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The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History Hardcover – June 1, 2021
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FINALIST FOR THE EDGAR® AWARD • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, NPR • “Fox unspools Jones and Hill’s delightfully elaborate scheme in nail-biting episodes that advance like a narrative Rube Goldberg machine.”—The New York Times Book Review
Imprisoned in a remote Turkish POW camp during World War I, having survived a two-month forced march and a terrifying shootout in the desert, two British officers, Harry Jones and Cedric Hill, join forces to bamboozle their iron-fisted captors. To stave off despair and boredom, Jones takes a handmade Ouija board and fakes elaborate séances for his fellow prisoners. Word gets around, and one day an Ottoman official approaches Jones with a query: Could Jones contact the spirit world to find a vast treasure rumored to be buried nearby? Jones, a trained lawyer, and Hill, a brilliant magician, use the Ouija board—and their keen understanding of the psychology of deception—to build a trap for their captors that will ultimately lead them to freedom.
A gripping nonfiction thriller, The Confidence Men is the story of one of the only known con games played for a good cause—and of a profound but unlikely friendship. Had it not been for “the Great War,” Jones, the Oxford-educated son of a British lord, and Hill, a mechanic on an Australian sheep ranch, would never have met. But in pain, loneliness, hunger, and isolation, they formed a powerful emotional and intellectual alliance that saved both of their lives.
Margalit Fox brings her “nose for interesting facts, the ability to construct a taut narrative arc, and a Dickens-level gift for concisely conveying personality” (Kathryn Schulz, New York) to this tale of psychological strategy that is rife with cunning, danger, and moments of high farce that rival anything in Catch-22.
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“Tales of spunky prisoners of war suffering horrifying privation or outfoxing their sadistic or imbecilic captors are a staple of military history and the movies. . . . Fact or fiction, few of them can match the latest entry in the genre. . . . Margalit Fox’s The Confidence Men tells the tale of two Allied officers captured by the Turks during World War I who escaped their remote prison camp by pulling an ingenious and elaborate spiritualist con on the camp’s greedy commandant.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A wonder; a marvel; a feat of invention and dogged persistence; and most of all, a testament to the power of the human capacity to believe. The Confidence Men is a thrilling tale of courage and friendship and overcoming, not to mention tricks and lies and magician's cunning, and it will have you cheering the tricksters every step of the way. The story of their ingenuity offers joy, solace, and hope.”—Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
“The Confidence Men couldn’t have come along at a better time. This story of two unlikely con artists—young British officers who use a Ouija board to escape from a Turkish prisoner-of-war camp—is a true delight, guaranteed to lift the spirits of anyone eager to forget today’s realities and lose oneself in a beautifully written tale of an exciting and deeply moving real-life caper.”—Lynne Olson, author of Madame Fourcade’s Secret War
“Margalit Fox is one of the premier narrative storytellers we have today, and The Confidence Men is a wonderfully entertaining brew of history, thrills, and ingenuity, one that highlights the rare occasion when con artistry is employed for the greater public good.”—Sarah Weinman, author of The Real Lolita and editor of Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession
“Fox tells a brisk story filled with colorful background on the magic, spiritualism, and psychiatry of the day. . . .The brisk true story of a jailbreak so bizarre it might rate an entry in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”—Kirkus Reviews
“Fox (Conan Doyle for the Defense), a former obituary writer for the New York Times, recounts in this marvelous history how two British army officers in WWI orchestrated ‘the most singular prison break ever recorded.’ . . . Fox enriches her account with intriguing deep dives into the psychology of ‘coercive persuasion,’ the mechanics of confidence games, and the history of spiritualism in the U.S. and England. Readers will be mesmerized by this rich and rewarding tale.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
- Publisher : Random House (June 1, 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1984853848
- ISBN-13 : 978-1984853844
- Item Weight : 1.4 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.38 x 1.13 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #42,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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After endless schemes, planning and creating a plot too complicated for any Hollywood movie, Hill and Jones eventually convince the enemy doctors that they have jointly lost their minds and should therefore be released home. Instead, Jones and Hill’s entire elaborate plot to escape the prison camp and return to Allied lines ultimately lands them in a Turkish insane asylum in Constantinople. After being incarcerated there for six months, the two are finally released by the Ottoman government as war casualties, to be repatriated.
Was it worth it? Did they actually “escape?” Did all the planning; the knife-edged dangers, discomforts and genuine physical illness that they faced so that they could return to Allied lines pay off for them? Or was it all for nothing?
What they gained was little.
Hill is dispatched to England (before Jones is) on a British hospital ship on November 1, 1918—only 10 days before the General Armistice is declared ending World War I. Earlier, the defeated Ottoman Empire signed the Armistice of Mudros with Great Britain on October 30, ending the war between the two nations. It took effect the next day, October 31, the day before Hill’s sailing.
In addition to Hill and Jones’ adventure, Fox devotes perhaps half of her book to the histories of magic tricks, séances, Ouija boards, and other forms of supernatural entertainment. Her book is a fairly good primer on the arts of persuasion, techniques that stage magicians, con men, politicians and other illusionists use, together with an extensive look at psychological elements that cause people to believe whatever an “influence technician” wants them to. (These parts may be especially relevant today in helping explain why so many Americans, despite absolute proof to the contrary, still desperately believe that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Donald Trump.) However, while often interesting, these lengthy sections have little to do with Hill and Jones’ story except as background. They probably could be in a separate publication. It would be an enlightening read.
Finally, Fox makes several attempts to apologize for the “Orientalism, essentialism and racism that pervade many British memoirs of the period.” In this, she apparently wants to convince her readers of her own, modern, “woke” views while condemning men of a completely different age. In some places in her book, Fox is like a ballerina dancing through a minefield, being careful to assure her readers that she is no fan of Rudyard Kipling-style sentiments, still less of the British Empire. Fox displays a lack of empathy with the incarcerated British soldiers and airmen. They, after enduring incredible hardship in the primitive, deadly prisoner of war camps, were understandably unlikely to be especially “PC” about their Turkish guards in their memoirs.
Fox’s book is, to some extent, a retelling of Elias Jones’ original, first-person account, "The Road to En-dor: Being an Account of How Two Prisoners of War at Yozgad in Turkey Won Their Way to Freedom". A paperback version of the 1919 original was printed in 2014. Thus, you can read The Confidence Men—or go to the original source.
Top reviews from other countries
Why not five stars? Towards the end of the story, I find the researcher dominates the storyteller a bit too much. This way the story gets a bit lost in details and the pacing seems a bit slow. Still, a terrific read.