Thanks to a New York magazine story this week, we can now add "bookworm" to Bernie Madoff’s list of descriptors: Ponzi scheme operator, money launderer, thief, fraud, convicted felon, prisoner number 61727-054 and (add your own here if you're one of his victims). Seems he's whiling away his time—give or take 150 years—at a North Carolina federal correctional institution reading books by Dean Koontz and John Grisham, instead of playing with the books.
Which got me thinking. All those summer reading lists that have been popping up here, there and everywhere else in print, on the radio and on the web, feature books that you might take to the beach or on vacation. Madoff and his fellow inmates need their summer reading list, too, even if they're just catching rays in the prison yard instead of on Martha's Vineyard or lounging in a cell bunk instead of in an Adirondack chair.
While beach "reads" are supposed to be breezy page-turners—Kierkegaard and sand don't mix—perhaps a reading list for those doing time in the Big House should be more edifying, the subject matter more appropriate to helping them understand themselves and their crime. Better yet, a summer reading list might build on their "talents" or give them alternatives to channeling their "skills."
Someone in jail for tax evasion might do well reading Jeff Schnepper's How to Pay Zero Taxes: Your Guide to Every Tax Break the IRS Allows!, now in its 27th edition. The cover blurb from a New York Daily News review: “The IRS's worst nightmare.” However, the book is 896 pages long. Short attention span or up for parole? Opt for the Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Surviving an Audit: Keep your money in your own pocket—not Uncle Sam’s.
For convicted mobsters, these two books might be just the ticket: Rules for Renegades: How to Make More Money, Rock Your Career, and Revel in Your Individuality by Christine Comaford-Lynch and the ever-popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Between these covers, they might discover a better way to run the family business.
The feds got you on bribery? Try the old-school classic, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends & Influence People, and the nouveau-school classic, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Offering money, real estate, services or other valuable items isn’t always the best way to get things done, but you now know that.
If you were caught red-handed with a Picasso, Matisse or Munch, pick up a copy of the just published Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures. This memoir is written by Robert K. Wittman, who founded the FBI Art Crime Team. His advice: Don’t steal priceless art because you’ll have a hard time unloading it.
The book Send: Why People E-mail So Badly and How to Do It Better by New York Times Op-Ed editor, David Shipley, and Will Shwalbe is a handy guide for spammers incarcerated for fraud—and anybody else who has sent an incriminating e-mail. This book will make you think twice before clicking "send."
Lobbyists serving a prison sentence for corruption or other miscreant behavior should add Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking to their night table. This novel pokes fun at career lobbyists. The portrayal is spot-on and might make any lobbyist consider a career change, as if a conviction isn’t enough to think about a new line of work. Come to think of it, they and their cellmates should read What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles because a new profession is definitely in order.
To channel their fixation with fire into something that could feed a neighborhood rather than destroy it, arsonists should study cookbooks, namely grilling. Several come to mind: Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby have written two definitive ones, The Thrill of the Grill and Let the Flames Begin. Those more into Food Network celebrity chefs might try Bobby Flay's Boy Meets Grill and Boy Gets Grill. Just peruse the recipes and see how playing with fire can truly be mouthwatering.
Meanwhile, car thieves need to come to terms with rising gas prices and the automobile's effect on global warming. How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life by Chris Balish could wean them from their four-wheel habit.
Sure, Madoff can continue reading all the Koontz and Grisham novels he wants. He's got hours in the day to fill. But in case he and his fellow inmates are looking for a change of pace from thrillers, here are a few more books for all-around edification:
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell: This bestseller, subtitled The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, could improve a person’s ability to making snap decisions—and thus avoid jail the next time around.
Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard: Another bestseller, this one is supposed to help people deal with change in their lives.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford: Just the ticket for those spending time making license plates or making crafts in the prison wood shop, such as those sold at the Maine State Prison Industries Showroom. (BTW, you might want to stop in to buy some Christmas gifts on your way to your Maine vacation this summer.)
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