Pyramids, Ponzis and People, Oh My!


I can remember some of the first books I picked up in my pre-teen years, nearly always some type of science fiction. We were stationed overseas in a time well before cable and satellite television, and the programming choices on the only English-speaking station (AFRTS) were slim. I would crawl into bed with the paperback in hand and read it nearly cover-to-cover in one sitting.

When home video games systems such as Atari and ColecoVision became available, along with our Apple II+, reading took a back seat to those instant feedback entertainment options. I only picked up a book to read if it were something assigned by a teacher, and really rarely read them then either. Let’s just say my “Of Mice and Men” book report was really way off of the actual plot of the story.

Now, I find myself reading daily. Usually in the ‘library’ (we all know what that means) where I can enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet. No more long cover-to-cover sessions or my legs would fall asleep, so I stick to a few pages at a time. Depending on what I ate earlier in the day, I may get a whole chapter in! My subject of choice is always non-fiction this time, whether an autobiography or biography, a good business book or even a tell-all about something in the recent news. So when approached with the opportunity to read a book about the Bernie Madoff scandal, I knew it would be something I would probably enjoy.

Reviewing a book of fiction has to be much easier than giving your opinion on this type of literature. If you’re reading a great sci-fi story, you can comment on character development, plot movement, sub plots, etc. Even with a typical non-fiction work, there is usually some type of beginning, middle and conclusion to the book. “The Club No One Wanted to Join” is a collection of ‘essays’ written by victims of Bernie Madoff, so it doesn’t follow the typical layout. However, that doesn’t make it any less interesting.

It is tough to write about this book without making comments about the victims, whether they are pointing the finger at the wrong people, whether they should have watched their investments better or even whether they belonged in the market at all. So, I won’t. Being invested in the market myself (fortunately not with Bernie), I too have suffered over the past couple of years with the drastic decline of the markets. Hindsight may provide insight on what I could have done different with my investments, but these victims do not even have that luxury. They all have one trait in common…they trusted someone they shouldn’t have.

One of the drawbacks of a collection of stories written by so many different people is it must be difficult to arrange them in a way that allows the book to flow. Every story had the same plot (they lost money), many found enlightenment or life enrichment as a result of the loss. Some harbor anger and resentment against the stock market and/or our government. Some went back to work, others turned to friends and family. I think the essays do less for the reader as they do the author – it is evident that writing these stories has allowed them to heal a bit, to let it out.

There are essays from all walks of life, from people of various religions and backgrounds. Many accounts speak strongly of how their religion helped them through the toughest times. If this type of reading offends or bothers you, you may have a hard time hearing the message of the stories. The fact that the book is a collection allows for easy part-time reading, maybe one story in a ‘sitting’ (see above)! Watching the current news does tell me that some of the victims plights may not be as bad today as it was when the essays were penned, as there have been great advances in collections of funds from people who profited immensely from the Ponzi scheme. While the victims will never get 100% of their funds back, it appears that they will receive some renumeration.

This book touches on the personal stories of many victims, and doesn’t even begin to go into how it affects other companies around the world. The NY Mets may have to sell off a portion of their team because of the losses the owners sustained. There are countless brokers who had their clients’ money invested with the Madoff funds that have suffered irreparable damage. The size of the loss and the changes that will be implemented by the SIPC will be felt by businesses and individual investors for decades. Ultimately this is a story that has a happy ending for no one.

This is definitely one I would have bought for myself had I seen it at the bookstore. Maybe the insight gained from hearing of the victims’ losses will motivate me to make sure my own investments are protected and to be careful of whom I trust with access to those fund.

3 thoughts on “Pyramids, Ponzis and People, Oh My!

  1. Great post;I love to read books of all kinds, but you have sparked an interest,of their insight to what happened in their lives. This will be on my weekly shopping list.

  2. Max,
    First, hindsight is always 20/20. When you trust someone your expectation is that you will not be betrayed.
    The review proves one thing: that the trustee has a great PR machine. Nothing could be further from the truth about victims getting reimbursed for their losses. FYI, as of 2/4/11, out of 16,518 claims made, only 14.54% will be compensated. That means 85% of the victims will

  3. Mr./Mrs. Anonymous –

    Obviously you have a vested interest in the outcome of all this, but as I stated in the review, I was reviewing the BOOK, not the incident. You and I both know there is much more "devil in the details" about the numbers you quote above (clawbacks, profits, third-party investing, etc.). If you or a family member were one of the victims, my sincerest

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