• The Confidence Men

  • How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History
  • By: Margalit Fox
  • Narrated by: Richard Elfyn
  • Length: 9 hrs and 54 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (136 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Great Escape for the Great War: the astonishing true story of two World War I prisoners who pulled off one of the most ingenious escapes of all time.

Finalist for the Edgar® Award • Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post and 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.

©2021 Margalit Fox (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“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)

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

“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 US and England. Readers will be mesmerized by this rich and rewarding tale.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

What listeners say about The Confidence Men

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Goofy Rendition

This story is rather generic. Written like a New Yorker article. Main story and then jumping to side stories with quite a bit of mundane information such as the history of the Ouija Board. The real drawback was the use of "goofy" voices by the narrator when reading from quoted newspaper articles. This was just strange and it took a lot away from the story. If you like this kind of book you may want to read the book instead of listening to this version of it.

1 person found this helpful

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How to Play a Long Con

A great adventure in obscure history, a true story of war prisoners playing a long con - successfully on their captors. Well nearrated and easy to listen.

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Too long

If I were a prisoner of war, I would never go through all of that for an attempted escape. I would either be better off as a prisoner, or dead from any other kind of escape. You must have a propensity to tell long boring useless stories to be able to go through all of that for so long to make an attempted escape. Not held in interest.

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Mixed feelings

I loved the parts about what the prisoners did to con everyone, but the time spent discussing the history of spiritualism and the history of the psychology behind this were too long and detracted from the book’s effectiveness.

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Use your credit elseware.

Too much sidetracking off the storyline. My worst credit use so far. Just kinda boring.

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You think you don't like non-fiction?

Crack open The Confidence Men and see if it doesn't keep you turning pages all the way to the end. In addition to it being a compelling story, you end up learning a lot about the contradictions of the times -- late 19th century and early 20th century, when voices could, somehow, transmit through radio waves and the telephone. So why not telepathically?
Why shouldn't the dead speak to us?
These were the times in which Jones and Hill played their long, dangerous con in an attempt to escape from a Turkish prison.
And without being overt, what does this story tell us about those who believe the big lies and the con men of today?

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Unbelievable

Truth is often stranger than fiction . This is mind-blowing with fantastic narration. Wow!

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Audio issues in chapter 6

It sounds like there’s a CD skipping. So far I really liked the book, but the audio issues mean I’m going to return it.

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Everything you wanted to know about spiritualism

This is the true story of how 2 British prisoners of war (WWI) in Turkey manipulated their captors over a period of years in order to escape captivity. There are occasional redundancies, but in addition to telling an entertaining yarn, it provides a short history of mental trickery and interpretations of why people in the early 20th Century were so susceptible.

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