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Book Review | Madoff: Corruption, Deceit and the making of the world’s most notorious Ponzi scheme

Rating: 2.5 out of 4.

The financial crisis of 2007-08 left many individuals and institutions scarred for life.

What began as a seemingly curable flu slowly transformed into a pandemic that devoured many prestigious, long-standing financial institutions across the world.

Casualties were several – from inconsequential entities to world-cup competitive ones.

When Lehman Brothers went down on 12th September 2008, the usual suspects for the tumult were not too difficult to nail – greed, towering leverage, oversight, misconceptions, etc.

Typically, the major financial institutions were caught in the eye of this maelstrom. However, for the first time, the events of December 2008 turned the spotlight on an individual.

His name was Bernard L. Madoff, chairman of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC (BMIS).

People protesting against Bernie Madoff

Until the news broke on 8th December 2008 that he had masterminded the biggest Ponzi scheme ever, Madoff’s status in financial circles was as revered as it was enviable.

Madoff, for one, had a reputation that preceded him. His credentials were formidable enough to impress anyone. He served on the executive committee of the NASDAQ and was also the chairman of the board for several years.

To his clique of investors, he was nothing less than a demigod. Nonetheless, Madoff’s human frailties got the better of him and in the end, marooned him for life. He will always be remembered as a fraudster, a more sophisticated Charles Ponzi who sold people dreams.

The bursting of the Madoff bubble created waves everywhere. Even the world of business literature was awash. Much had already been written about the global financial meltdown, sub-prime goof-ups, credit freeze, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, etc. But Madoff’s $50 billion grand betrayal sent everyone scurrying for a piece of him.

Peter Sander, the author of  “Madoff: Corruption, Deceit and the making of the world’s most notorious Ponzi scheme”, must be one of the few who got there first.

Candidly, his “Madoff” is by no yardstick a biography of Bernie Madoff. It can’t even be credited with a complete, inside-out, threadbare research of Madoff’s scandal. Yet Sander deserves applause for having written a riveting book.

Madoff scandal broke on 8th Dec 2008. And by the references in the book, it’s quite clear that the author wrapped up his project on Bernie Madoff and his dirty work by January 2009.

There is no doubt in my mind that the author was in a hurry to publish this book. After all, when it’s a $50 billion con game exposé, you can be rest assured that even those resting in the graves would be itching for the low-down.

Right from the first chapter, Sander gets down to the brass tacks. He talks about the various con artists that existed before Bernie Madoff and reasons why Madoff is the granddaddy of them all.

He takes the readers through the facts, whatever little were available by January’09 end about the scandal. At the same time, he relies on a lot of assumptions and second-hand confirmations, the credibility of some of which could be dubious.

I admire the author for his forthright attitude in his admission of the lack of availability of facts. That said he leaves no stone unturned when it comes to research.

From the interviews of whistle-blower Markopolos and the members of Jewish charity foundations whom also Madoff duped to the excerpts of various reports including the FBI charge-sheet against Madoff, Peter Sander lets everything roll.

“Madoff” abounds with invaluable pieces of information. As a reader, you can glean a lot of information about the financial world, not just Madoff. The author has quite elaborately outlined Madoff’s self-proclaimed style of investing, the history of the SEC and its functions and role in the Madoff Scandal, Hedge funds and why aren’t they regulated, functional differences between NYSE and NASDAQ, and various financial concepts.

Finally, Peter Sander’s Madoff is not a play-by-play account of the scandal or the man himself. Nonetheless, it’s a very well-thought-out and well-written book. You’ll walk away with many takeaways.

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