A Brief History of Scam


The Scam Bible is not the first book to celebrate thieves, teach forbidden knowledge with a wink and a giggle, and expose the dirt behind the pristine facade of fine establishments. Here are a few recent classics in the field of cons, grifts and scams:

Steal This Book (1970) by Abbie Hoffman

Abbie Hoffman, the late hippie protester and prankster, wrote the definitive guide to living underground and mucking up the mainstream's machinery. "Steal This Book is, in a way, a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika," he says in the introduction. In chapters on procuring free food, free clothing, free dope and even free money, Hoffman shares what he learned while scamming his way through life. The dedicated revolutionary ready to move beyond "smoking dope and hanging up Che's picture" will find instructions on starting a guerilla radio station, making a Molotov cocktail, and generally monkeying with the orderly flow of society. To combat the flood of junk mail, for example, Hoffman suggests taping a prepaid reply postcard to a brick, so that the offending company will be forced to pay the cost of shipping a useless weight back to their offices. It's a tactic you would expect from the man who provoked a riot in 1967 when he tossed dollar bills to the traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Hoffman wrote the introduction to Steal This Book in jail, "that graduate school of survival," so he knew all too well that sometimes you get caught. Rumor has it that many curious readers took the title literally and made Steal This Book the most-heisted tome in history.

The Anarchist Cookbook (1971) by William Powell

The Boy Scout handbook for the budding misfit, this 1960s classic purports to teach both how to fight the Man by violent means and get high using common pantry items. The 19-year-old author did his research, finding the bulk of the material in the New York City Public Library, but he didn't do it well. Many of the recipes for bombs, napalm and improvised narcotics are dangerously wrong. How many college freshmen, in a desperate attempt to get high, have followed The Anarchist Cookbook's recipe for smoking banana peels and produced nothing more than an acrid smell? Today the book is interesting primarily as a glimpse into the mind of a kid facing the Vietnam War and the growing counter-culture movement of the 1960s. In 2000, the author, William Powell, posted a message on stating, "I consider [The Anarchist Cookbook] to be a misguided and potentially dangerous publication which should be taken out of print." Despite Powell's protestations, the often-banned book continues to be a strong seller.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000) by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain writes a love letter to a life in the kitchen burning his hands, working beside fellow "fringe-dwellers motivated by money," and consuming super-sized portions of alcohol and drugs. Along the way, he sets out to explode the myth that the chefs preparing your delicately seared foie gras are "adorable, cuddly creatures who wear spotless white uniforms." After learning what really goes on in most kitchens, diners will skip the hollandaise sauce, avoid mussels, and never order their steaks well done. Why? In Bourdain's experience, too few restaurants properly handle the easily perishable mussels. Hollandaise will break if overheated, but holding it at the proper temperature for hours creates "the favorite environment for bacteria to copulate and reproduce in." And most cooks assume that anyone who prefers the dehydrated texture of well-done meat will also happily swallow the nastiest cut in the cooler. Bourdain predicted that his "naked contempt for vegetarians, sauce-on-siders, the Œlactose intolerant' and the cooking of the Ewok-like Emeril Lagasse is not going to get me my own show on the Food Network." A year after publishing Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain starred in the Food Network television series A Cook's Tour, a chronicle of his globetrotting quest for the perfect meal.

Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (2002) by Ben Mezrich

When the proud parents signed the tuition checks for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they never dreamed that their kids would spend their free time assuming fake identities and jetting off to Las Vegas for games of high-stakes blackjack. As members of a card-counting ring bankrolled by shadowy investors, a group of MIT students used their perfect SAT math scores to count cards -- a forbidden but perfectly legal practice. Disguised as the scions of Asian millionaires, drunken frat boys, or ditzy blonds, the students took casinos around the country for more than $3 million. When the casino pit bosses got wise to the students' techniques and their multiple fake identities, most of the team members moved on to more legitimate careers. Ben Mezrich, a writer of pulp novels, cashed in with this non-fiction account, which continues to hover on The New York Times' best seller list.


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