Review: “Yellow Kid” Weil

J. R. Weil’s autobiography, “Yellow Kid” Weil: The Autobiography of America’s Master Swindler, is an interesting read for anyone interested in how confidence men live.  It is not about the mechanics of the cons, really, but about how a life of playing them played out.  To see the logistics of the  games and the world, check out The Big Con, to which Weil also contributed.

What struck me about the autobiography is how much of a toll this all seems to have taken on Weil, even when he does not really seem to admit it to himself.  He is in no way contrite about how he lived his life or made his money.  He never expresses any regret at having lied to people.  But, over the course of the book, the reader sees that the life of a confidence man has its stresses.

Most of those stresses seem to stem from not being able to get out of the criminal underground once you have risen to a certain point in it.  Weil tries to become a legitimate businessman several times in his life, only to be foiled by one of his buddies involving him in some scheme or other – often without his knowledge.  Weil does several stretches in prison, and while he does not characterize them in horrific terms, it is clear that he does not want to do it again.  Throughout the book he seems to be moving from one place that he’s burned a bridge to another in which he’ll burn one when he gets there.  It adds up to a difficult existence.

Not that he dwells on it.  There are plenty of high times, blowing money he swindled, rubbing elbows with the wealthy, or just carrying out another con.  And his joy in carrying out a con is evident.  He knows that the details on paper are just the details of lying to people to get their money, but his excitement at doing it well jumps off the page.  He delights in the small trappings and tweaks that make the general scam into a personal trap.  It is hard not to share his enthusiasm.

Other than the part where each chapter starts with who he is on the run from this time, that is.

A diverting read told with – I may rethink this later, but – honesty.

Strongly recommended.

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