Saturday, October 8, 2016

Book Review: The Sting Man: Inside Abscam by Robert W. Green

Have you ever judged a book by its cover, and then bought it? I have plenty of times! I actually found this book when I was traveling at a local Dollar Tree. Yes, Dollar Tree has books for $1! They actually have a pretty decent selection and I have actually seen the Target sticker on some of the books on the shelf. That is how I found the book I am reviewing currently. When I saw the cover, it looked like something I would read, then I saw the small Penguin Books symbol on the top right and knew it was legit. What also intrigued my interest was the "True story behind the film American Hustle," wanted to see that  because I wanted to see that movie (which I did), and I have currently been in the whole 70's investigator movies mood.
WARNING: Spoiler Alert!

A Little Bit of Background

First off, this book was authored by a journalist who worked at Newsday, where he headed investigative teams and won the Pulitzer Prize Gold medal twice! Abscam stood for "Arabian Scam." Abscam was basically an FBI sting operation in the late 70's and early 80's, where they exploited political figures taking bribes for political favors and various things. They ended up convicting those political figures. Abscam was ended when the group became public and it was noted about how ethical the stings were done and that they were done by Mel Weinberg, a convicted con-man. There were lots of names that might ring a bell in this book and it can be really interesting.

What Was Enjoyable

All the recognizable names and places made this book more interesting. How the author gives Weinberg's voice is creative and hilarious, you almost wonder if Weinberg himself wrote the book. The various types of scams and how far Weinberg went to get what he wanted before and during Abscam was definitely interesting and made you want to know how much further he would go. What can also be point out as enjoyable are the quotes from Weinberg that enter each new chapter: "I'm a swindler. There's only one difference between me and the Congressmen I met on this case. The public pays them a salary for stealing"(Abscam p283).

The way that the book is structured is also noteworthy. All the chapters end with the recorded tapes that had been collected throughout the Abscam career. You will also find quotes from various documents. I find this a very creative way to tell a story. You can tell the author has done his research and really put an effort into making this book as truthful as he could. The author also sets up some of the larger scenes into a very detailed paragraph. For example:

Behind Japanese lines in the steamy jungles of Midanao Mel Weinberg, in navy uniform, pushes his way out on foot through giant ferns. He has been searching for a native whorehouse that fellow sailors assured him was just the other side of a mountain that could be seen from shore. Now he is lost, soggy, insect-bitten, exhausted and a little bit scared. He is also unarmed and still horny. He pushes his way into a small clearing and pauses momentarily to get his bearings. He is startled by a sound on the opposite side of the clearing thirty feet away. Two Japanese soldiers, also unarmed, emerge from the ferns. Weinberg  stares at the Japanese soldiers. The Japanese soldiers do the same. They must be looking  for the same whorehouse, thinks Weinberg. He reports back for duty six hours AWOL. He is in trouble again" (Abscam pg.26).

What was less enjoyable

The biggest issue that I had for this book was all the names! There are so many names! Too many names, that if you are not paying close attention, you might forget who this guy is. There are also fake names for different people and there was a moment when I couldn't figure out which fake named person was on which side. I know that the operation was huge and contained a ton of people, but if there was some better way to organize the names, that would've been helpful. One shouldn't have to think to much on who these people are when reading for leisure.

The first chapter was, in my opinion, confusing and boring. The first chapter is set int he beginning trial for Abscam. If you are not a big court person, you might get confused with some of the technicalities and get thrown off by the multiple things going on in this chapter. After the first chapter finishes, you get transported back in time with a adolescent Weinberg and it becomes a less complex story all the way up until he actually gets into Abscam, then it starts getting confusing again with all the names and things going on all at once.

Then, there is the ending. One might not enjoy the ending, such as I did. The ending, again in my opinion, was awful! I did not understand why one of Weinberg's wife's suicide was what closed the whole book. She wasn't even a main character! Sure she was somewhat important to Weinberg, but I just don't understand!

 Movie Version

After I finished the book, of course I had to see the movie to get the whole gist of everything. American Hustle was made in 2013, with a whole list of familiar faces. Of course, like any other movie, they overly romanticized the side ladies roles. They did get some of the book, or should I say history right, but I actually enjoyed the movie a little more than the book. I think it was cause of the romanticism, but the movie was a little more clear on what was happening as well.


Overall, there were parts that I found enjoyable and parts I found to be honestly boring. I think the overall book is interesting and if you are into history and finding out about what went on behind Abscam and some other historical things during that time frame, you might want to pick up this book. Otherwise, I wouldn't want to re-read this again.

Picture Provided by NBC Philadelphia
 "...I have nothin' to hide. I'm an open book; if I can make a buck, I make a buck."
-Mel Weinberg, 1979