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."

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).