The Confidence Men

  • Author: Margalit Fox
  • Full Title: The Confidence Men: How two prisoners of war engineered the most remarkable escape in history
  • Tags: Books
  • Recommendation: 2/5. An interesting story, but a boring read. Ended up reading much more like a history book and less like a caper than I expected based on the title.


  • Spiritualism’s reanimation in 1914 is hardly surprising: Susceptibility to an array of popular delusions (cults, con games, paranormal beliefs) increases in times of instability, notably wartime. (Location 1158)
  • What is striking about conjurers’ techniques—plumbing the human psyche, setting up false causation, establishing authority, and making well-rehearsed events seem to happen of their own accord—is that all are equally vital weapons in the arsenal of the confidence man. (Location 1796)
  • cultic relationship is one in which a person intentionally induces others to become totally or nearly totally dependent on him or her for almost all major life decisions, and inculcates in these followers a belief that he or she had some special talent, gift, or knowledge.” (Location 3278)
  • The adman, the con man, the cult leader, the demagogue—all who actively seek to change the minds of others—rely fundamentally on coercive persuasion. In recent years, such mind-changers have come to be known as “influence technicians” (or “compliance professionals”), and all share a common goal: to preempt critical reasoning on the part of their subjects, ensuring their compliance with even the most outlandish programs. (Location 4010)

  • In an influence technician’s hands, coercive persuasion can be wielded in any of three ways. The technician can use force, a tactic on which cults and terrorist organizations often rely. He can directly manipulate his subject’s brain using drugs, electroshock, and the like. Or he can change his mark’s mind by means of stealth—the perennial choice of the confidence man. (Location 4014)
  • “Belief is the normal response to a statement,” Robert Bernhard writes. “Belief is passive; doubt is active.” (Location 4039)
  • “The best way to get a man to agree to a plan is to make him think it is his own invention,” (Location 4066)