June 8, 2013

Truly a wizard of lies -- and hearts

Someday, I’ll review an article -- but for now, I’m going to do another book.

My book club discussion on “Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust,” by Diana B. Henriques, is starting in just a few hours -- and I want to get my notes down before the discussion. You’ll just have to trust me that I wrote this section before I let the opinions of others color my review.

I gave this one five out of five stars -- and I think, as an American citizen that wants to retire someday, that this should be required reading in high schools. The fraud that Madoff perpetrated is on a scale I simply couldn’t believe possible until I dove into these 350 pages -- and the way it transpired, including both the regulatory issues and, perhaps more importantly, the issues of the human heart, is an incredible lesson that we shouldn’t ignore. (I suspect, unfortunately, that it won’t get its due.)

The most appealing parts of the book, of course, are the beginning and the end, where Henriques displays her narrative skills in giving us a truly thrilling ride through Madoff’s arrest. The middle, full of history, is as interesting as it could be, I think -- but any history is bound to get dull.

Of note: I thought it was interesting that, in discussing reasons for and against having the “profit” amounts being covered by SIPC - that Henriques never introduced the concept of incentive. If “profit” that never truly existed could be seen as covered by the fund, what incentive would investment managers have to be truthful? It would simply be someone else’s problem if they they made everything up along the way -- but the investors would still get their money.

Overall, great read. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is invested or who plans to invest in their retirement -- with a “prepared to be scared” caveat.

UPDATE: Of the five of us who made it to book club that night, only two (including me) really seemed to enjoy “Wizard of Lies.” Suspicions that this book won’t get its due seem to be confirmed.