot's crimes at least comprehensible. Elliot grew up alienated, in part because he was so much smarter than his classmates, and various events conspired to convince him that deception and wealth were avenues to gaining respect. There were other problems, presumably a compulsive shopping addiction among them, and one leaves the book thinking that Elliot may be more sick than immoral.

Elliot did not find happiness in his crimes for long, at any rate. They landed him in jail more than once and ruined his relationships, particularly with his immediate family. And while getting away with fraud was exhilarating in the beginning, in the end it didn't satisfy. Without denying that he had taken pleasure in his crimes, Elliot paints a bleak picture of life as a master criminal:

"I lived amongst my lies every moment I was awake and then they would rule my sleep. Every sentence I spoke for over four years had been calculated and examined before it left my lips. It didn't matter if I was in a bar, a courtroom, or a jail cell, I was controlled by the need to protect my lies and myself."

Elliot offers what seems to be a very honest self-portrait in this book, depicting his failings  as both a criminal and a human being. For a smart thief, for starters, he made a great many stupid mistakes, sometimes eluding law enforcement only because of the latter's ineptitude. More poignantly, Elliot recognizes that his bid for acceptance through wealth--buying rounds of drinks and hosting parties and showing off his taste through conspicuous consumption--bought only temporary friends, and that he was frequently viewed as pathetic and vulgar despite his riches. So in the end, flawed as he is and now that he's going straight, you can't help feeling a bit sorry for Elliot, and impressed with his honesty in portraying himself like this. You'll leave the book impressed, too, with Forsyth's ability to shape Elliot's story into so compelling a narrative.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.