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Local Book Notes: Empire Of Deception

"You have heard of Charles Ponzi, the swindler who gave big returns to early investors using money from subsequent clients. And you have heard of Bernie Madoff, imprisoned for one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history," AP reports.

"Chances are you have never heard of Leo Koretz. A new book, Empire of Deception, argues that Koretz belongs with Ponzi and Madoff in the con man hall of fame.

"Koretz's pyramid scheme, played out against a backdrop of crime and corruption in booming 1920s Chicago, eventually results in millions of dollars invested in a phony agriculture and oil project on Panama's Bayano River."

*

From the publisher:

"A rollicking story of greed, financial corruption, dirty politics, over-the-top and under-the-radar deceit, illicit sex, and a brilliant and wildly charming con man who kept a Ponzi scheme alive perhaps for longer than anyone else in history.

"It was a time of unregulated madness. And nowhere was it madder than in Chicago at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties. Speakeasies thrived, gang war shootings announced Al Capone's rise to underworld domination, Chicago's corrupt political leaders fraternized with gangsters, and the frenzy of stock market gambling was rampant. Enter a slick, smooth-talking, charismatic lawyer named Leo Koretz, who enticed hundreds of people (who should have known better) to invest as much as $30 million - upwards of $400 million - in phantom timberland and nonexistent oil wells in Panama. When Leo's scheme finally collapsed in 1923, he vanished, and the Chicago state's attorney, a man whose lust for power equaled Leo's own lust for money, began an international manhunt that lasted almost a year. When finally apprehended, Leo was living a life of luxury in Nova Scotia under the assumed identity of a book dealer and literary critic. His mysterious death in a Chicago prison topped anything in his almost-too-bizarre-to-believe life."

*

From the A.V. Club:

"The world's first set of skyscrapers looked down on a city swelling in population, the inhabitants working to make Chicago an 'unstoppable economic force.' Ambitious people flocked to Chicago to make money and gain power, and for every quaint description of the rise of automobiles, new electricity, and fashions of the day, Jobb includes true stories of the corruption and cronyism at every level of Chicago politics.

"A 1921 Chicago Tribune report exposed so much political corruption at city hall that Mayor 'Big Bill' Thompson filed a libel suit seeking $10 million in damages to the city's reputation (it was thrown out of court).

"The Tribune's report included public school-board kick-backs and purchasing supplies at inflated prices - the best example of which is a $133 potato peeler (in 1921 dollars!).

"Kind of sounds like the current federal investigation into how Chicago Public School awards noncompete contracts. The slew of Chicago-specific historical details makes Empire Of Deception more enjoyable for readers familiar with the Windy City."

Nick Of Time
"Nick Offerman took the stage Wednesday night to cheers, decked out in his black and orange senior year varsity jacket after being introduced by his father, Ric Offerman," Mike Mallory writes for the Joliet Herald-News.

Offerman returned to his hometown of Minooka for a book tour stop that included a reading and signing at the Minooka Community High School Central Campus, coordinated by Anderson's Bookshop of Naperville and Three Rivers Public Library.

Perhaps best known for playing Ron Swanson on the NBC TV show Parks and Recreation, which broadcast its finale in February, Offerman has played many roles in movies and other TV series.

But Offerman's latest work is his second book, following 2013's Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living, for which he also made a stop in Minooka.

Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers is a collection of writings about his favorite heroes, which includes everyone from George Washington to Carol Burnett, and why they inspire him . . .

Offerman brought in [a] local tie, when he read a passage to the audience about Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who makes his home in Chicago and whom Offerman met years ago, that drew laughter after seemingly every other sentence.

Oooh, this should be good.

Here it is:

Sorry, but now you're left hanging just like me! Mallory doesn't tell us the Tweedy tale.

Heart To Hart
"Mamrie Hart is the host of the bawdy cult-hit, 'You Deserve a Drink,' where she has been entertaining viewers with her signature concoction of tasty libations and raunchy puns since 2011," the Old Town School of Music said in its preview of Hart's appearance there Wednesday night.

"Part of the 'YouTube's Holy Trinity,' which includes Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart, Mamrie has compiled her best drinking stories - and worst hangovers - into one hilarious volume.

"From the spring break where she and her girlfriends avoided tan lines by staying at an all-male gay nudist resort, to the bachelorette party where she accidentally hired a sixty year old meth head to teach the group pole dancing, to the time she lit herself on fire during a Flaming Lips concert, Hart accompanies each story with an original cocktail recipe, ensuring that You Deserve a Drink is as useful as it is entertaining."

Here's Hart in the Q&A portion of the evening:

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on May 28, 2015


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