The Art of the Con: How to Think Like a Real Hustler and Avoid Being Scammed

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The Art of the Con cover

The Art of the Con: How to Think Like a Real Hustler and Avoid Being Scammed

The Art of the Con cover

4 out of 5 stars



A little history on why I’m suddenly reading books about Con Artists.  I had an idea for an urban fantasy series but instead of a standard detective like I’ve been writing with my Jack Story series, I decided to do something more fun; urban fantasy in a Sting/Ocean’s Eleven setting.

Which meant two things;
1) I had to watch Ocean’s Eleven and the Sting pretty much on constant loop. (skip Ocean’s 12 and 13.)
2) I needed to learn a lot about cons, con men, and how that all operated.

So, for Step 1 I bought the Sting and Ocean’s Eleven.  Great movies. Pulling off a heist or con is all in the setup and finding the motivation in their character. Like in the Sting they’re pulling the con in order to get revenge on a mob boss that ordered a hit on Luther, a venerated older con man. Played by James Earl Jones’ father, btw.

In Ocean’s Eleven, we don’t find out Danny’s motivation until we’re well into the 2nd act. If the movie has a writing flaw, it’s that one.  Oh, they set it up from the very first scene and sort of allude to it in conversation but it should be clearly sooner.

But it’s still a dang good heist movie.

The second- I needed to find books on con artists, cons, and the psychology of cons and the people who pull them.

I found this book: The Art of the Con; how to think like a real hustler and avoid being scammed.

And I have to say, it’s really good. It’s written by R. Paul Wilson, a man who has studied confidence games his entire life, and has produced, started in, and written TV shows about cons.

He breaks down the various types of cons from the short con that happens when someone walks up to you, to the mid game where you’re hooked into a situation, and the “big game” cons that take thousands of dollars from people.

Not only does he break some of them down, he runs the reader through how he pulled those exact scams on his various shows.

He even gets into the thinking of a con artist. In his view, and I would have to agree with it, that all con artists are motivated singularly by the desire for money.  They’re after the money, and they’re ready to do and say whatever it takes to get it. They’ll sacrafice everything- even their relationships- to get more money.  And they’ll blame you for letting them get away with it.

He also says that he’ll get into why people fall for the cons, but I feel like he’s less successful here.  This is why I rate it 4 stars out of 5.  He suggests rather than categorically states, that people fall for cons because they’re stupid or greedy, but because manipulated by social expectations and by the con artists.

I agree with all of those, but I also think that a fair number of people think they’re smarter than the con that they’re faced with. Like, take 3 Card Monty.  You can see that the game is rigged just by watching it for 3 seconds. But it’s easy to think everyone else is a sucker and we’re the one person who can pull this one out.

But overall, this is a really good book to read up on cons, how they work, and how the people who pull them think. If you’re looking for a book like that, I recommend this one.

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book cover

This Book made me have an Existential Crisis

Category : Reviews

3 star rating


So, I bought into this book on the description’s first sentence: If you love Star Wars and Starcraft, you’ll love this book.”

I love both those things so I was like “Sure!” And it started off like an episode of Battlestar Galactica. Which I also love. There was a hot-headed pilot. There were CAG’s. And spacefighters. It was under written but that might be a style choice. The second chapter was about an intelligence agent at a ball or something

I’m like, “Okay, let’s see where this goes.”

Then we jumped to the space marines.  they’re tromping around in space marine suits. They’ve got laser guns. All the sort of things that space marines are supposed to have.  Then the aliens show up. It’s a straight up clone of Zerg/Tryanids and that’s cool with me. I love that stuff.

And again, very under described. There’s a scene where a flagship space battleship is taken out by the aliens and crashes into the planet. In the space of about 5 sentences.  That’s too little space spent on something huge falling out of the sky. I mean, overall, there’s no emotional connection being made with any of the three or four characters or the 100’s or 1000’s of people that just died in that crash.  Take some time to acknowledge the tragdey of all those lives suddenly ending. Spend a moment on the dread that sets in when a symbol of your societies power is easily dispatched and sent tumbling to the ground.

But nope, we plow on to the scene that caused me to have the existential crisis.  You see, these space marines go to a space port. In their future tech marine armor suits. Looking for future tech space ships. They fight some aliens with their laser rifles. So they can join the fight up in space with all the other future tech space ships and spacefairing aliens.  When they run into magic.

That’s right, there’s magic in this book.

They participate in a very video game-esque fight scene with what turns out to involve quasi-religious icons. Now, you could get hung up on the fact that our POV character immediately identified and accepted these two quasi-religious beings with no problems. You could get hung up on the writing often staged scenes that seemed to be on pause until the POV character arrived to fully take in all the details rather than have the event happen to the POV character.  You could. But I didn’t.

I couldn’t get over the idea of Magic being in this world.

Which may not seem like a big deal, but follow me on this one. After a few days of thought- longer than it took me to read the book- I decided that a society that had magic before an industrial age would never develop machine technology beyond that point.  At least, not as we have/would.

You’re probably thinking something like “but a sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic.”  And it is…to an outsider. But to someone who lives with both Magic and Technology are different and work by different rules.

Now, follow me on this: the industrial revolution started with candle making. Candle making is a long process of dipping wicks into tallow, parrafin, or beeswax. People started making the machines to dip a bunch of wicks at once to speed up the process to supply the insatiable candle market.  Because candles were the only way you could see at night.

Now, what’s the first spell the newbiest newb learns at magic school?  It’s light. In the stories, they all learn to create light to study by at night.  Now, imagine that you have access to a bunch of 1st year students looking to make some beer money. An enterprising person could pay those first years to cast light on rocks all day long. The investment is low- you just need rocks and 1st year students.  So you can produce them cheaply and quickly.

Faster and cheaper than candles.

AND the magic light rocks won’t burn down your house. In a matter of months, you could destroy the candle industry.  And you’re rich!  Without candles, you don’t get to the idea of gas lamps in your house. Without gas lamps you don’t get the idea to use electricity to create a safer alternative with light bulbs.  Without light bulbs you don’t get the idea for circuits. Without circuits you don’t get to computers. Without computers, you don’t get in space.  Not with technology, anyway.

You can with magic. But not science. If you have a world with magic, I don’t think you’ll develop much technology at all. Why have radios when I can do the same thing with magic mirrors?  See what I mean?

And in this book magic is no big deal. It’s like the difference between a Ford or a Dodge truck. It’s just a slightly different way of doing the same things.  No one is really impressed by it or freaked out by it.  Magic is just there. Some of the body guards for the President use magic. They’re not treated any different than the guys who use laser rifles.  And there are at least 2 people, maybe more I forget, that have been alive for 1000’s of years and it’s no big deal.

As I read the book I kept coming up against that idea: something would happen with technology and I would think “well, since they have magic this would probably never happen, because…”  And then I’d realize I’d spent 20 minutes thinking about how the world really doesn’t work rather than reading the rest of the scene.

It’s not like this is fantasy spaceships, these are sci-fi space ships. Characters distinctly say some things are technology. They’re described in science terms (coilguns, etc).  Then there’s magic, where shit just happens with a hand wave.

The characters equally accept both things as a defacto part of their lives.

Okay, I think I could write a whole book on why this doesn’t work but no one’s got time for that.  Why three stars?

Because I think if the writer pulled all the magic bits out, he’d have a compelling BSG/Starcraft mashup. It’s underwritten- there need to be better descriptions and more emotional context to what’s happening in the world.  The magic bits smack of RPG table top characters and things from the writer’s past or at least he’s lived with those characters in his head for a long time.

Oh, and I was provided this book for a fair and honest review.