Swindling and Selling was written by Arthur Allen Leff, a Yale professor of law, for those with nominally controlled shark-like instincts. If you don’t think you could have made it through a top law school in the top quarter of your class, this book isn’t for you. I managed to get through it only because I am so damn stubborn. It is only 194 pages of seemingly ordinary reading and it can be whizzed through without much trouble if you concentrate on the comic aspect of his staged transactions. But if you try to understand the complexity of his arguments and innuendos it is very demanding .
This book is a flying confetti of Erving Goffman‘s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, David Maurer‘s The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, Leff’s personal experience learned directly from practicing con men themselves, standard economic theory and his work as a consultant to the Federal Trade Commission, and the theory of law. All of the complexity of humanity, historical as well as current, and what it is to be human and interact with other humans is fondled over lovingly in this book.
Leff has a strange otherworldly morality. He is like a Greek God. They were reputed to look into their version of a television set at the strange behavior of specific humans, each of which has his own personal needs, and they are willing to do what they must to fulfill those needs, even at the expense of the other people; then the Gods stick a stick into these affairs from time to time, like a kid sticking a stick in an ant nest, just to watch the bizarre activity. Often I felt that Leff was sticking a stick into my brain, knowing strange things would happen there. I am reminded of Jack the Ripper and his funny little letters to the police:
just for jolly, wouldn’t you? ha ha