Review: The Wizard of Lies by Diana B. Henriques

Subtitle: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust

Anyone who’s read about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme has endless questions: How could those close to him – wife, sons, brother  – NOT have known? How could his investors have ignored all the red flags in their dealings with him? How could the feds have missed this $60B fraud? Diana B. Henriques, senior financial writer at the New York Times, attempts to answer those questions and succeeds for the most part. (In a complex case like this that extended over at least two decades, some of those questions will never be understood completely.)

I heard Ms Henriques interviewed on the PBS Newshour and liked her straightforward manner and her obvious knowledge of the details of the entire Madoff affair. In The Wizard of Lies, she explains the intricacies of the massive fraud, going back to the beginning – the exact date is hard to pinpoint because of Madoff’s obfuscation. Ms. Henriques interviewed people surrounding the case and pored through government and other documents for her information.

She interviewed Madoff more than once and treats him as the masterful liar he is – questioning everything he says and trying to match it with his own earlier testimony and the evidence that prosecutors and regulators have found. I particularly liked the way she recreated what happened to Madoff and his fraud as it unraveled in months before his December 2008 arrest.

The “investigators” at the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) come cross at bumblers at best. That particular part of the story is most disheartening. But the book itself is a fascinating read. I can’t think of one book by a reporter or editor from the New York Times whose writing wasn’t solid and whose storytelling wasn’t top-notch. In fact, the next book on my to-be-read list is by another Times reporter.

Even though Madoff is in prison serving his 150-year sentence, some of the people accused of helping to abet Madoff’s criminal activities are yet to have their day in court or face sentencing. I’d love to see a sequel to this book that wraps up all those loose ends. I’m also looking forward to the movie – rumors are that Robert DeNiro will play Madoff.

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