Vulgarians at the Gate

When money and crime collide on a colossal scale one can be sure that the literary equivalent of ambulance-chasing lawyers will be on the scene documenting the excessive for us all to enjoy. The 100 car-pile-up known as Bernie Madoff is the subject of several insta-books. The title of this one indicates the overall tone of the book – half moral-indictment, half National Enquirer exposé. All in all, that’s exactly what Madoff deserves at this point.

Jerry Oppenheimer starts out the book by spending the first chapter telling us how this book isn’t like all the other insta-books out there. He’s exploring the big issues, “weaving” an “in-depth profile” etc. Which roughly translates into “blah blah blah” as far as I’m concerned. Just get on with the book. Once Oppenheimer gets done telling us of his high-minded aspirations for the book off come the gloves. It starts with a description of Bernie’s parents overseeing an “ethically and morally bankrupt household” and just keeps rolling. I’ve seen serial killers treated more warmly that uber-conman Madoff. Oppenheimer rarely lets a paragraph go by without letting readers know he thinks Bernie is pond scum.

Oppenheimer ladles on the Yiddish expressions every so often in a particularly artless way and does make a few genuinely bonkers connections, such as likening Bernie’s secretary, Eleanor Squillari to Richard Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods. They were both secretaries but beyond that? Oppenheimer is at his best when he’s delivering insights from Madoff’s friends, victims and acquaintances. Like the old friend who’s smart enough to notice that Bernie is too thick to figure out the time difference between New York and London without the aid of two Rolex watches. Or the many nasty stories told about Bernie’s niece Shana who appears to have endeared herself to so many who have repaid the favor by all but suggesting she roamed the streets of New York with a mattress strapped to her back. Nothing sums up this book better that this choice line:

“Besides being a crook, Bernie was a bit of a perv.”

Yes, gentle reader, he certainly was. This book will neither expand your intellectual horizons nor answer any of the deeper questions about how such a massive fraud could go undetected for so long. It will, however, introduce you to some of the most tasteless, vulgar foul-mouthed people on the planet. Someday a James B. Stewart or Kurt Eichenwald may tackle this sordid tale and bring us those deeper insights. Until then, we’ll always have satisfyingly trashy outings like Madoff With the Money to remind us that behind every sleazy crime is an even bigger sleazeball.

Take it for what it is, a long, gossipy reasonably but not exhaustively research magazine article.

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