The Confidence-Man

By Herman Melville,

Book cover of The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

Book description

On April Fool's Day in 1856, a shape-shifting grifter boards a Mississippi riverboat to expose the pretenses, hypocrisies, and self-delusions of his fellow passengers. The con artist assumes numerous identities — a disabled beggar, a charity fundraiser, a successful businessman, an urbane gentleman — to win over his not-entirely-innocent dupes.…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked The Confidence-Man as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Another book with an episodic structure, The Confidence-Man concerns an assorted group of Mississippi steamboat passengers whose individual hypocrisies are confronted by the mysterious character of the title.

Melville’s ship of fools features a variety of types, some of whom are caricatures of American literary figures including Emerson, Hawthorne, and Poe. The book was published in 1857 on April Fool’s Day, an irony equal to the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on Valentine’s Day, and a gesture that Wiseman, himself a great ironist, surely would appreciate.

Certainly, it is no surprise that Wiseman has referred to The Confidence-Man as his…

Melville’s first novel calls “the white civilized man” “the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth.” Billy Budd, his final work, predicts the triumph of militarism and war. My first public speech against the Vietnam War began with a quote from The Confidence-Man (1857). I’ve read it many times and published an annotated edition, so I can guarantee you that every time you read this book you will get more out of it, just as I do. The steamboat Fidele sails down the Mississippi. A Christ-like passenger disappears. A negro cripple lists passengers we should look for.…

From Howard's list on urgent menaces to the human species.

Herman Melville is a lot like black jelly beans: you either love him or you hate him. I fall into the former camp, and his genius is evident in this book, the last novel he published during his lifetime. Set on a steamboat traveling the Mississippi River, it uses a series of vignettes to tell the stories of its passengers as they encounter the mysterious titular character. Everyone is on the make, and no one seems to be truthful about who they are and what they do. The Confidence-Man holds up a mirror to Melville’s America, and it looks a…

From Timothy's list on con artists and imposters.

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